Campus Archaeology (CAP) has always been heavily centered around community engagement. We have several standing outreach events that we participate in every year, such as our annual Apparitions and Archaeology Haunted Campus Tour, Grandparents University, various public-school events, and Archaeology Day at the Michigan History …
Even during a quarantine, archaeology does not stop. While we have not been able to get out into the field until recently, we at CAP have been working hard to create historical background summaries of areas that will be impacted by construction (a critical part …
To celebrate world anthropology day, the current CAP graduate fellows wanted to share how they became interested in anthropology, and some current or favorite projects they are involved in!
Grace: As a first-year PhD student moving to a new state and school, I initially came to CAP to move out of my comfort zone and get to know my own field a little better. I came in with no experience in archaeology and very little exposure to anthropology so CAP presented itself as a way I could learn more about the field in an applied manner. As was mentioned in my blog post from earlier this month, I was drawn to the focus on outreach and education that CAP emphasizes. Coming from a background in education and youth studies, I have always been very passionate about working with youth and community-engaged research practices. Outreach events such as the haunted tour have proven to be a fantastic example of how to get young people interested in research and the sciences.
This semester, CAP fellow Benjamin Akey and I have conducted research to highlight unsung voices from MSU’s graduate student body. Our particular focus is on the history of the Asian pacific American Graduate Alliance (APAGA) which has been a place of professional and social support for the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community. The initial idea came from our archival research on the history of the graduate school which showed us that there has been very few records kept that highlight Asian American voices. This semester we look forward to doing what we can to add to supplement the overlooked parts of MSU’s history through an oral history project in collaboration with APAGA founders as well as the MSU Archives. Because I was not well versed in archaeological research methods, the openness that CAP has to diverse forms of research came as a pleasant surprise. As an organization that values community, I think that our current project will serve to bolster community interest in the role that various forms of archaeology can play in recording underrepresented histories.
Ben: While I had taken the opportunity to start taking anthropology courses at my local community college during high school, my fascination with archaeology began the summer after I graduated—on a field school in the rural highlands of Ecuador. I had come intending to focus on the ethnographic components of the field school, but quickly found myself enamored with the pace and physicality of archaeological fieldwork, and gained a new appreciation for how the materiality of the past could be integrated into critical and community-engaged scholarship. While other crews were assigned to Incan fortress sites, I spent the majority of my time helping a PhD Candidate who was interested in studying changing land-use and ownership patterns following the establishment of the Spanish hacienda system in Ecuador. Hearing about why he was interested in these topics—and why he felt archaeology was an efficacious method for exploring them—sparked an enduring personal interest in historical archaeology and relationships of power, resistance, and identity. On return from this trip, I became more involved with the community college’s local archaeological projects and picked up laboratory and survey skillsets which further served to bolster my interest in the subdiscipline.
Upon transferring to UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate degree, I started to focus on archaeological courses, with a particular emphasis on historical archaeologies of indigenous communities and colonialism. While I remain strongly interested in these topics, the trajectory of my own research foci shifted somewhat when I became involved in excavations at two 19th century lime kilns on and nearby the UC Santa Cruz campus, leading me to begin engaging with historical archaeologies of labor, capitalism, and immigration. These themes ultimately structured my senior thesis project, in which I examined alcohol consumption between two industrial company-towns in Santa Cruz county in relation to diasporic identities and as a form of resistance to paternalistic social controls and class-based victorian moral expectations of temperance. Besides the narrow frame of alcohol consumption, these themes continue to shape my research aims; my current project seeks to understand how contexts of radicalized industrial labor and anti-asian exclusion movements shaped processes of identity formation among early North American Japanese communities in the 20th century.
Amber: During my time as an undergraduate at Texas State University, I changed my major several times before finding Anthropology. I started undergrad in the Interior Design program, explored majors in Math and Biology, and finally switched to Anthropology with the intention of doing archaeology in Greece and/or Egypt. My parents had a bookshelf in my childhood home full of old National Geographic and Discover magazines and I used to spend hours laying in the floor reading through them. There was one that I read repeatedly on ancient Egyptian mummies. This fascination encouraged me to explore a career in archaeology which eventually led to taking elective courses on forensic anthropology and forensic osteology. My forensic osteology class showed me how remains of the deceased can be used to answer questions about the living in past and present populations. I quickly realized that a career in Biological Anthropology was what I had been searching for: a fulfilling job that can provide services to others, a way to meld hard and social sciences, and…of course…travel.
I have had the opportunity to travel to Belize, Greece, Thailand, Colombia, England, and many states in the U.S. for work. If I had to choose my favorite project so far, I would say it is the Mississippi State Asylum project in Jackson, Mississippi. A total of 67 individuals in standardized pine coffins were uncovered during road construction on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. My master’s thesis examined differential health across inmate demographic groups using patterns of oral health indicators. I was interested in determining whether varying life histories influenced survivorship within the asylum environment and whether patients experienced differential treatment based on their sex or ancestry. We combined skeletal data with asylum written records to explore these questions. This sample was also compared to noninstitutionalized samples from the Southeastern U.S. to determine how health and mortality might be impacted by institutionalization. Being involved in the entire process of this project from excavation to data management, curation, and analysis was an invaluable and rare experience for a graduate student. I am very fortunate to have been involved and grateful to the patients and their families for allowing us to carry out this project. There is an ongoing effort to identify these individuals and return them to families for proper reburial.
Rhian: When I applied to UC Santa Barbara for undergrad, I only had a vague idea of what anthropology was – everything I knew came from tv shows or movies I had watched growing up (cue Indiana Jones, as typical as that may seem). In fact, I actually enrolled with the intention to get a degree in philosophy. However, when I took my first anthropology course, Intro to Biological Anthropology, during my first year I realized that all of the questions that intrigued me in philosophy, such as what makes us human, could be investigated in a more scientific, evolutionary framework. As I took more courses in anthropology and was introduced to osteology and the field’s forensic applications, my focus shifted – I realized that this was the path I wanted to take, as I loved how the applied aspect of forensic anthropology can make a difference to modern, local communities and bring closure to family members.
Following undergrad, I continued on to get a masters in forensic anthropology at Mercyhurst University, which helped further develop my passion for the field and for how we can work to refine identification methods. In fact, through my doctoral degree at MSU, I am to hoping to continue working with biological profile methods – specifically, I am hoping to investigate the utility of postcranial metrics for ancestry estimation, as this has received less attention in the field and needs better standardization. But, I love how the field of anthropology always has an open door policy and welcomes forensic students like me to engage in programs like Campus Archaeology with open arms. While I’m only in my first year at MSU, I look forward to these opportunities and how I can use my forensic experience to inform my CAP research and vice versa, which I know will make me a well-rounded and more prepared anthropologist during my career.
Jeff: Unlike a lot of archaeologists that I have worked with over the years, I was not introduced to the field at a young age. Even in college it did not immediately start out in anthropology. I matriculated into my university as an engineering major, and quickly switched to history after about a month. However, when I encountered the discipline in the second semester of my first year, I immediately fell in love. It was Introduction to Archaeology and because the class was taught by a Dr. Lauren Sullivan, a Mayanist, the major context of the class was of the history, peoples, and cultures of pre-colonial Mexico and central America. When Dr. Sullivan discussed her research and fieldwork, I felt that this was the engagement with the past that I had always longed for and which history had left unfulfilled. I also was awed by the stories of fieldwork in the jungle, so many stories about being chased up trees by wild boars!. Mostly though, I was amazed by the idea of touching and studying objects from the past, material culture. In this way, falling in love with seemingly exotic places, ancient civilizations, and thousand-year-old artifacts, my introduction to archaeology was typical.
Years later I find myself far more interested in the seemingly mundane, in the archaeology of the recent past in the United States. During my one and a half years in the PhD. program here at Michigan State University I have had the opportunity to work as an research assistant and intern cataloging, analyzing, and counting glass and ceramic vessels from two sites far more recent than the Mayan archaeology that I encountered in my undergraduate program. One site dates to the 1940s, barely older than my father, and on a daily basis I will encounter and become fascinated by spark plugs, jars of Vick’s VapoRub, and countless indiscriminate shards of colorless glass. I find myself losing time searching eBay, Etsy, and the Sears catalog to understand objects that are so frustratingly familiar, but just beyond my understanding. And when I do find out that that could be or the exact language to describe an object so the search engine will pull up pictures of it, I am probably far too pleased that I have identified a tobacco tin. The other site dates to the 1850s and while the artifacts are more typical – we have transfer printed pottery! – the artifacts came from field that was once an orchard and later soybean farm and these processes broke many of the artifacts into tiny fragments. I spend hours looking at thumb nail sized pieces of glass, pottery, and metal and while it is frustrating, I love it and again, feel a remarkable sense of joy when I identify the pattern on one of the tiny pieces. While my interests have changed over the years, I still am fascinated by material culture, the people who used and produced it people, and places they occupied, I just have a greater appreciation for how complex the seemingly mundane can be.
Last Tuesday, November 12, 2019, Campus Archaeology hosted their first Open House. For two hours, Campus Archaeology opened our lab doors to the public. Campus Archaeology strives to have a standing relationship with the community through our numerous outreach events each year, as well as …
Next week is the annual Midwest Archaeological Conference (October 10-12, 2019) in Mankato, MN. Below is a list of dates and times of all MSU presentations. This includes past, present, and retired MSU graduate students and faculty. Included is a poster on the Campus Archaeology …
Campus Archaeology had an exciting summer field season, from the archaeological field school to field crew work across campus. We also hosted a class for Grandparent’s University and painted the MSU Rock! Below you can read more about each project.
Archaeological Field School
This summer Dr. Stacey Camp taught a 4-week archaeological field school that took place on Michigan State University’s campus. We had 15 students, and 2 volunteers participate! The field school focused on learning more about a historic homestead that was located on the corner of Shaw Lane and Hagadorn Road. You can learn more about this area’s history in a previous blog post.
The field school students were taught archaeological field methods in addition to learning how to conduct archival research, use digital technology (KoBoToolbox) to record data, artifact drawing, how to make 3D artifact models using photogrammetry, and how to identify and research artifacts.
Munsell also visited the field school to show us a few of their products and see how we typically use their soil color book. The products they brought and taught us about included their new Munsell CAPSURE Color Matching Tool! You can read more about their visit in our Color Me Excited blog post.
We will be posting blogs written field school students about their experience throughout the year.
Field Crew Work
The CAP field crew worked all across campus during the summer, from the Brody Neighborhood construction to the South River Trail sidewalks near the Business College Complex. Most of the work that took place by the CAP crew was for construction mitigation.
These projects included monitoring construction taking place near the Brody Neighborhood Complex and shovel test excavations for the Munn Ice Arena renovations, Williams Hall sidewalks, Parking Lot 7 sidewalks, Student Services sidewalks, and the South River Trail sidewalks. The CAP crew used the South River Trail sidewalk project to teach the archaeological field school students how to conduct shovel test pit surveys.
In addition to construction mitigation, the CAP Crew finished field research project on the Sanford Natural Area historic Sugar House. A report on the results of this research will be available on our website later this fall!
This year, Grandparent’s University participants in our History Beneath Our Feet: The Archaeology of MSU class learned about the archaeological field school that took place, and then assisted us in cleaning artifacts uncovered just weeks before from MSU’s campus. We also had coloring pages, 3D artifact models, a stratigraphy game, and artifacts available for the participants to interact with!
Painting the Rock
In order to promote the MSU Campus Archaeology Program and the archaeological field school taking place on campus, the CAP crew painted the famous MSU Rock. The 3D model made of the rock was then included as the final artifact #ArchaeologyofMSUin20 series.
Stay tuned to learn about our 2019-2020 Graduate Fellows and undergraduate interns!
Over the past couple of months, Campus Archaeology has been in communications with Girl Scout Regional Program and Event Specialist, Bethany Wilson, to develop an archaeology badge for girl scouts across Michigan. We are elated about our new partnership! These annual events will be a unique opportunity to teach young girls a variety of components of being an archaeologist, while showing that girls like to get dirty too!
This event will serve a minimum of 50 girls from across the state of Michigan in a single day. We plan to host this event in two sessions during the day in order to better serve the Girl Scout Brownies (2nd and 3rd grade) with a more personal experience. There is potential for including more age groups at a later date after the program well-established. The event will be structured as half-day workshop with the girls circulating through a series of 5 stations focusing on different aspects of fieldwork, including excavation, field photography, mapping, artifact identification, and soil classification.
At the excavation station, attendees will learn to layout a grid, learn the importance of methodical excavation, and different techniques for digging a grid unit. Next, they will get to photograph artifacts while learning the importance and difficulties of lighting in the field and other critical features, such as using a scale and north arrow. The mapping station will allow the girls to draw hand maps of a grid unit, followed by the artifact identification station where the girls will learn to identify stone tools, pottery, and several historic artifacts. Finally, at the soil classification station, attendees will compare a series of soil samples to a Munsell chart to determine the soil color and determine the composition of the soil (e.g. clay vs sandy). Understanding the soil type and soil color variations within an archaeological site provide important clues for identifying features, such as fire pits, as well as informing preservation expectations of organic materials.
The structure of this event will also provide the members with opportunities to earn more than one badges in a single event, such as badges for photography and mapping. To earn the archaeology badge, the girls will complete five steps: 1) become an archaeologist, 2) interpret the past, 3) discover a new culture, 4) preserve history, and 5) share their story. These steps can be completed in a variety of ways, such as meeting a museum curator, learning to categorize, log, and store artifacts, going to a local archaeological site, doing research on an artifact, and many more.
Over the next several weeks, Campus Archaeology will be working closely with Bethany Wilson to finalize the “Digging into the Past” badge program. We will set a date and location for the event, which will appear in the new program manual released to all Michigan Girl Scout member families in March. We are very excited to see the design of the new badge and to educate the future women of archaeology.
Dr. Amy Michael is a biological anthropologist whose research examines the microstructure of human bones and teeth in order to address questions ranging from health and social identity in the ancient Maya to the effect of lifestyle factors on skeletal age. She is currently a …