Tag: research methods

Graduate Academic Conference

Graduate Academic Conference

This Firday, March 30th, MSU’s Council of Graduate Students (COGS) is hosting the annual Graduate Academic Conference (GAC). The goal of the conference is to showcase current research that has been completed or is currently being done by graduate and professional students from MSU and 

Using Ceramics to Understand MSU’s Past Progress

Using Ceramics to Understand MSU’s Past Progress

I am currently working on an individual research project for the annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). My project focuses on how we could use ceramics to understand MSU’s past.I first had to read basic information determining the different types of artifacts that 

All about nails…

All about nails…

Here at Campus Archaeology we collect a lot of nails. They come in varying sizes and shapes, and can be found across the historic campus. Often nails found from the 19th century are coated with rust after years of sitting in the ground. This can make it difficult to determine their shape or construction. Regardless of how bad they are, we collect them all.

One of the questions we get is whether we can actually learn anything from a nail. Production of nails has varied throughout time, and changed drastically with industrialization. By looking at the shape of the nail and the way is was made we can determine the time period it is from. During the 1700’s and early 1800’s in the United States hand-wrought nails were the most common. These were made one at a time by blacksmiths. A square iron rod would be heated, and the end shaped into a point on four sides. The rod was then reheated and the end was cut off. In order to create the head, the blacksmith would insert the nail into a hole in the anvil and flatten the top using glancing blows.

Thomas Visser from A Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings

Beginning in the 1790’s through the early 1800’s a number of machines were invented in the US for making cut nails. The earliest machine cut nails in a guillotine fashion, the taper formed by wiggling the bar back and forth. The head was added by hand, using a hammer and glancing blows to create it like the iron wrought nails. These are referred to as Cut Nail Type A. In the 1810’s, a new machine was invented that automated the entire process. The machine flipped the bar after each cut in order to ensure even sides. The cutter was set to create a taper, rather than requiring human intervention. Finally, the machine gripped the cut nail and created a head. The entire production became a single automated process. These are referred to as Cut Nail Type B. Distinguishing these types of nails requires knowledge of the process of construction. Type A have diagonal burrs due to the wiggling required to create the taper, whereas Type B is even on all sides since the metal was flipped on each stroke. The Type B nails are the most popular form throughout the 19th century.

During the 1880’s, machines were developed to produce nails from inexpensive steel wire. This is the first time that nails begin to have the round shafts that we are more accustomed to seeing. The wire is fed into a machine that cuts it lengthwise, tapers the point and hammers the opposite end to create a head in one stage. Unlike previous machines requiring human aid or multiple steps, this is a single stage. These steel wire nails can be made much faster and cheaper. By 1886, 10% of all nails were round bodied steel wire, and by 1913 90% of all nails are this type.

Nails found on campus by CAPMSU

The question then is so what? Why do we care about nails? Since we can date nails so well they are helpful in determining the age of sites that we find. If we discover a site with only Type A cut nails we know that it was likely an early farmstead dating before the university period. Type B cut nails tell us that it was probably one of the early campus buildings prior to the turn of the 20th century. It is also relevant because we know that students were in charge of constructing and maintaining the first campus buildings. Knowing what students worked with helps us better understand what it was like to be part of the early campus. Try working with square cut nails and you will quickly see that this task isn’t easy!


Author: Katy Meyers Emery


Allen. All About Nails. Appalachian Blacksmith Association. http://www.appaltree.net/aba/nails.htm

Glasgow Steel Mill. History of Nail Making. http://www.glasgowsteelnail.com/nailmaking.htm

Happy Digital Learning Day

Happy Digital Learning Day

  Digital learning day  was started by the Alliance for Learning, and in partnership with the National Writing Project. “Digital Learning Day will celebrate innovative teaching practices that make learning more personalized and engaging and encourage exploration of how digital learning can provide more students with more opportunities 

Conducting Survey on Campus

Conducting Survey on Campus

An archaeological survey is the method by which archaeologists search for archaeological sites and collect information about the location, distribution and organization of human activity in the past. On MSU, this means that we survey in order to find the historic campus sites as well 

Campus Archaeology Fall Grad Student Update

Campus Archaeology Fall Grad Student Update

This semester we have been hard at work on a number of projects. Here are the updates from our graduate research team.

Jen and Amy

This semester, we worked on a grant proposal entitled, “Green from the Beginning: An Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Approach to Understanding MSU Sustainability Programs and Community Participation Through Time.” With Dr. Goldstein’s input, the grant was submitted to the MSU Office of Sustainability and we will hear back about the decision to fund the proposal on December 19th. If this proposal is funded, we will be able to employ one graduate research assistant and multiple graduate or undergraduate students as we wade through the historical records and archaeological material that will serve as the basis for our analysis. Previously, CAP fellows and interns worked on sustainability projects regarding historical use of transportation and foodstuffs from the inception of MSU to modern times and this grant would be used to further those endeavors.

As outlined in the following description of our project, we hope to document the University’s commitment to sustainable practices within a binary framework of history and community, referencing concepts such as land grant legacy and student participation as integral to its philosophy and goals. This proposal supports this approach and suggests that MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program is in a unique position to enhance the efficacy of this message by providing a temporally comprehensive documentation of sustainability policy and community perception/participation in sustainability initiatives.

The goals of CAP’s sustainability project are as follows: 1) Can we measure sustainability in MSU’s past? 2) How have MSU’s sustainability policies evolved over time? and 3) How has the campus community perceived and participated in campus food, energy, and transportation initiatives over time, and can we use this information to provide a way to more fully engage current students

This project will result in a documented, referenced history of MSU’s “green” heritage, which will allow the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability to more clearly nest the sustainability concept within the cultural history of the University. We will integrate ethnohistorical and archaeological research to construct a temporally and culturally sensitive picture of how sustainability has been understood and experienced by the historic campus community, providing critical context for a quantitative and qualitative description of evolving MSU’s food, energy, and transportation policies through time.

Our project will enhance MSU’s ability to reach its sustainability goals by extending the temporal scope of MSU’s sustainability measurement/assessment capabilities. We will firmly situate sustainability within a historic framework, and will foster a sense of campus community and environmental responsibility through shared “green” history.

In the following semester, we plan to continue our work by using archival and archaeological materials to create a summary of sustainability culture on campus during the historical phases outlined by CAP. We then plan to use modern day benchmarks developed for contemporary sustainability programs to “grade” the past. It will be interesting, we believe, to see how sustainable past practices really were as compared to modern standards. Additionally, our analysis will highlight trends in university sustainability policies and campus attitudes toward such policies over time.


The project that I have been working on for this semester is the development of an academic program to be used by elementary through high school classrooms to introduce the practice and theory of archaeology to students. The program will be in an online format and consist of a series of lesson plans, which outline basic concepts particular to archaeological method and which relate to the archaeology that is currently being conducted at the Michigan State University Campus.

Previous work conducted on this project includes extensive research into previously developed academic programs and lesson plans, many created by local and state historical societies. The three main sources that this program will be modeled after are the curriculum developed by the Society for American Archaeology, the Binghamton Campus Archaeology Program, and the curricula written by the Army Corps. of Engineers. Through research into these programs and others a clear outline for how lesson plans will be written up and the format for the academic program has been developed. In addition, research into the Campus Archives has been conducted as the beginning stages of creating the first lesson plan.

Currently, work is being done on writing and formatting the first lesson plan for the program packet. Specific photos from the MSU Archives have been selected as part of a lesson plan to introduce students to technology changes in the classroom. This lesson plan will also incorporate the archaeology that has been done on the MSU Campus by the Campus Archaeology Project. Recently, artifacts discovered during CAP excavations have been selected to be photographed for the lesson plan, which will then be incorporated with the Archive photos to introduce what changes in technology have taken place in the classroom, and how students can view this change in the archaeological record.

Eventually, by the end of the year the goal is to have at least four fully developed lesson plans introducing basic archaeological principles to students and combining them with local archaeology that has already been done on campus. The goal by the end of the calendar year is to have a minimum of four completed lesson plans on archaeological principles and local archaeology. The lesson plans will be formatted into an online format and made accessible to local schools through accessible pdf downloads that can be printed off by teachers.