Excavating Michigan State University with the Campus Archaeology Program

Today, June 29th, is the second annual Day of Archaeology, and we are proud to be a part of this project again! You can also see last year’s post here: A Day in the Life of the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program.

This summer, the Michigan State University (MSU) Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) has been busy trying to keep ahead of the massive construction plans on campus, surveying and testing areas prior to any demolition or excavation. Every week since April has consisted of surveys of large portions of MSU’s historic campus. We’ve even been excavating beneath sidewalks as they are removed and behind fences. This involves not only a lot of physical work, but also constant communication with the construction companies and broader MSU community. All of our work is discussed on our blog, and we have live from-the-field tweets. Our goal in excavating on campus is two-fold: to mitigate and protect the historic and prehistoric landscape at MSU, and to educate the campus and broader community about the importance of archaeology. We also use the program as a way to train students. Our team of summer archaeologists includes both graduate and undergraduate students from MSU who survey, excavate, conduct lab work, interpret materials, and do archival research.

This past week we hosted a group of grandparents and grandkids for MSU’s Grandparent’s University. On Tuesday, we gave lectures about who we are and what we do, followed by a tour of the historic campus that included a stop at one of our ongoing excavation projects. This unit was put in after extensive survey in this area. We found historic clay pipes and a layer of broken brick in a number of shovel test pits, so we opened up a unit in between these pits to further investigate what these artifacts may represent. On Wednesday, the kids and grandparents were able to have hands-on time examining ceramics, glass and other artifacts found by our archaeologists. They also were able to make some of their own artifacts by using clay and an assortment of tools to decorate their objects. Here’s a picture of some of the Grandparents U students on our walking tour. We always enjoy these programs because we get the opportunity to teach both grandparents & kids at the same time!

Comments by Lynne Goldstein, Director of CAP

Although a lot of the work of Campus Archaeology is in the field, we do a whole lot of work in the lab and in archives as well. In order to properly understand and interpret what we find, we need to know what kind of information is available about the site or area. Have other archaeologists worked here? Were there buildings here? Did other activities happen here? Before we go out into the field, we do archival research to help us learn as much as we possibly can about the area we are about to explore. That way, we have a better idea of what we might find. Our archival work is both on campus and with the State Archaeologist’s Office, as well as in the Library and online.

As of today, we are mostly done with our fieldwork for the summer. Now is the time we spend in our lab, processing and interpreting our findings. It isn’t always as dramatic as digging, but it can still be exciting. Plus, it always makes us happy when we can post our reports.

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