Michigan State University Campus Archaeology and the Future

By Lynne Goldstein

I am posting this on the Day of Archaeology website, as well as the MSU Campus Archaeology website (http://campusarch.msu.edu).

I was not going to personally post today for Day of Archaeology (#dayofarch) since our field season ended a few weeks ago, and I am getting ready for surgery (hip replacement). All of our student workers are off doing other things, so our lab is pretty quiet right now. Field work is also on hold since construction projects are in their final phases, in an attempt to be completed before school begins. However, when I realized that this was the last Day of Archaeology, I felt compelled to write something since I am also coming to the end of a project.

I created and direct the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program (MSU CAP), and as of May 2018, I will be retiring from the University (although not from archaeology). The job of directing and administering MSU CAP will go to Dr. Stacey Camp, who has just arrived in East Lansing so that we can overlap for a year. MSU CAP is in very capable hands, and I am confident that the program will not only survive, but thrive. We will do a blog post welcoming and more completely introducing Stacey later in August.

Historic archaeology in general, and campus archaeology in particular, were never my primary research interests. But career paths are rarely straight, and I have found that one does best taking advantage of opportunities along the way. Given this, I have conducted excavations of several large and small historic cemeteries across the U.S., and I created this campus program, which is primarily (although not exclusively) focused on historic sites.

I thought that a campus-focused program would be good for a number of reasons (beyond being able to sleep in my own bed each night), but found that there were even more reasons than I had anticipated. Here are a few of them:

1. Doing archaeology on campus raises awareness of archaeology and the fact that sites are everywhere, and that campus histories do not tell the complete story. We see ourselves as educating a large community (students, faculty staff, alumni, the general public) on the importance and value of archaeology.
2. Students and staff are more likely to get involved and excited when the sites being excavated are something they can directly relate to, and developing an appreciation for and learning more about the history of the campus is good for everyone.
3. Campus Archaeology has changed attitudes and approaches of the upper administration of the campus, as well as the workers. Physical plant employees have told us that working with CAP has definitely made their jobs more interesting.
4. Running a field school on campus (which we generally do every other year) allows students who cannot go on an expedition elsewhere the chance to learn archaeological methods and techniques. Some students cannot afford to go elsewhere, others have family commitments that constrain their opportunities.
5. In addition to training students in archaeological methods like every archaeological field school does, we also train students in archival research and to work with construction crews, staff, administration, etc. This additional training that our undergrad interns and graduate student fellows receive helps them get into graduate school and get better jobs. They have a kind of training that few others receive; they all also get extensive training in public outreach and engagement.
6. Social media has allowed a very small program to have a very large reach – we regularly engage with archaeologists and the public around the world. Students are trained in conducting such engagement, including writing regular blog posts.
7. Studying the history of higher education – particularly the land grant schools – through archaeology is fascinating, reflects larger changes in the overall culture, and is an area that has not been widely examined archaeologically. Each graduate fellow focuses their individual project on a different aspect of this history.

I feel privileged to have been able to create and direct this program, and I have to thank Michigan State University for its generous and enthusiastic support. Will I miss doing this? Of course, but it is also time to move on the next phase. I love Day of Archaeology because – ona single day – we can see what kinds of things archaeologists are doing all over the world. We are learning a lot about our past, with some clear possibilities for future directions if we listen.

MSU Campus Archaeology – Public Outreach

The Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) works to mitigate and protect archaeological resources on Michigan State University’s beautiful and historic campus.  Although the program was officially created in 2007, the first on-campus excavation occurred in 2005. The upcoming academic year (2017-2018) is bringing several big changes to the program: director Dr. Lynne Goldstein is retiring, and Dr. Stacey Camp was recently hired to take over as program director.  This means that we’re doing lots of behind the scenes house keeping to make sure that everything from the last 10+ years is in order before Dr. Goldstein’s retirement.  Additionally I’ve been serving as the campus archaeologist since 2015, and will be stepping down after May 2018 (when I will hopefully graduate!). That means I need to also have all of my materials well documented and in order so that the transition to the next campus archaeologist goes as smoothly as possible.

So, what does that means for me today? Today I’m working on a photo book documenting the last two years of CAP activity and projects. We distribute this book to university administrators, deans, board of trustees, etc. to highlight the wide variety of work CAP does. Obviously I’m still working on the 2016-2017 book, but below is a sample from the 2015 book.

2015 CAP Photo book Example

2015 CAP Photo book Example

Making and distributing this book is a great public outreach opportunity, allowing CAP to easily describe our field word, laboratory analysis, and outreach over the past years. My job today is to summarize these large projects into short, simple page length (or less!) descriptions.

Some of the major projects to be included in this years book are:

2016 Survey

During the summer of 2016 university landscape services rejuvenated one of the major entrances to campus.  Historically several important buildings (Y.M.C.A., hospital, weather bureau, and Station Terrace) occupied this area, so CAP conducted several sweeps of shovel test pits.  Testing revealed that most of the northern section of the entrance was highly disturbed, but the southern most portion of the median revealed the foundation of Station Terrace.

CAP field crew documenting STP 3B-14, part of the foundation wall of Station Terrace

CAP field crew documenting STP 3B-14, part of the foundation wall of Station Terrace




That summer the field crew also excavated at two additional locations, an old greenhouse and a botanical laboratory that burned down in 1879.

Beal's Laboratory foundation wall - burn layer visible in unit wall.

Beal’s Laboratory foundation wall – burn layer visible in unit wall.

Field crew members Becca Albert and Jack Biggs show off a pipe fragment from the Old Horticulture greenhouse

Becca Albert and Jack Biggs show off a pipe fragment from the greenhouse.












Food Reconstruction Project

Over the past year several CAP graduate fellows worked to recreate an 1860s meal on campus based on archaeological, archival, and historic cookbook research.  Although only photos will be used, check out this short video to learn more:

2017 Field School

From May 30th – June 30th MSU Anthropology undergraduate students returned to the site of Station Terrace (first located during the summer of 2016) to examine more of the building.  It was a small group this year, but we were able to excavate six units, and reveal more of the building’s interior and exterior.

CAP field school students Josh Eads and Kaleigh Perry excavate underneath ceramic pipes running along the stone foundation.

CAP field school students Josh Eads and Kaleigh Perry excavate underneath ceramic pipes running along the stone foundation.

Unit A north wall stratigraphy. The 2016 test pit is visible on the left side, with undisturbed layers including a feature visible on the right.

Unit A north wall stratigraphy. The 2016 test pit is visible on the left side, with undisturbed layers including a feature visible on the right.









The one thing I really wish I could include in the book, but can’t is this video of Dr. Goldstein demonstrating how to pop dirt directly into the screen:

These are just a few of the many projects campus archaeology has completed over the last two years.  If you’re interested in learning more, or keeping up with upcoming research and projects head on over to the Campus Archaeology website, or following us on instagram or twitter (@capmsu).



A Busy Summer for MSU Campus Archaeology

The digging season recently ended here at Michigan State University. This summer we focused on construction related projects, research-based testing, as well as finishing cataloging the nearly 25,000 artifacts from the 2015 field school. That means it’s the time of the season where I (Lisa Bright), as campus archaeologist get to digest, interpret, and report on this summers activities. Although this isn’t nearly as glamorous, or necessarily exciting, as digging, it’s just as important. Relaying the results of archaeological sensitivity testing back to the University, as well as the public, is an important part of our job as the Campus Archaeology Program.

This summer was a little different for us, as the construction related projects were small compared to the massive excavations in years past. This meant that we had a little extra time to do some research-driven investigations in parts of campus that have been outside our scope in prior years. Today I’m working on organizing and summarizing my notes and photos from the locations we worked at from the beginning of May through mid July. There’s a lot to go through, since this field season was jokingly dubbed the summer of “yep you need to expand that test pit”.


Digging and Discovering … on Campus

Here at Michigan State, we have finished the field school, completed most construction-related projects, and are cleaning artifacts, organizing things and preparing for the new school year. I (Lynne Goldstein) am personally doing conference calls and trying to catch up on a variety of things that are due.

Doing archaeology on campus is a great way to train students, engage the public, and make people realize that archaeology is literally under their feet. It is our hope that we not only preserve and protect the campus heritage, but also that we make students, faculty, staff, and the general public aware of archaeology and why it is important.

To that end, the field school was in a great location this year – along the river and right behind the Administration Building. The location was not only lovely and prime territory for duck and goose watching, but it is also a high traffic area, with lots of people – including administrators – walking by daily. Here is a shot I took from the Provost’s office: IMG_1788

And here is our end-of-dig crew shot: IMG_2092

Archaeological work outside the field may sound dull, but it really is not always the case, as I noted yesterday on Facebook:
“Sometimes meetings are very enjoyable. Just returned from a meeting about new campus historical markers, focusing on the “Sleepy Hollow” area. MSU wants to include info on the prehistoric site we found at the edge of the hollow, as well as info the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has on historic sites and events in the area.
After the meeting, we went and inspected a couple of sites, then I visited the Beal Botanical Garden because all of the Eastern Agricultural Complex domesticates were blooming – goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), marshelder (Iva annua), and squash (Cucurbita pepo).”

The Lansing State Journal ran an article this week on archaeology in Michigan, and we are very pleased that we are featured, along with Fort Michilimackinac and others.

The field school excavated a really interesting historic site that was apparently a single dump episode – in 1924, the head of grounds for the campus (also a Professor of Horticulture) remodeled and modernized his house and used the construction debris as fill for a low spot along the river, not far from the house. Everything we found dates from 1890s-1925. Field school students blogged about the work and what they found, and you can find those posts here.

Our regular CAP posts continue, and this link tells you about the outhouse we found which is probably linked to Saints Rest, the very first dormitory on campus. We are very excited about this find because we have been searching for an outhouse associated with the dorm for a long time. Archaeologists like outhouses (well, old ones that don’t smell anymore) because no one goes after anything they dropped into one, and people also often used them as a dump for debris.

We do have some sidewalk work to do on campus, and this often yields really interesting things. The University replaces sidewalks with some regularity (they are now trying to install “green” sidewalks everywhere), and there is often undisturbed stuff beneath the old sidewalks.

Day of Archaeology: Our Favorite Moments in Michigan State Campus Archaeology

Day of Archaeology offers a snapshot into the lives and daily work of archaeologists from various subdisciplines and regions. At Campus Archaeology, we have been participating in this event for the past two years (since its beginning), and are excited to once again be a part of it. You can read our 2011 post, A Day (or 2) in the Life of the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program, and our 2012 post, Excavating Michigan State University with the Campus Archaeology Program. For our Day of Archaeology 2013, we are sharing our favorite moments from the excavations and surveys we’ve completed this summer.

goldstein 2013Dr. Lynne Goldstein: This summer’s archaeology was a little different for me. In addition to the MSU Campus Archaeology Program that I direct, I also directed an archaeology field school project at the prehistoric Aztalan site in southern Wisconsin (blog posts can be found here). Both kinds of archaeology are exciting, but trying to keep track of both when they are in different places (and different states) is tricky. As you will read below, the CAP group found lots of things in the excavations that were done as large-scale construction proceeds across campus. A very exciting moment for me was when I discovered that all of the various University offices with which we work are finally understanding that what we do is important and must be accommodated. We no longer have to argue with folks about our presence. We still have to negotiate access and timing, but that is only because of construction deadlines. I am exceptionally pleased that CAP has come so far and has been so successful in such a relatively short period of time.

Excavating at Aztalan was also very exciting and interesting. Aztalan is a palisaded village that dates to the Mississippian period (roughly AD 1000-1300), and is now a state park. We were looking at two different structures at the site, trying to figure out how they were used, and how the people at Aztalan modified their landscape. We found lots of artifacts and discovered that some of the assumptions that had been made about the site are not quite correct. See our blog posts for some details, and also visit Dan Seurer’s website that has wonderful pictures of our work.

I would not recommend that people try and organize and direct two separate archaeological field projects in the same summer, but we had wonderful crews, and with a lot of help, we were successful in both projects. Sometimes people tell me that they cannot get excited about “historic archaeology” or “prehistoric archaeology,” but I have never quite understood those views. Archaeology is always exciting – you are the first person to see, touch, brush, move some object that has not been touched in many hundreds or thousands of years – how can that NOT be exciting? Below is a shot of the Aztalan crew – we had an awful lot of rain this summer!!


Katy working on cleaning up the trench with the plaster floor from Saints’ Rest


Katy Meyers: I really love working with Campus Archaeology, so it is difficult to select a favorite moment. This summer we’ve made a lot of great finds, surveyed a variety of areas, and had an amazing team to do it all with. One of the days that sticks out most for me was when we were excavating a trench within Saints’ Rest. We had been digging the same 3 by 1 meter area for two days and had found hundreds of bricks and mortar. It was extremely difficult and very slow work. We weren’t sure if we should continue, but I decided that we should press on. At the end of the second day we were well rewarded for our patience. Almost 1 meter deep, we found a plaster floor, portions of an intact brick wall, a stove oven door, all the hardware for a door, and a clear division within the trench between the raised hallway and sand floor basement. The best part of it all was probably that the team working with me on this feature was so dedicated to finishing it before the day ended that we all stayed a few hours past ‘quitting time’. It was fantastic to be rewarded for our hard work, and this feature adds to our understanding of Saints Rest.




Katie working on a trench near Saints’ Rest, via Katy Meyers


Katie Scharra: This summer has been a whirlwind of construction monitoring, digging, and labwork.  It is hard to choose a favorite moment.  Having been a dedicated lab rat for almost all my archaeological career, I have to say my very favorite moments had to do with the analysis phase of surveys and excavations.  Of all the artifacts, one in particular struck my interest.  A small centimeter sherd of ironstone that  was a small portion of a maker’s mark.  Maker’s marks are found on the underside of ceramics; like trademarks they can tell you a lot about who, where, and when the item originated from.  This allowed us to have an engaging and successful session of identification. To identify this marker’s mark, we had to first figure out its correct orientation.  Once that was done we noticed that there was the paw and mane of a lion.  To indentify this we utilized reference books on maker’s marks and Google images.  This allowed us to discover the company that produced the product was Royal Ironstone China, a company in England made up of multiple potters.  Further inquiry led to a match of potter and a subsequent dating of the artifact.  A blog post on the specifics of this search will be posted in the next few weeks.


Josh cleaning up the chimney found at Saints Rest, via Katy Meyers

Josh Schnell: This summer working with Campus Archaeology has taught me so much as this was my first actual archaeological field experience. One of the most memorable projects we did this summer was the dig at Saints Rest. The sidewalk construction crew was putting in a new sidewalk that happened to run straight through Saints Rest and we ended up putting two trenches in the area where they were going to be paving. The dig itself yielded a bunch of artifacts and gave us more information on the building, including the location of one of the chimneys. We pulled up a doorknob, some hinges, and a stove door from the trench located inside the building, and from the other trench I actually pulled up quite a few great artifacts. Aside from a large piece of Rockinghamware (a type of stoneware) from a shovel test pit near the trench, I pulled a spoon head out of the ground and later found the other half! We also found large portions of bottles, metal, and tons of glass and whiteware pieces. It was the longest dig we did this summer, but my own discoveries were what made this dig so memorable for me!




Bethany excavating the old road near MSU Museum

Bethany Slon: My favorite part of working with Campus Archaeology this summer was definitely uncovering the old road outside of what is now the MSU museum.  Today, the north side of the MSU Museum has a sidewalk running roughly parallel to the building, with grassy lawn on either side.  However, in the late 19th century, this area looked completely different.  At this time, Williams Hall stood there instead of the MSU Museum (later to burn down in 1919).  We know from research at the MSU Archives that a road used to run on the north side of Williams, passing by the water fountain slightly to the east of Williams (the same water fountain that remains on campus today).  In May we opened up a trench just outside of the MSU Museum, and were excited to find a layer that was clearly the old road.  Architecture has always been one of my favorite aspects of archaeology, so finding this road and relating it to the old buildings and campus features was extremely enjoyable for me.

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.

A Day (or 2) in the Life of the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program

The following is a combined Day of Archaeology post from the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program (http://campusarch.msu.edu).

Since we have completed our major piece of fieldwork for the summer at the beginning of July, I asked our graduate fellows to talk about what they are doing now. I wrap up the discussion at the end of this piece. The first picture is from our summer field school excavations, the second from a series of tours we regularly do (this one was Grandparents University).

Lynne Goldstein, Director of CAP

Chris Stawski

As MSU’s previous Campus Archaeologist, a day for an archaeologist like me is concentrated on the educational aspects of our program and of archaeology. Ranging from working with undergraduate interns on their semester projects in archaeology, to writing technical reports on fieldwork and site mitigation, to the basic social outreach done through Twitter, Facebook and the CAP blog, each aspect centers around education. It’s these day-to-day operations that educate the public, the community, and our students about the methods, theories and platforms that we as archaeologists use to preserve, protect and share MSU’s historic past.


Katy Meyers

As the new Campus Archaeologist for MSU, most of my time is currently spent trying to transition into the position and get ready for the upcoming year. While archaeology does involve a lot of excavation and work with material culture, it also requires planning and working with the public. Currently I’m working on developing a social media plan with one of the previous Campus Archaeologists. Creating a relationship with the campus community requires work with a number of online platforms to make the work accessible, open and relevant. All the archaeological work that is done on campus is tweeted, facebooked, photographed, and published online. This requires not only careful documentation of everything that we’re doing, but also a method for disseminating the information in a cohesive, standardized and — most importantly — quick manner. By making the campus aware of our activities, we spread information about archaeology, and we also create connections with various facilities on campus that may be doing potentially destructive work.

Grace Krause

While I love dirt and the glamorous excitement of new archaeological finds, my life in the lab is far more satisfying to me. After spending several years in museums, detailed work with collections has become the most enjoyable aspect of archaeology for me. Lately for Campus Archaeology, I have been analyzing our faunal collections. My day in the lab requires bone manuals for identification, a microscope and magnifying glass to look for small modifications, and calipers (a precision measuring device) to take measurements that help determine species and age. Some broken bones I am able to reconstruct to help with identification. After identifying a bone, I enter it into a database with site information, bag number, species, any modifications, and other potentially important information; the bone is then drawn on a separate form if there is evidence of human modification. Of course, it is always better to record more information than you think you might use. Finally, specimens are tagged and returned to their cabinets for safekeeping. Organizing collections such as this is a key aspect of archaeological research. Without such work, we could not make informed interpretations about the frequently confusing remains we see at sites.


Kristin Sewell

Imagining a typical archaeologist, many people envision a khaki-clad figure huddled over a hole with paint brushes and trowel, rear-end stuck in the air like a stink beetle. For most archaeologists, realizing this popular image is a high-point of the year: the much anticipated field season. But, what do archaeologists do during the rest of the year? For me (a historic archaeologist), the bulk of my archaeological research is done in preparation for the field season and happens in the library and archive. Libraries contain secondary sources like biographies, histories, and maps that help me recreate the past and identify previous research and interpretations of cultures and people. In the archives, I scour journals, letters, ledgers and other primary sources that describe the experiences of specific individuals. I try to find that small voice that reaches out from the past to direct my research in the present—I once heard an archival researcher compare this research as the moment when Dr. Seuss’ beloved Horton finally hears the Whos on that speck of dust “We are here! We are here! We are here!”—With research from primary and secondary sources in hand, archaeologists like me can better identify where to dig, how the land there was used, why it was used, and what we might recover during the archaeological field season. This is the life of a typical archaeologist, a life spent as much in the dust as it is in the dirt.


Lynne Goldstein

The Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program is unique – we not only step in to collect site information before it is destroyed by development, we do work on any and ALL ground disturbances on campus – from new buildings to new sidewalks, trees and shrubs. Another important aspect of our program is education, as both Chris and Katy have noted above. Both Grace and Kristin have talked about lab and archival work that is critical for establishing context and helping in interpretation. We actively try to include the entire MSU community – from staff, faculty, administrators, students, and visitors to alumni and the general community – in everything we do. There is no question that this program is the most transparent and collaborative program I have ever directed or participated in. We want people to know who we are, what we are doing, why we are doing it, what we are finding, and what we have produced. On this day of archaeology, we hope that we provided a glimpse into our program, and we welcome you to visit us on a regular basis, via our website (see above), Twitter (@capmsu), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/capmsu), Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/capmsu), or in person! Hope everyone learns a lot today and gets excited about archaeology around the world!