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”.

Abbott Entrance Landscape Rejuvenation Project

Sanford Library Paste jab from Station Terrace excavation

Sanford Library Paste jab from Station Terrace excavation

The first part of our summer involved surveying one of the main entrances to campus, which was undergoing a massive rejuvenation project. Although the road/median has existed in a relatively similar configuration since 1926, archival research indicated that several buildings were in that area prior to the road construction.  We uncovered building rubble from the first U.S. weather bureau, a historic sidewalk, and the intact basement from the building known as Station Terrace. I believe that we discovered an interior dividing wall within the basement, which produced an interesting array of artifacts including an intact Sanford Library Paste bottle, as well as a pair of men’s wingtip oxford shoes! Prior to our work in the median, few people remembered that a building was ever there, let alone considered how much of it existed after it was moved off campus in 1925. This work has allowed us to mark this as an area that will need more investigation in the future.

Summer 2016 Crew after finishing Station Terrace Excavations

Summer 2016 Crew after finishing Station Terrace Excavations

Beal’s Botanical Laboratory

For year’s we’ve wanted to investigate the site of Beal’s first botanical laboratory to assess the site integrity. Although a historical marker was erected in this spot, the exact location and orientation of the laboratory was disputed due to conflicting maps. This is an important structure to campus history, as Dr. Beal was a central figure in the development of MSU.  This laboratory burned down in 1879. We opened three 1×1 meter test units spanning the grassy area around the historical marker. Two of the units located foundation and/or interior dividing walls along with large amounts of nails and melted window glass. The third unit was sterile soil and appears to be outside of the building’s foundation. The orientation of the walls is a bit perplexing, as the building itself was not square due to its Gothic design. We, and other people that work in the Beal botanical garden, were amazed that the walls were mere inches under the sod. Hopefully we will be able to return to this area in the future to better understand the building, and Dr. Beal.

Beal's Botanical Lab Unit 1

Beal’s Botanical Lab Unit 1

Beal's Botanical Lab Unit 2

Beal’s Botanical Lab Unit 2

Lot #7

Some changes to the construction schedule also allowed extra time to investigate another area of campus. We placed several test pits behind the Old Horticulture building to gain a better idea of the underlying soil and site integrity prior to a nearby parking lot repaving. Historically this space was farmland, hospital quarantine cottages (1907-1922), a greenhouse (1922-early 2000s), and today a green space and parking lot.   The soil was extremely dry and compact, requiring digging with a mattock. In the short amount of time we worked in that area, we discovered ample evidence of the greenhouse. Perhaps additional testing in the future will uncover evidence of the quarantine cottages and farm-related activity.

Salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot sherds, and an early 1980s Snickers Wrapper from Old Horticulture South Lawn excavations

Salt glazed brick, plant tag, flower pot sherds, and an early 1980s Snickers Wrapper from Old Horticulture South Lawn excavations

Today is an organization day for me. I need to decide which locations fit our requirements for individual site numbers, as well as which excavations require a site summary versus a more formal report. A secondary research goal was locating a site to hold the 2017 summer field school. I’m working on weighing the pros and cons of two potential sites we investigated to propose for the field school to Dr. Goldstein, who founded and supervises the program. Today is the type of day that proves it’s necessary to take good notes.

Page from this summer's notebook

Page from this summer’s notebook

One thought on “A Busy Summer for MSU Campus Archaeology

  1. Excellent update! One correction: Beal’s Botanical Laboratory burned down in 1890, not 1879.

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