Campus Archaeology

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.

A Day in the Life of Bones Don’t Lie

That's me in a giant trench excavating for Campus Archaeology, found part of the first dormitory

That’s me in a giant trench excavating for Campus Archaeology, found part of the first dormitory

The Day of Archaeology is a digital celebration of the breadth and variety of archaeology that occurs throughout the world. It provides a snapshot of what different types of archaeologists do on a day to day basis. The goal is to increase “public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world” (Day of Archaeology). I’ve participated in this event for the past two years, and I’m excited to be joining in again for my third year! I’m adding my perspective in two ways, the first is through my primary job as Campus Archaeologist of MSU. You can check out my Day of Archaeology post on Campus Archaeology here: Our Favorite Moments in Campus Archaeology which includes my favorite moment from digging this summer. Second, I can share what I’m doing on a daily basis.

Early Morning: I always start the day with a flavored coffee, and my current favorite is Macadamia Nut Cookie coffee that I have to order special online. Once I get that first sip into my system, I read up on the archaeology news. It’s important to keep up to date on what has been found, what new techniques are being used, and what may potentially serve as a new blog post for Bones Don’t Lie. I’ve found that starting the day like this prepares my brain for work. This morning I’m caught looking up the effects of corsets on bones; an odd topic for breakfast, but oh so intriguing.

Morning: I head into the office to start my job as Campus Archaeologist around 8am. The MSU Campus Archaeologist is a position held by a grad student, and involves running the day to day operations of the program including monitoring construction, excavating prior to construction, engaging with the campus community and conducting research on the archaeology of campus. It is a two year position, and I’ve been Campus Archaeologist for approximately 23 months. This means that my time today is going to be spent preparing for the new Campus Archaeologist. I’m hoping to get all of my reports finished before my predecessor begins. A quick break from writing to meet with the Chair of the Anthropology department to discuss my new job, and then I’m back to working on Campus Archaeology reports. We did about 6 archaeological surveys, so there is a lot of research and writing that needs to be done to complete the summer work.

Afternoon: This afternoon I’m working on writing up my research trip. As many of my Bones Don’t Lie readers know, I’ve been in England examining archaeological collections and meeting with various archaeologists to prepare for my dissertation proposal. Every day over the two weeks abroad I visited a different museum or university. All of that information needs to be collated and written up before it leaves my brain. When I think about my life as an archaeologist, I mostly remember the days in the dirt. Realistically though I spend most of my time at my computer writing up what I’ve been doing or what I intend to do. Archaeology is a few months of digging bookended by months of careful research, interpretation and writing.

Night: If it is a Monday or Wednesday night, that means I’m going to spend a couple hours researching and writing a new Bones Don’t Lie post. One of the things I love about writing a blog broadly on mortuary archaeology is that I get the chance to learn about a lot of different regions and time periods. Burial practices vary so much through time and space, and I love that I have a venue for sharing what I’ve learned about them. Tonight though, I’m doing something less scholarly because its Friday. I was inspired as a kid by Tomb Raider, and I still get a thrill playing archaeology themed video games. Admittedly, tonight I’m playing a grave robbing and completely not politically correct adventure game with archaeological undertones- Uncharted. These types of games allow me to feel something I only feel when digging- the sense of the unknown and the opportunity to uncover it. I’d rather be digging up a burial, learning who the skeleton inside was, and doing the hardcore research- but sometimes we need downtime, and games like these provide a quick fix for that desire.

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 (

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 (, Flickr (, or in person! Hope everyone learns a lot today and gets excited about archaeology around the world!