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).



Day of Archaeology at a Great Lakes Lumber Camp

As an associate professor of Anthropology at Central Michigan University, I run an Archaeological Field School every other summer.  This summer, field school students studied and documented the ruins of lumber camp in north-central Michigan. In Michigan’s northern woods, the remnants of a once extensive lumbering industry can be found in the form of lumber camp ruins, defunct railroad grades, and mill ghost towns.  The Anthropology program at CMU has a strong focus on public and community-engaged archaeology, so as a part of the field school experience I opened the site to the public on our Day of Archaeology (which was actually on June 8th).  Students in the field school shared with the visiting public about the process of site documentation from start to finish.

Michigan’s lumbering history is a complex part of industrial and colonial expansion of the rural landscape of the state.  Timber cutting expanded in predictable patterns, linked to the technological means for transporting timber from the wilderness to mills and on to the industrial centers of Chicago and Detroit.  The industrial expansion moved swiftly and methodically into places like Clare County, where between roughly 1870-1900 the entire county saw the development of cities, railroads, and mills as timber was cut.

   Historic Photograph of unnamed lumber camp with railroad near Farwell, Clare County.

Lumber camps were short-lived neighborhoods in the lumber extraction process, but also integral to the industry as dynamic labor communities.  These self-sufficient communities were often comprised of ethnically and cultural diverse populations.  As archaeological sites, they represent short, but intensive, occupations that are spatially organized into recognizable task areas: barracks for workers, blacksmith and farrier sheds, cook’s kitchen and mess hall, foremen’s office, and more.

Historic industrial archaeology may not seem like an important topic, especially when the sites you are studying are only about 100 years old.  I mean, how much can you learn from the recent past that has photos and documents associated with it?  The reality is that there is much to be gained from studying the small residues of everyday life from even the recent past.  This is especially the case when it comes to lumber camps, which often have little to no historic documentation.  Think about it.  Before cell phone selfies, how many people documented their daily lives with photographs?  Before social media, how many average people had their stories told in official historic documents?  This is where archaeology can fill in the gaps.  By excavating lumber camp sites, we can see how everyday people lived, worked, ate, played, and slept about 100 years ago.

We started fieldwork by conducting survey (identifying any visible structural foundations) and geophysical prospection with a magnetic susceptibility meter.  Students learned how to navigate through the woods and identify building berms and cellar pits.  Magnetic susceptibility is a useful geoprospection technique that senses enrichments to the soil that increase magnetic properties.  This results in “hot-spots” that are organic or iron rich thanks to stuff left behind by people – in other words, places we might like to dig. These steps helped us identify former structures and chose locations for excavation.

Magnetic Susceptibility Geoprospection in action, with Teaching Assistant, Greg Swallow, supervising graduate students Kara McDonald (using meter) and Jeremy Cunningham (recording data). Greg is standing on the berm remnant of a building, these were earthen foundations for the temporary buildings of the lumber camp.

This lumber camp had at least seven distinct buildings (identified by foundation berms or cellars) and the remnants of a road.  Our primary goal was to identify what activities were conducted in each building, so excavation units were placed in several buildings to provide a snapshot of what people were doing in these areas.

Site Plan Map made using a Total Data Station and GIS software.

On our Day of Archaeology, we had excavations at four buildings open.  At Building 1, students discovered a huge stockpile of cut and hand-wrought nails, as well as other metal tools. So far, this building is our best candidate for the blacksmith’s shop.

Student sketch map of Building 1 excavation unit, showing density of nail fragments.

At Building 2, students found part of the building itself – which appeared as burnt planks of wood with nails.  They also found a number of clay smoking pipe fragments.  Based on the size and placement of this building, as well as its contents, it may have been the foreman’s office.

Photograph of one of the many clay pipe fragments found in Building 2.

Just outside the door of Building 4, students were astonished to find a pile of saw cut beef bone. Based on the density of animal bone, this building was most likely the cook’s kitchen – it also has a large cellar and is located next to a second cellar (both would have been necessary for storing the camp’s food).  The presence of beef is surprising, because it represents the most expensive cuts of meat, compared to the more commonly purchased mutton or hunted venison.

Photograph of Building 4 excavation unit showing butchered beef bones in place.

Building 7 was only detected by the geoprospection methods and was not readily visible as a berm, so our excavations at this building were aimed at determining whether a berm wall once existed in the area detected by the magnetic susceptibility meter.  While we did not find many artifacts at this excavation unit, we did find soil changes indicative of the berm structure and also a wooden beam left in place.  Therefore, we now know that Building 7 was a structure. Based on its location adjacent to the kitchen, it might have been the mess hall.

Photograph of Level-3 plan at Building 7 excavation unit, showing soil staining and wood plank associated with structure foundation.

In addition to the excavations, we also set up a field lab so that visitors could see how artifacts were cleaned, documented, and prepared for curation. Laboratory work, while not as exciting as fieldwork, is extremely important to the process of archaeology.  Analysis of the artifacts often takes two to three times as long as the fieldwork.  But, it can be just as fun to “rediscover” the artifacts in the lab and begin to tell the story of the site.

Graduate student, Mandy Kramar, talking with site visitor, Mariane Eyer, about artifacts found at site and process of cleaning and curation.

 All in all, we had a very fruitful first field season at the lumber camp.  Our public Day of Archaeology was also a success, with a couple dozen visitors (pretty good numbers for a remote location in rural Michigan) stopping by.  Most visitors spent hour or more touring the site and asking questions. More investigations are planned in October of 2017, coinciding with Michigan’s Archaeology Month.

Dr. Sarah Surface-Evans is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Central Michigan University who specializes in community-based archaeology.


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.

Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology’s “Aha” moments

For this year’s Day of Archaeology Michigan State University Campus Archaeology decided tell the story of our “Aha” moments, those moments when the archaeology comes together perfectly with the other evidence and answers all (well most) of the questions. So we asked our CAP crew to describe one of their CAP “Aha” moments.

Kate Frederick- Moore Artifact

The MSU Campus Archaeology Program helps to mitigate and protect archaeological resources on MSU’s campus, while working with multiple departments to instill a sense of stewardship of the cultural heritage of MSU. The goal of our work on campus, both in research and in archaeological investigations, attempts to make visible a past that has been stored away, forgotten, or pushed aside by progress. We use archival material and historical records to help piece together a history of campus that is accessible to the public. This historical context is used to provide us with a framework for our survey, excavation, and research. Our discovery of the “Moore artifact” is one example of how all these pieces came together.

The first building on MSU’s campus was College Hall, which was built in 1857 by the original MSU students. It was poorly constructed and though repairs were made several times, it actually collapsed during marching band practice in 1918. Generally, that would be the end of the story for a building…but CAP uncovered more life history of College Hall.

In 2009 CAP excavated an area next to the Red Cedar River, which winds through campus. During these excavations we uncovered a large amount of building debris. While the debris was odd, the area was a very low section near the river that historically often flooded, so it made sense that this area would be shored up in order to prevent erosion.

Artifact found during excavations on the Red Cedar R.

Artifact found during excavations on the Red Cedar R.

However, it was the what, not the why that was interesting. A piece of wall plaster with the name “Moore” signed on it, was discovered in the building debris.

We were able to match this artifact to a picture found in MSU Archives of College Hall; students who built College Hall signed their names on the basement wall.

Note on College Hall wall left by MSU students in 1887. Courtesy MSU Archives

Note on College Hall wall left by MSU students in 1887. Courtesy MSU Archives

This led to our “Aha” moment; after College Hall collapsed the debris was hauled a few hundred yards away to a low spot on the river, this act was never recorded in MSU’s history. CAP was able to track the life history of College Hall to its final resting place on the Red Cedar.

Josh Schnell- Veterinary Laboratory 

MSU Campus Archaeology has to work closely with the Infrastructure and Planning Facilities Department and mitigate with construction companies on areas with a high potential for cultural heritage. One of CAP’s “Aha” moments came at the start of our summer field season this year. It started with a phone call from one of the construction foreman’s on campus; he said that they had found a pile of bricks while digging and that we should come check it out. Upon arrival, and after some cleanup, it was clear that we were looking at the foundation of a building. Because of our proximity to the main steam substation, our original hypothesis was that the foundation was an early rendition of MSU’s steam power infrastructure.  However, we kept finding artifacts that we couldn’t quite put a finger to, such as small animal bones, a metal tag, and a group of three keys. After the first day we cleared and mapped a section, and took GPS coordinates of the corner of the structure.

CAP crew excavating the west wall of the Old Vet Lab

CAP crew excavating the west wall of the Old Vet Lab

One huge advantage to our work on campus is that we have easy access to MSU historical documents; therefore, in an effort to figure out what the foundation was associated with, we visited the MSU Archives. Initially, our research left us with no definitive answers, all we could find was the presence of some barns and several more permanent structures, but not much beyond that. The pieces started coming together when, while researching, I remembered that I had done a map overlay and georeferenced an 1899 map of campus with GIS data pertaining to modern campus for a previous CAP project. There was one building that

MSU Veterinary Lab 1885. Courtesy MSU Archives

MSU Veterinary Lab 1885. Courtesy MSU Archives

matched the location of the structure we found, and whose southwest corner coordinates matched the GPS coordinates we’d taken the day before, leading us to the conclusion that we had found the MSU’s first veterinary laboratory. This “Aha” moment was further clarified when we connected the interesting artifacts (i.e. animal bones and metal ID tags) to the original functions of the vet lab. Built in 1885, the Vet Lab was a huge step towards making MSU the leading veterinary research institute it is today.

Ian Harrison- Munn Field

CAP is often required to shovel test around campus, in areas where construction will potentially damage the cultural heritage of historic campus. Recently, we were shovel testing an area known as Munn Field, which has a long history of campus activities, like tailgating.

Ian and Josh excavating metal pit at Munn Field

Ian and Josh excavating metal pit at Munn Field

One of the shovel test pits turned up a large amount of metal wiring. Upon expanding the unit we found bundles of metal wire, 5 horseshoes, a graphing compass, metal ingots, coal, ash, and a Benzedrine inhaler.

Metal wire filled pit at Munn Field

Metal wire filled pit at Munn Field

While the results of the excavation appeared to indicate a waste/trash pit of some sort, we lacked the background information and context necessary to get a more complete understanding. Upon going to the MSU archives however, everything started coming together. By analyzing the make and model of the Benzedrine inhaler. we were then able to search the University’s records for previous uses of the Munn Field area that fell within our timespan. As we found out, there was an army ROTC building, a horse track, as well as a series of Quonset houses (built following the end of WWII) in that area of the field. Further, due to the distinct evidence of burning (slag, ash, and coal) found in the pit, it seemed to be associated with a forge, which rules out its creation due to thee horse track and Quonset houses. As such, we determined that the strange pit was likely associated with a forge in or near the army ROTC in the years surrounding the Second World War.

One of the horseshoes found at Munn Field

One of the horseshoes found at Munn Field

Lynne Goldstein, Director, MSU Campus Archaeology – Sustainability and Public Archaeology

When I created Michigan State University’s (MSU) Campus Archaeology Program (CAP), one of the critical pieces in the program was public archaeology – we wanted to make sure that the broader public knew about MSU’s past and how archaeology contributes to knowledge about the past. We have participated in Day of Archaeology since its beginning. We developed a social media strategy, and we make sure that the regular print media also know about what we do. We have made a concerted effort to publicize our work across as many different kinds of media and across as many different kinds of communities as possible. Lately, however, we have begun to see that sustainability is a real problem for us (and probably for lots of other public archaeology programs too). This is a different kind of “Aha” moment.

The CAP program itself is now sustainable, but the knowledge about the program is not. At a university, students come and go each year – lots of new students entering, and lots of current students exiting. In addition, faculty, staff, and alums change. If you look at CAP’s short history, we have done well in keeping people up on what we do, but we have not done as well in ensuring that new community members know about us and what we do. We have also discovered that they don’t know about MSU’s past either. This is not an easy problem to fix, since there is not one place or medium that everyone in our broader public uses to be informed about things. Further, CAP does not have a permanent place on campus where people can visit or go for information, beyond our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc. – they have to know those exist in order to visit. People don’t necessarily read the campus newspaper anymore, they may or may not be on Facebook or Twitter, etc. This is turning out to be a thornier problem than we anticipated. During July, I am teaching a class on Methods in Cultural Heritage Management, and the class is developing a draft cultural heritage plan for the university. One aspect of that plan will have to be communications and sustainability of communications. We will keep people up-to-date on what we are doing, but I think that we may be experiencing a small piece of a larger problem in public archaeology. We’d be interested in hearing about how others are handling these problems.

Unearthing Detroit: Revisiting Collections in Current Contexts

I am Kaitlin Scharra, the Senior Student leader of Digital Media and Public Outreach with the Unearthing Detroit  project at Wayne State University under the direction of Dr. Krysta Ryzewski. We are a collections-based research unit working with artifacts from mid-20th century salvage excavations during the construction of some of Detroit’s most prominent features.  Many of these collections, due to time and budget restraints, have remained under-analyzed since they were unearthed.  Our focus is to discover the cultural narrative of these areas through reanalysis of the artifacts and archival research.  In turn, we bring the knowledge forth to the community in the form of public days, classroom archaeology, and social media.  We can be found at http://unearthdetroit.wordpress.com/, as well as, on twitter @UnearthDetroit and facebook

Unearthing Detroit

The GM Ren Cen is located at Jefferson and Randolph Street along the Riverfront in downtown Detroit, MI.

Here is a look at how the Unearthing Detroit project links Detroit’s present with its past using our most explored collection- the Renaissance Center.  By compiling map data over the past weeks, our team has determined where sectors from the 1970s salvage excavation were located in respect to the current Renaissance Center buildings.  Each of the following sets (representing individual sectors) will show a current photo of the sector location alongside a sample of the area’s artifacts.  We included with each an explanation of what we have discovered about each sector and where we hope to go.  We reference both a faunal analysis completed by Karen Mudar (1978), and an investigation into the ceramics completed as a master’s thesis by Stephen Demeter (1990).


Sector F

The westernmost sector of the excavation spanned the historic block northeast of the intersection of Randolph and Atwater.  Notably, this was downtown Detroit’s eastern border during the 19th century.  It is currently the area in front of the Marriott Detroit Downtown’s main entrance.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector F (Clockwise from left): (1) Downtown Detroit Marriott entrance view of Renaissance drive leading to Randolph. (2) Whiteware (3) German Printed Ironware (4) Oyster Shell

Historic research shows that this area belonged to the Berthelot family.  Senior student leader and archival researcher, Kate E. Korth, postulates that the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which coincided with mass immigration, altered the economic landscape of this property.  Artifacts, likewise, show evidence of the transition to a bustling marketplace and hub for incoming populations.  Trade interaction between French and Native Americans is also indicated. This sector as well as the following are our oldest dated collections (ca 1790-1890).


Sector J

Sector J was at the historic intersection of Franklin and Brush streets. Currently it is located to your left as you head onto the bridge to the main tower.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector J (clockwise from top): (1) View of 100 tower from central bridge over GM Showroom (2) Leather Buttons (3) Sewing Kit (4) Transfer-Print Whiteware

Sector J artifacts have not been widely reanalyzed yet.  We do know that according faunal and ceramic analysis that this area was economically wealthy.  We hope to look into who these artifacts belonged to and complete a reanalysis of dates.


Sector G

Taking up the western half of the block Southwest of the historic Brush and Franklin intersection is Sector G.  The central tower stands over this area today.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector G (Clockwise from left): (1) View of central tower from GM Showroom (2) Plate from which newspaper article was taken- dates to April, 3 1833 (3) Leather Shoe

Faunal analysis and ceramic analysis led to disagreement as to the economic standing of this area. While we know this area was apart of the brush family farm, we are encouraged to reanalyze the socioeconomic status of this area.  The large amount of shoes recovered from this area inspire further questions about the craft and trade in this area.


Sector I

The shopping area between the 200 and 300 towers was constructed atop what was Sector I and the historic second half of the block shared by sector G.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector I (Clockwise from upper left) (1) Shopping area located between the two western towers (2) A Pepsin Bottle (3) Industrial Stoneware (4) Pocketknife (?)

A minimum vessel count, done by Samantha Malette and Kate E. Korth, concluded that the artifacts in this assemblage were from a boarding house.  Historical records indicate that this area was highly influenced by traffic of working class population due to it proximity to the shoreline and Grand Trunk Railroad.  This neighborhood, dating later than other sectors, had artifacts consisting  largely of everyday objects.  We believe this means the area was well traveling point for visitors as opposed to static households.


Sector K

Sector K was a survey to the east of the main buildings across Beaubien street.  It was where the 500 and 600 buildings stands today. Historically, it is known that this was an area of the Brush Family Farm located Northeast of Beaubien and Franklin.

Unearthing Detroit

Sector K (clockwise from left): (1) Port Atwater Parking Structure in the shadow of 500 and 600 Towers (2) Stoneware Rim (3) Whiteware Teacup (3) Sherd of Rockinghamware Spittoon


Ceramics made up the vast majority of this collection.  There was a mix of rockinghamware and large amount of plainware.  While this indicates a lower economic standing and much later date than the other sectors, there was also  a large amount of transfer prints.  The markers marks on such high class goods date them to the early 1800s.  The question being investigated is, “Are these outliers in the collection due to different stratigraphic levels or were they hand me downs used alongside plainware?”.

Our collections-based research of over 2,000 artifacts has a long way to go.  We estimate we have touched only about 3% of the collection in reanalysis. We look forward to learning and outreaching even more as we discover more exciting facts about the changing landscape of this area from the late 1700s to today.

A Day at Michilimackinac – July 25, 2013

I am Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks.  In the summer my primary responsibility is to direct the archaeological excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park.  We are currently excavating a fur trader’s house within the palisade walls of reconstructed Fort Michilimackinac.  The house was one unit in a five unit rowhouse originally  constructed in the 1730s and demolished in 1781 when the garrison was relocated to Mackinac Island.

I just opened a  new 5′ x 5′ square this week, so I spent most of my day removing sand and a buried sod layer from twentieth century park activities.


This is the new square i recently opened.

This is the new square I recently opened.
© 2013 L Evans

Most of the squares we are working on at the moment are below the floor level of the house.

Deep pocket of 1781 demolition matrix with barrel bands and hinge exposed.

Deep pocket of 1781 demolition matrix with barrel bands and hinge exposed.
©2013 L Evans

Because we are excavating in the middle of a popular living history site, we devote a lot of time to educating our guests.

public interpretation

©2013 L Evans

Most of the time it is great to work in a state park with running water and many other modern amenities.  The big excitement today was a broken waterline, snapped during a landscaping project.

Here is the broken line.

Here is the broken line.
©2013 L Evans

Many of the artifacts we find are tiny, the kind of items that were swept through the cracks in the floorboards, such as fishbones, seed beads and lead shot.  To find them, we waterscreen our deposit.

Robert H. spraying down some deposit.

Robert H. spraying down some deposit.
©2013 L Evans

The broken waterline slowed that process down for 1.5 hours, but our park operations crew got the line fixed and we were back to recovering little bits of history.

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.


Investigating Urbanism at Ancient Gabii

One would scarcely guess that a mighty ancient city once occupied the site of Gabii as it is today simply a quiet spot in the eastern suburbs of Rome, Italy. Yet a quick look at the physical landscape and its now dormant volcanic features makes it plain why a first millennium BCE city grew – and prospered – here. The Gabines found themselves at a key crossroads, positioning them well to capitalize on trade in central Italy and to eventually enjoy unprecedented political and ritual friendship with Rome herself, as described by the ancient authors.

It was perhaps the fact that the site of Gabii is now abandoned – a rarity for the ancient Latin cities, shared perhaps only with Tusculum – that attracted a team from the University of Michigan to begin work on the site in 2007. A key question for the Gabii Project team then (and now) revolved around a great curiosity of the beginnings of urbanism and its processes in Italy, along with a full exploration of the material culture correlates for the emergence of social hierarchy in Latium. A two-phase geophysical survey revealed a latent street grid that proved a worthy impetus for excavations to begin in 2009.

Fast forward three years to June 2012 … the project has now completed two survey seasons, three excavation seasons, and is embarking on its fourth excavation season. Our multi-national team brings students at all levels from all over the world to work in the heart of this extinct Latin city where they learn first-hand the cutting edge techniques of field archaeology. The site is offering up a complex narrative of settlement and abandonment that begins with evidence for Orientalizing period elite burial of infants and continues to Imperial Roman inhumation burials and industrial works, especially those aimed at exploiting the local tufo bedrock. In the middle of the story, so to speak, is a fascinating glimpse of what Italy was like at the mid-point of the first millennium BCE, when archaic elites lost traction and gave way to a differently organized society. The physical evidence of this at Gabii comes in the form of abandoned archaic compounds giving way to a quasi-orthogonal town plan that changes the alignment and apportionment of the city itself.

Our team has been in the field for over two weeks thus far in 2012 and while on June 29 we were idled by a public holiday in Rome, the day was a good one for reflection on the project, its participants, and its aims. The dual goals of excavating early Italian urbanism and helping to train a new generation of field archaeologists work surprisingly well in the pluristratified urban contexts of this Latin site. The team looks forward to unlocking more of Gabii’s secrets in the coming weeks and years.


A Day in an Archaeological Tool Kit

My day of archaeology is relatively mundane: I spend most of it working on my dissertation, a look into the transition from slavery to freedom on a 19th century plantation in Southern Maryland. While I love my work, I often get the urge to be in the field, particularly with the weather as wonderful as it has been this week. So, I thought I’d take out my archaeology bag and show you around.

The archaeology bag is more than just a bag with your trowels in it: in many ways it is a reflection of what kind of archaeologist you are. I’m one of those guys who likes to have a tool for everything. I am a gadget man, and I’m always on the lookout for a new tool that could help me be a more effective archaeologist, or to be more helpful in the field.

My bag is a Mountain Hardware Splitter. I particularly like this bag because it is comfortable and rugged, and can hold a great deal of equipment. It was originally designed for mountain climbers to hold their ropes. It has some nifty features on it. My particular favorite is a system of loops at the top of the inside: I use them to attach carabiners to, and then hang equipment from the carabiners. This way, the equipment doesn’t bunch up at the bottom of the pack. Instead, it hangs, evenly distributed, throughout the entire pack. Not only does this mean things are easy to get to, but it also means that the weight is distributed throughout my entire back, making it easier to carry.

Some of my favorite tools include my trowels, which I received during my field school. Some tools I love for their practicality, such as the duct tape or the WD-40 to keep my tools from rusting, or some of the surprises (sham-wows work). Others still tend to be a bit more personal: if you click on the images below, you’ll notice that quite a lot of my tool bag is devoted to reducing perspiration (I have a very efficient personal cooling system). Towels, hats, sweat bands, hydration packs…I even carry a bag of salt with my lunch to replenish what I lose.

The tools you carry are also going to reflect where you excavate. I used to dig in Michigan, so foot and hand warmers have become a mainstay in my pack, as have an extra pair of gloves. Now that I’m in Virginia, hydration is the most important part of my kit. In addition to the hydration pack, I typically have two or three water bottles at the ready. A mosquito net has been advantageous in both states.

Safety is also a crucial component of the archaeology bag. Mine includes a tiny first aid kit, sunscreen, a hat, gloves for screening (nails and glass can cut), a reflective vest for roadside or hunting ground survey, and a hard hat (or at least, it did…then my dog chewed it up). Archaeology is a physical activity, and you never know when one of these items might be needed.

Finally, there’s lunch. It’s important to make sure that you eat an adequate lunch each day, as well as a few snacks throughout. I purchased a lunch bag from Mountainsmith (“The Sixer”) that can adequately hold enough food, snacks, and water, to keep me fueled for the day. It easily attaches to my pack via carabiners if necessary, or I can throw it over my shoulder with the strap. I always freeze one of my water bottles to serve as an ice pack. This saves me some room, and I have ice cold water to drink at lunch time. I also love my Mr. Bento: this contraption will keep food hot or cold for up to eight hours. There’s nothing like pulling out warm soup at lunch time when you’re excavating in frigid temps. The best part about the “Sixer”? It holds exactly six beers for post-excavation relaxing.

Feel free to browse the photos below for a glimpse into my bag of archaeological goodies. You’ll probably recognize most of them: we archaeologists are wonderful at the reuse of everyday objects. Click on an image and it will take you to my Flickr set, where I have added notes to the image describing the tools, what they are, and how I use them!