Digging up the past

In the summer the program, known as CAP, works alongside construction workers to see what can be uncovered.On the first day of field work, CAP made their first discovery near Agriculture Hall.

CAP’s adviser Lynne Goldstein said field workers found part of a building’s foundation and animal bones, which helped the group determine that they’d stumbled upon part of the old Veterinary Lab.

Danyelle Morrow / The State News
Danyelle Morrow / The State News

And from there, the next step was to see what role the structure — built in 1866 — played in MSU’s history.

A delicate process

Prior to fieldwork, the group’s campus archeologist and anthropology graduate student Kate Frederick said CAP begins in the MSU Archives, where they are given any papers which might have mentioned the area they are about to visit.

Once out in the field, Frederick said the group conducts “shovel tests,” which help members of CAP sample what is in the area.

A shovel test is a 60 cm hole plotted at every five meters. While one person digs, another screens through the soil to make sure no small artifacts are overlooked.

If something substantial is found, CAP participants handle with care.

Anthropology and geography senior Ian Harrison said he found an old ceramic water pipe while working by Agriculture Hall, and knew it needed a gentle touch.

“Finding that ceramic pipe, whatever it was used for, was really cool because we had to do all the traditional archaeological brushing,” Harrison said. ”(We had to be) extra careful because it was so brittle that it would break at the slightest touch.”

Whenever the group finds something worth researching, such as a part of a structure, Frederick said it’s catalogued and then further investigated.

Group members also post blogs on the program’s website to inform the public about their findings and the background behind them.

The history of tailgating

It’s no secret Munn Field is a popular tailgating destination. So when CAP members find beer bottle caps, it’s not all that surprising.

But one of the days the group was out working in the field, nails, glass shards and what looked like small bones appeared in the sifter.

Frederick said the group then found out the area used to be home to temporary housing and barns for some of the school’s animals.

They plan to create a blog post titled “The History of Tailgating” which will catalogue the discoveries that were made in Munn Field.

Goldstein said findings like that go to show how much of campus has changed over time.

“It reminds us today of what happened in the past, and how that might help us to better today, ” she said.

Protecting artifacts

Goldstein created the group in 2006 with help from MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.

“(I thought) it would be cool if we could have students today digging up what students in the past did,” Goldstein said.

But the program’s appeal extends beyond MSU students. Lansing Community College student Caroline Dunham, for example, has returned for her second year with CAP and came back because of her interest in archaeology.

“I’ve basically been doing archaeology since I was a kid because my dad is (MSU alumnus) Sean Dunham, who’s an archaeologist,” she said. “He’s basically raised me doing archaeology.”

Despite this season being quieter than previous summers, Frederick said even on days when the group might not be in the field they are doing some kind of work and are active all year long, not just in the summer.

Other construction is taking place on West Circle Drive the renovation of the steam tunnels. CAP has been following this construction and researching it not only this summer but previous summers as well.

Recent graduate Bethany Slon said a lot of what the group does over the summer is monitor construction, and remains in close contact with construction workers.

“We want to make sure nothing historical is being dug up and destroyed,” Slon said.

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