Adventures at the MI State Historic Preservation Office

Written by: Blair Zaid

Primary Source: Campus Archaeology Program

The identification and protection of cultural resources at the state level is crucial for managing prehistoric and historic heritage across the nation. Each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), that oversees the analysis and identification of cultural resources  and is a great place to start if you are interested in archaeology within your state. In Michigan, the SHPO is located in the Michigan Historical Center and the State Archaeologist at the  SHPO is Dr. Dean Anderson.

I decided to go to the MI SHPO to look into archaeological sites around campus, particularly those that may be associated with prehistoric sites. I met with Jessica Yann, a fellow MSU anthropology graduate student and the Archaeology Student Assistant for the SHPO. This was my first time at SHPO and Jessica was very helpful with letting me know who uses SHPO, what they do, and what they are most likely to have.

For example, in addition to graduate students, the MI SHPO welcomes Cultural Resource Management (CRM) companies,  Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) archaeologists, public archaeologists, university affiliates throughout the state, Tribal Historic Resource Offices or THPOs, as well as the public. For the most part, people who go to SHPO are interested in finding out more about public lands or previous archaeological work in the state. They also go for private research or simple curiosity about the land around us.

The MI SHPO holds several types of collections. For example, they curate items found on state land, items found in Section 106 Projects that use federal funding, items found by amateur or public archaeologists as well as materials from ship wrecks throughout the Great Lakes. The SHPO also has a complete set of the MI Archaeology Journals and the Hinsdale atlas, a list of all known site locations observed in 1931. Overall, it is just a perfect place for anyone to start if they are concerned with archaeology in the Mitten. One problem that I had is that there is so much information in the collections, that it is easy to get distracted by other ideas, such as the presence or myths of a cluster of mounds around Lake Lansing. You must exercise great discipline while exploring  SHPO or you could find yourself with too many projects!

When I arrived for my appointment, Jessica already accessed the quad maps for MSU campus. These maps are a part of a large set of maps that SHPO uses to keep a record of all surveys, excavations, and finds throughout the state. We then pulled the maps from the near by quads for  Williamston and Lansing so that we could get a wider view of potentially relevant sites. From these maps, we identified sites that may have pre-historic relevance for which Jessica then collected the digital information. As it turns out, there have been a few surveys of prehistoric sites, mostly organized by Dr. Lovis. With this brief survey of previous work I then met with Kate and Dr. Lovis to discuss our potential next steps. This project has been really interesting to me as I am learning about local archaeology and the nature of archaic and prehistoric sites. For our next phase, we will go back to the literature and determine what we can actually say about the archaic presences on MSU’s campus.

So for all of you out there that have an interest in archaeology in your local community, I suggests you go to your state SHPO. The abundance of resources and exciting people will definitely set you on your way!

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Blair Zaid
Blair (Starnes) Zaid is a doctoral student in both African American and African Studies and Anthropology here at MSU. Her research focuses on the African Diaspora expansion of the Kongo Kingdom of 15th century west central Africa. Her interests include historic archaeology, community engagement, increasing diversity in archaeology, and raising a toddler. This will be Blair’s third year as a CAP fellow and like her previous project of creating a type collection for CAP, her research this year will continue to revolve around the CAP artifact collections.