For the Love of Food: Digital Outreach, Animal Bones, and Early Food Habits on Campus

Written by: Autumn Beyer

Primary Source:  MSU Campus Archaeology Program, September 14, 2016

Analyzing and interpreting past food practices has always been one of my passions. This year for CAP, I will be working with Susan Kooiman to explore and recreate the food environment during the Early Period of MSU’s campus (1855-1870), as explained in Susan’s previous blog post. While Susan will take on more of the background research of this period, I am going to delve into the animal bones uncovered through Campus Archaeology excavations. I began my training as a zooarchaeologist while earning my Master’s degree at Illinois State University. Most of my experience has been with prehistoric animal remains and I am very excited to work with the animal bones recovered from Campus to better understand food production, preparation, serving, and consumption at Michigan State!

Women with cows on campus, 1908 - Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Women with cows on campus, 1908 – Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Standard Cuts of Meat (1908) - Image Source

Standard Cuts of Meat (1908) – Image Source

I will first begin by sorting the animal bones by animal class: mammal, bird, fish, and reptile/amphibian. After this initial sorting I will use a osteological comparative collection to conduct my identifications. From previous initial zooarchaeological analysis, we know that there are many different butchering marks present on many of the mammal remains. This will be one of my focuses during analysis. I hope to be able to determine what types of cuts of meat were being produced on campus, or if there were students learning butchering practices.

In addition to conducting a faunal analysis on the remains from the privy and Saints Rest excavations, I will be working on creating a website for this project. While we are in the initial stages of the project, we are working on formulating how we want to portray this project online. Currently, we would like to highlight the various aspects of food practices at MSU during this period including cooking, sustainability, production, ceramics, animal bone analysis, and food reconstruction. In addition to discussing our results from this project, we will also be documenting each step of our research. Our hope is to create videos showing how we learn about MSU’s history, from searching through archival records, visiting with MSU’s farms, to animal bone analysis. I can’t wait to see where this project takes us!

Animal bones, some butchered, from the West Circle Privy - Image via Lisa Bright

Animal bones, some butchered, from the West Circle Privy – Image via Lisa Bright

 

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Autumn Beyer
Autumn Beyer is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on prehistoric foodways through the analysis of animal bones in the Midwestern United States. This is her first year as a CAP fellow and she plans on working with returning fellow Susan Kooiman on a project to recreate historic MSU meals based on artifacts recovered from a privy.