Archive by Author | almaoldmainexcavation

This week has been quite crazy for Team Glass and has left us a wee bit behind. However, we are a tenacious bunch and will be sure to catch right up this coming week. What we have failed to report is not terribly exciting, but if you’re following it might be helpful to all be on the same page. Last week we worked on our Annotated Bibliography, such doesn’t sound like much work (collect a few sources, give a nice little summery about what they have to say), Team Glass would like to tell you THIS IS NOT AS EASY AS IT SOUNDS. First of all, finding reliable, relevant, academic reports on glass from the 1880’s is a HUGE task in itself. And then reading through these lofty articles full of technical terminology and irrelevant jargle in order to summarize the main point and determine its applicability is time consuming and often frustrating; but not the most frustrating. The most frustrating aspect of the annotated bibliography is the citations. Because the format we are citing in (SAA) is new to all of us, we are constantly having to research the correct formats for each type of source we have. It’s a long process for us. Despite this difficulty we have learned a lot this week from our sources. We spent a long time looking at and taking notes of the archives that are in the Alma College Library. Hopefully we can use some of what we found there to help us answer our research question. Now only to figure out how to cite our archival references!


What is found at Old Main?

            While going through all the ceramics at Old Main, we noticed that a lot of them were labeled as porcelain. After talking to Professor Conell, we discovered that they had been mislabeled. Most of the ceramic artifacts labeled as porcelain were white ware. This made us extra cautious when going through the lists of artifacts found, so we made sure to look at all of the artifacts labeled as ceramics to make sure that they were ceramics, and that the type they were labeled as was correct.

            Also, most of the ceramic artifacts are very small, which make it difficult to determine what the original artifact looked like and what its function might have been. Looking through the inventory of what was lost in the Old Main fire, there was no mention of any mug or plates or figurines. However, lavatory items were listed for damages, making us realize that it’s possible that some of the fragments might have come from the bathroom sinks or toilets. It makes you think about what we are looking at.

By Team Ceramics

Nailed It!

In the world of metal artifacts, nails make up a very prominent and important niche of archaeological field work. In our work at the Old Main excavation site on the Alma College campus, this is just as true. The following is a brief review of where Team Metal is currently at with regards to these most humble of artifacts and how they help unravel the history of Old Main.

There are a total 164 nail pieces known so far from the 2015 excavations with a majority being modern machine cut. Why so many nails? Our team has discovered through documents in the Alma College Archives that the construction of Old Main relied heavily on wood framing held together by machine cut nails, the prominent nail design of the time.

Although wire nail technology was introduced 6 years before Old Main’s construction, fewer wire nails have been discovered. This may indicate that there was a lag in introduction of new nail technology in rural Michigan or that machine cut nails were given greater preference. Wire nails found in a site fairly far from Old Main’s original location may be a result of outside influence such as the construction of the Swanson Academic Center (SAC) or may be from repairs or renovations done on Old Main itself. Their presence at a location outside of the original confines of the building suggest a spreading of artifacts as a result of the partial collapse of Old Main after the fire or from the cleanup following the fire when the area was bulldozed in order to provide flat ground for the construction of SAC in 1972.

48% of all of the nails from the site could be identified as machine cut. Historically, machine cut nails were used primarily in the 19th century for large and small projects alike. The nails found at Old Main could be from construction, however we cannot rule out the possibility of them coming from furniture or other such articles from within Old Main classrooms and offices. Since the use of wire nails was more prevalent following the fire in 1969, machine cut nails would not be present post-fire. These nails were also found with a great deal of corrosion and build-up mostly within the lower strata. Machine cut nails found near the surface may suggest outside disturbance as well as the potential existence of a dump site used in cleanup.

Another type of nail found was the duplex nail, typically used in scaffolding or temporary projects. While these could have been used in the scaffold work for Old Main’s construction or repair, more likely they may have been left over from scaffolding used in construction of the nearby Swanson Academic Center.

The analysis of nails found at the Old Main site is essential to understanding building technologies and the history of Old Main construction. It can tell us information regarding the 1886 construction, repairs done on the building, the existence of other sites and even the post-fire cleanup process. The research done thus far is at an early stage, however, and further excavation, interpretation and analysis is required in order to definitively make conclusions about the site’s history.

Mysterious Metals of Old Main

Today Team Metal dug through boxes of artifacts found on the site of Old Main! We found plenty of nails, wire and corroded scrap metal. We even found old crown bottle caps and a small screw. However, there were several artifacts that we had a hard time identifying or dating. We would love to ask the public if any of the following artifacts seem to be familiar or identifiable.

Artifact #1: We found an old Coca-Cola can that seems to be the classic colors: a matte red and white. The metal is thick and we are estimating it to be dated around the early to mid-1970s. We suspect it may be similar to the 1971 can as pictured, based on its structure and coloration.

Artifact #2: Another set of artifacts are metal pieces in a “U” shape that appear to have been attached to something at the top of the “U”. One is heavily corroded while the other two are shiny and in relatively fair condition. The two shiny ones measure 5.8cm in length and 4 cm in amplitude while the corroded piece is 8 cm in length and 4.5 cm in amplitude.

Artifact #3: One artifact that we found was a tag from something like a key ring, that could have been a possible tag for a postage item. The specific type of metal is not 100% confirmed but a likely metal is aluminum. From what we could make out, the tag said, “Postage guaranteed, Deposit any mailbox, Disabled American Veterans, Cincinnati Ohio, #5214”. The numbers at the end were a little hard to make out but our suspicion is that it is a zip code from the Cincinnati area (45214).

Artifact #4: This is a length of thin corrugated aluminum that we originally thought were pieces of a crushed gutter. We ruled this out when we saw how thin, light and narrow the metal actually was. It weighed about 204.71 grams and the metal has several prominent seams along its length.


Please let us know your thoughts as this will be very helpful to our research on Old Main!

As we begin our descent into Old Main excavations, we have formed our research questions that we will follow during our field work. Our main question is what can the glass recovered tell us about the Old Main building and events that took place here. Characteristics like style, thickness, color and transparency can put us on the track to answering this question. We also have many sub questions that we will be working to determine. The first is to see if we can figure out where this glass came from within the building. We hypothesize that we will see more window glass than any other kind of glass. However, because this was an academic building, it would be very neat to see glass that maybe came from science equipment or adorning items like a flower vase. Another sub question we have is where the glass was manufactured. This could be very difficult to determine if we are finding only small pieces of glass. It is believed that some characteristics such as thickness, color and any irregular markings could give us clues as to who the manufacturer was. We would also like to dig below the Old Main site to reveal possible archaeological evidence of the farmstead that was previously on this plot of land. If we find any glass remnants at this level then it could further our analysis of glass use in midmichigan over a larger span of time. We’re ready to kick some glass!!!

Ceramics Found at Old Main

            Most of the remains found at Old Main were parts of the building, however some of the remains are evidence of the people who worked and studied in the building. Ceramics are one of the types of artifacts that remain from the people rather than the building. Most of the ceramics are in fragments or only a small sliver is what remains. This makes it difficult to determine what the fragment was a part of. There were a few that were big enough or had certain shapes that allowed for speculation as to what it was. There were some fragments from a cup, one that could have been from a vase or plate, a piece of a bowl, and one that might have been part of a porcelain figure. A few of the fragments had what looked like designs or lettering on them, which is quite interesting.

All of these ceramic fragments and pieces help to show what kinds of personal artifacts from the professors and students who worked and studied in the building before it burned down.


Welcome to our Excavation of Old Main!

Old Main was the first building of the Central Michigan Normal School, which was established in 1886.  One year later, philanthropic businessman, Ammi W. Wright, donated the building to the Presbyterians for the beginning of Alma College.

For the first twenty-five years, Old Main was one of five academic buildings on campus:  Folsom Hall (gymnasium and chemistry), the library, Hood (museum), Old Main (classrooms and offices), and Pioneer Hall (dormitory).

In 1969, Old Main was home to the political science, psychology, education, history, speech, and economics departments and various offices for faculty and research students.  When fire struck around 11:00 am on March 10, 1969, in the attic of Old Main, students and faculty frantically began to retrieve materials from the destruction.  Soon enough the Alma Fire Department arrived and banned entry when the building was deemed hazardous.  

Old Main burned to the ground, destroying $79,977 worth of school material goods, $281,539 for the building itself, and $14,424 worth of faculty’s personal possessions, not to mention the countless priceless items that can never be replaced.  Central Michigan University donated furniture to Alma College until 1974 when Swanson Academic Center was finished.

Today, Old Main is commemorated on campus by a stone memorial where it once stood.

Stay tuned here as we excavate this icon of Alma’s history!