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Archaeologist digging into early history of MSU campus

Nov 16, 2016

Animal bones found in the Saints Rest privy.
Credit Courtesy of Autumn Byers

Archeology is not just about digging into prehistory, coming up with arrowheads, pottery shards and mastodon bones.

It can also give us a window into the not-too-distant past.

Say, the campus of Michigan State University in the mid-1800s.

That’s what Autumn Beyer is doing in her work with the MSU Campus Archeology Program. She’s studying what students and professors ate in the early days at Michigan State and how they got that food.

Autumn Byers
Credit Courtesy of Autumn Byers

These days, if a college student wants a quick bite or a midnight snack outside of the campus dining halls, they can swing over to Chipotle or Five Guys.

According to Beyer, MSU’s earliest hungry students had to put a little more work to satisfy their appetites.

“The students would work half the day and they’d actually build the campus the other half. So there wasn’t a town surrounding them, it was a swamp,” she told us.

“For getting extra food or things like that, they’d end up going picking berries or go fishing in the river or even going hunting for turkey or deer.”

Old purchasing records told her that MSU students and faculty ate a lot of steak, mutton, salted pork and beef, “a lot of crackers,” as well as imported foods like Lake Superior whitefish and halibut.

Purchasing records revealed a lot about what early MSU students and faculty ate.
Credit Photo Courtesy of: Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections

Beyer feels it’s important to understand MSU’s hunting and gathering roots simply because it’s part of the school’s history.

“I love hearing about MSU’s history and MSU’s past, and just knowing more about the area in Michigan in general, what was going on, to me is fascinating,” she said.

Listen to our conversation above for more.

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