CMU students dig the real-world archaeology experience

Anthropology summer course takes students to Emmet County
Archeology at historic McGulpin Point Lighthouse
Central Michigan University anthropology students spent last week driving their shovels into the ground to unearth the past in Emmet County. As part of their Archaeological Field Methods summer course, approximately 10 students traveled to the historic McGulpin Point Lighthouse to dig up the building’s storied history.
The McGulpin Point Lighthouse, built in 1869, operated as a beacon in the Straits of Mackinac for ships carrying lumber and ore to Chicago until its light was extinguished in 1906.
During their stay in Emmet County, CMU students received hands-on archaeology experience digging at the site of a former barn. Students utilized excavation practices, such as removing 10-centimeter layers of dirt within established boundaries, sifting the dirt and examining its contents. The class was careful to keep extensive journals on its research activity and draw detailed maps.
During their excavation, students discovered several artifacts, including a pocketknife and the remains of a child’s toy.
“The artifacts tell us a little bit more about the rich story of the personalities and the people who lived here,” says Sarah Surface-Evans, CMU anthropology faculty member leading the summer course.
After a period of cleaning and analysis at CMU, the artifacts are sent back to the lighthouse to be displayed and offer visitors a look into the past.
Senior Steven Smendzuik of Beulah says Surface-Evans emphasizes the importance of excavating systematically and with respect.
“I think I’ll be walking away with a lot of skills that I can take forward into a career in cultural resources management,” Smendzuik said, speaking to his career goals of conducting archaeological work for the U.S. government. “It’s very important work.”
In addition to the excavation at McGulpin Point Lighthouse, students also had the opportunity to work with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe at the former Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School site. Surface-Evans says conducting the course at the Boarding School is unique because most field schools do not have the opportunity to work directly with their community like CMU’s course allows them to.

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