Saints' Rest dig

07-16-2005

Friday was a beautiful summer afternoon, so I was glad to have the opportunity to step out of the office to visit the Saints’ Rest dig site.

At the site, just east of the MSU museum, a number of our anthropology students and professors are concluding their summer field school.

Looking into the excavation squares and examining the array of artifacts that have been unearthed, I couldn’t help but think about the roots and foundations of the university. What students used that metal bowl and ceramic jar? What kind of soap once rested in that soap dish? What was built using that tool kit? And what’s the story behind those four barrels in the basement that survived the fire that burned Saints’ Rest, the university’s first dormitory, to the ground back in 1876?

Like many others who have visited the excavation site since early June, I’ve learned a lot from talking with the field-school students and their professors working there. Along with high-school students and members of the community who also have participated and made valuable contributions, they are helping us to better understand the lives of the university’s first students by literally uncovering the kind of knowledge that isn’t written down in history books.

I walked over to the site Friday to thank all of those who have participated in the dig for their hard work. Their hard work and the project itself have done a really amazing job of putting MSU on the map in a positive way. They should all be proud. This project has given MSU tremendous exposure and great media coverage – as both an individual learning experience for students, and as it reflects on the mission of the university as a whole.

Much like the current MSU students excavating the site, the students who lived in Saints’ Rest came to our campus to learn and to grow. And this project has really been a learning experience, in more ways than one. The excavation and events surrounding it have really done a great job of reflecting on what it means to be a land-grant institution in the 21st century. This project is clear evidence that part of learning is the openly thoughtful, passionate and curious exchange of ideas.

Having the opportunity to see all of this first-hand really does an amazing job of helping one understand the value of this kind of project. I’ve developed a deeper personal appreciation for the very detailed and hard work — as well as the fun and satisfaction — that’s part of conducting an archeological excavation. In that spirit, we are looking at ways to keep portions or squares of the dig site open into fall semester, so the project can “make it real” to even more people.

I hope this summer’s field school as part of Anthropology 464 has been and will continue to be a memorable and positive professional experience for the students who participated. I know that the university will remember this summer’s excavation in many ways during the years ahead and as part of the celebration of our sesquicentennial. I want to thank the students, the professors and the many support staff for the role they’ve played in not only preserving the university’s history, but also helping us to better understand some of our historical roots – and for bringing to our campus a project that really embodies our land-grant spirit and mission.

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