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CMU students excavate historical Michigan lighthouse artifacts

Archaeological Field School provides students with hands-on experience in anthropology

Contact: Dan Digmann

​​​Central Michigan University anthropology students recently unearthed artifacts at the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse in Rogers City as part of the university’s Archaeological Field School.

Detroit graduate student S.K. Haase said Michigan’s lighthouses are an important part of the state’s history and culture. Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state.

“This is our story. This is what ties us all together. How many ships made safe passage along these waters and across these currents because this lighthouse was here?” said Haase, a student in CMU’s new cultural resource management master’s degree program.

Over the past six weeks, the field school has taught CMU students how to survey, excavate and analyze archaeological remains.

“Essentially what we’re doing is a hands-on practicum where students are applying the methods they learned in class and learning how to excavate properly,” said Sarah Surface-Evans, a CMU assistant professor of anthropology who leads the field school.

The students began their field research and archaeological surveys in May at the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. The field school concludes at the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse in Rogers City this week.


“The artifacts themselves may not seem like much,” Surface-Evans said. “Many of them are simple things like animal bones, nails, bits of container glass, pottery and light bulbs. All of these things add up to tell a story. It gives us a broader picture of what being a lighthouse keeper was like here in northeastern Michigan.”

Students also had the opportunity to conduct near-shore diving with an underwater archaeologist.

“Wayne Lusardi from Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary took students out to do an underwater survey at the Joseph S. Fay shipwreck,” Surface-Evans said. “They’ve documented some of the debris field. The wreck is 110 years old.”

Mount Pleasant senior Greg Swallow, a former paramedic and National Guard member, originally came to CMU to study pre-medicine. Through taking University Program classes, he discovered that anthropology and archaeology could help him find a career that applies his passion for history.

“If I’m going to do something for the next 20 years and make a second career, I want to do something I love,” Swallow, a double major in history and anthropology, said. “We’re able to take the documented history and match it up with the artifacts. We’re preserving what’s here for the future.”

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