Collections Spotlight: Moore Artifact
This Collection’s Spotlight highlights an artifact that demonstrates how archives and archaeology can be used to document Michigan State University’s past. In 2009, the MSU Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) recovered a 5 cm wide piece of plaster showing the handwritten letters “Moor” while working along Beal Street. While an interesting artifact to find in a pile of brick rubble, and one of the highlights of then-Campus Archaeologist Terry Brock’s career, there was no indication of where the plaster may have come from or the significance it may have for MSU history (Brock 2009a; Isa 2019). Later that year, however, Brock was in MSU Archives conducting research for a project at the site of College Hall, MSU’s first building, constructed in 1855. Amazingly, he came across a photo that connected the “Moor” artifact to that historic building. The photo shows graffiti written by a group of students who were conducting repairs on College Hall in 1887.
This piece of plaster (on left) had the writing “Moor” on it, which matched perfectly with graffiti discovered in the basement of College Hall in 1918 (on right). It was written in May of 1887, as indicated on the graffiti (Artifact photo courtesy of Campus Archaeology Program; Graffiti photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections).
The graffiti reads, “Darn Hard Job” and then lists seven students who performed the work during the week of May 13-20, 1887. As you can see, the first name on that list, A. Moore, matches the piece of graffitied plaster. The letters “Moor” were actually part of a signature a student, Alexander Moore, had left on the wall when he and his fellow MAC students helped with the repair efforts (Brock 2009a). Since the artifact was from College Hall, we believe that MSU likely re-used rubble from the nineteenth-century building twice; first, the foundation and parts of the original walls were used to construct the Artillery Garage after College Hall collapsed in 1918, and second, after the Artillery Garage was demolished in 1928, the remaining rubble was used to shore up Beal Street from the nearby Red Cedar River, which often flooded (Brock 2009b).
(Photographs from Beal Street excavations in 2009 showing the brick rubble from College Hall. Images courtesy of CAP.)
For archaeology, the photograph in MSU’s archives and historical collections not only this solved the mystery of the “Moor” artifact, but also provided a direct link between College Hall and the Beal Street brick rubble, suggesting that the bricks were the remains of MSU’s first academic building. For archives, archaeology has preserved a material connection to the repair event in 1887, providing insights into the ways MSU repurposed old buildings on campus, and importantly, drawing attention to a fantastic story of MSU’s past.
CAP Fellow Jack A. Biggs created a 3D model of the “Moor” artifact.
Brock, Terry. 2009a. “The Archaeology of Student Labor.” Blog. October 21, MSU Campus Archaeology Program. http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=177
Brock, Terry. 2009b. “Beal Street Field Report.” Report. November 2. Campus Archaeology Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
Isa, Mari. 2019. “The Most Interesting Artifact from MSU’s Historic Campus? The 'Moor' Artifact, 10 Years Later.” Blog. April 24, MSU Campus Archaeology Program. http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=7473