The Old Main Project is dedicated to telling the building’s proud story through the analysis of excavated remains, oral histories, and historical documents.
Jessica Griffin managed the artifact analysis for the Old Main Project. Artifacts include glass packaging from foods, beverages, and medicines excavated from a cistern located beneath the south entry of the Old Main building. The process involved the identification, inventory, organization, cataloging and description of glass sherds and bottles in the Illinois State Museum Old Main collection. Jessica investigated each glass item based on distinctive characteristics and compared these to the 1906 and 1920 Illinois Glass Company catalogs. When possible, she found images of the complete bottles, and incorporated them into her comprehensive analysis, which was used for the final interpretation.
Jessica began her research of Old Main by conducting oral history interviews with Illinois State University alums and former faculty for the Old Main Project. She also made the material culture from the Old Main building the subject of her master’s thesis in historical archaeology. Jessica’s thesis focuses on the analysis of the remains from consumer goods, which were deposited by the University community members in the underground cisterns of Old Main. In her thesis, Jessica answered research questions about the diet and medicinal practices of the students, faculty and staff who attended ISU from 1860 to 1932.
The analysis of the glass packaging found that food packaging was the largest group in the assemblage, with 36% of the glass artifacts originating from food products. Pharmaceutical products comprised 26% of the assemblage, 13% were ink bottles, 6% were alcohol bottles, and 4% were soda bottles. Jessica also used Geographic Information Systems technology to map the archaeological site and map the place of origin for the artifacts.
She used the oral history interviews, and historical research conducted with assistance from the University archive, to interpret the results of the analysis of glass artifacts and other consumer goods excavated during the 1980s. Building on the work of the excavator, Keith Barr (1983), she examined consumer choices, food culture and campus life at ISU from 1860 to 1932.
Jessica presented the findings from her master’s thesis research, In the Shadow of Old Main: Campus Life, Consumer Choice and Foodways at Illinois State Normal University from 1860 to 1932, at the 2010 annual meeting of the Illinois Archaeological Survey. She also presented at the Midwest Archaeological Conference in 2011 and at the Society for Historical Archaeology’s 2012 conference.
Griffin, Jessica D. “Old Main Artifacts.” Old Main Artifacts. WordPress.com. https://oldmainartifacts.wordpress.com/
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