Investigating the Detroit Renaissance Center Collection

We talk about the Ren Cen collection a lot, but we haven’t yet explained what the Ren Cen collection is!  Here’s a short summary of the collection’s background and some of our work on it to date.

In the 1960s and 70s, Wayne State archaeology professors and students carried out many salvage excavations directly before or even at the same time as construction projects like the Renaissance Center, Hart Plaza, and Cobo Hall in Detroit.  Historical archaeologists generally only excavate if they have a pressing research question or if a site is about to be destroyed, and these digs fall into the second category.  Because they were salvage excavations, they were not particularly well funded, and as a result the artifacts were usually catalogued and then put in storage for later analysis.  Drs. Krysta Ryzewski, Tamara L. Bray, and Thomas W. Killion from Wayne State’s Anthropology Department were recently awarded a grant for their Unearthing Detroit proposal to begin work “excavating” these collections from our own storage rooms.

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Archaeologists work directly in front of construction equipment.

Wayne State archaeology professors and graduate students are now working on archival research and analysis on these collections in order to create comprehensive reports and share our findings with other scholars and the public.  We started with the Renaissance Center collection, which has turned out to be even larger and more exciting than legend had foretold.

We contacted some of the archaeologists that worked on the project in the 70s.  Unfortunately, PI C. Steve Demeter recently passed away, and we never had the chance to meet him.  His archaeological work in Detroit is unparalleled, and he left a great legacy as a graduate of Wayne State’s Anthropology MA program.  Demeter researched the history of the nine-block excavation area and took extensive notes during the excavation which are invaluable for our research.

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Members of the Unearthing Detroit team meet with Wayne State Anthropology alumni to discuss their memories of the Ren Cen project.

The Ren Cen collection has physically moved throughout the years along with the museum, and parts of the collection have been loaned out to other museums and used for research and teaching, so the collection was somewhat disorganized.  Before we could begin artifact analysis, Samantha and I took a full inventory of the collection and reorganized it.  Our summer team (Katie, Kaitlin, Slava, Sarah, Mark, and Sue) is now working on archival research and building our online presence, and we will do further artifact analysis later in the summer when Samantha returns and early fall when Lorin will join the team.  Check out our bios to learn more about us!

Sam working MI Room

Sam inventorying artifacts from the RenCen.

This blog will document our progress working with the Ren Cen collection this summer and fall, and the Roosevelt Park collection beginning in the fall.

Investigating the Detroit Renaissance Center Collection by Katie Korth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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