Michigan State finds an observatory from 142 years ago buried on campus

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, April 21, 2024

Michigan State finds an observatory from 142 years ago buried on campus
An undated photo provided by Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections shows individuals posing outside of MSU’s first observatory, circa 1888. Not much is known about how long it was standing, why it was removed, and what observations it may have yielded, besides its being built by a former professor and students. (Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections via The New York Times)

by Rebecca Carballo

NEW YORK, NY.- About two dozen men and one woman — all unknown — were photographed in front of an old astronomy building circa 1888. The round structure with a tiled roof had been the first observatory on the campus of Michigan State University, though no one knew exactly where it had once stood.

In June, construction workers on the university’s campus in East Lansing, Michigan, unexpectedly came across the foundation of the building, constructed in 1881. But not much is known about how long the structure was standing, why it was removed, and what observations it may have yielded, beyond that it was built by a former professor and his students.

The site will be turned next summer into an undergraduate field school where Stacey Camp, a professor of anthropology, and her students will continue to excavate in search of answers. The students will receive credit while learning about the practice of archaeology.

“One of the things we’re curious about is, if we can find any artifacts that are associated with the students who were studying in there,” Camp said. “Things like pencils, glass bottles or ceramics that students might have left behind, that would help us date the time period in which they were there.”

Camp, the director of the university’s archaeology program, which aims to protect archaeological and historical sites on campus, received a call in June from workers who said that they had hit something hard while installing hammock poles. She didn’t think much of it at first.

“There’s lots of things that are hard under the ground that are not significant at all,” she said.

But after the report, researchers with the campus archaeology program began to look at maps and campus archives and discovered that the old observatory had stood in that area. Michigan State has a window to the stars in a more modern observatory, which features a 24-inch reflecting telescope and was mostly completed in 1969.

Although the maps made it look as if the old observatory had stood in that area, there was no guarantee, Camp said. The foundation could have been destroyed during the many construction projects on campus over the course of more than a century.

The campus archaeologists did shovel-testing, which consisted of digging small holes in the ground — about 50 by 50 centimeters — to see if they would hit anything. They ended up striking rock, and decided to open up a meter-square hole. They unearthed more hard surface and concluded they had hit some sort of foundation.

Then they opened up another hole and found that the foundation curved, as the observatory did in the historical pictures that the researchers had found.

Ben Akey, a graduate student working on the project who was tasked with researching the building’s history, was confident that it was the observatory after the second hole was opened.

“Once we were able to kind of see the curvature and make that calculation, I was fairly convinced,” they said. “Particularly because round building foundations are not something you come across super often.”

The 16-foot-wide circular building was built by Rolla Carpenter, who taught civil engineering and astronomy, among other subjects, and did campus planning, they said.

Carpenter enlisted the help of his students to build the structure, as was common at Michigan State University at the time. The costs of constructing the building itself was $125, or about $4,000 in today’s dollars. Including the cost of the telescope, the observatory cost $450, or about $14,000 today.

It’s unclear when the building was removed, but it was likely sometime in the 1920s, according to research by Horace A. Smith, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy who looked at maps and campus building inventories, as well as class schedules.

The campus archaeology program didn’t excavate the entire foundation right away because not enough staff members were on campus through the summer months, Camp said. She said she looked forward to the findings that will emerge once the undergraduate field school gets underway.

Morgan Manuszak, a rising senior who is studying art history and anthropology, helped with the excavation this summer and hopes to participate in the field school.

Working on the excavation was her first dig, an opportunity that undergraduate students don’t come by often, she said. Typically students have to travel overseas for fieldwork and those programs are generally looking for graduate students. She worked at a site in Greece last summer, but she mainly photographed and digitalized the collections.

“Just the ability as an undergraduate to be able to get dig experience out in the field is really rare,” Manuszak said. “They want someone who is going toward their master’s or further in grad school. So for us to be able to get this experience is really invaluable, especially right on our own campus.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

August 18, 2023

Can she revive the largest museum on the African continent?

Michigan State finds an observatory from 142 years ago buried on campus

British Museum fires worker accused of stealing gold and gems

At Holocaust museum in Fortnite, superheroes and atrocities collide

Banksy's 'Valentine's Day Mascara' goes on sale to the public and artwork to remain on public display in perpetuity

A view of the Met from behind the information desk

Jackie Kennedy as you've never seen her

Old-school fans celebrate hip-hop's 50th

Objective Gallery presents "Please Sit for the Alternate Ending" by Jeff Martin and Sam Klemick

Wide-ranging exhibition traces evolution of 20th-century Modern Art Post-World War I

Sarah Workneh to end 14-year tenure as co-director of Skowhegan

Zimmerli celebrates innovative printmaking studio this fall: 30 Years of Brodsky Center

Contemporary artist Joshua Yeldham opens 'In Return' - extraordinary hand-carved photo-media works

Stunning serpent slithers into September jewellery sale at Noonans Mayfair

Parrish announces new board members

Five contemporary artists reimagine everyday objects through sculpture and installation at ICA

Exciting environmental artist Deborah Kruger exhibiting at Tennessee Tech University

At 89, still making art (and bread) with a message

How the 'Spider-Verse' movies have changed animation for the better

Renata Scotto, opera diva who inhabited roles, dies at 89

Country singer Morgan Wade was looking for the spotlight. It found her.

A conductor who wants to put you 'inside the sound'

Dorothy Casterline, who codified American sign language, dies at 95

Iran sentences director to 6 months after he screened film at Cannes

Art Collecting on a Budget

Why Artistic Neighborhoods Make for Great Real Estate Investments

The Ultimate Guide to Top Super Luxury Car Hire in Dubai

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Working with a Web Design Agency

From Louvre to Uffizi: An Art Lover's Dream Travel Itinerary

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful