Campus Archaeology Fieldschool’s Excavation of MSU’s First Observatory Featured in Local Media

MSU Anthropology students excavate the foundation of the university’s first observatory as part of the 2024 Campus Archaeology Fieldschool.

In summer of 2023, workers from Michigan State University Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, were installing hammock posts close to student residence halls near West Circle Drive when they encountered a hard, impenetrable surface under the ground. The discovery turned out to be the archaeological remains of MSU’s first observatory. Located just behind what is now Wills House, the observatory was built by Professor Rolla Carpenter in 1881. After the initial discovery in 2023, the Campus Archaeology Program, Directed by Dr. Stacey Camp, carried out test excavations the confirmed the presence of the observatory’s foundation. Additionally, in collaboration with archaeologists from The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted that indicated that most, if not all, of the observatory’s foundation was still intact. The GPR survey also showed a second foundation in the middle of the structure, which was believed to be a pad specifically designed for the observatory’s telescope – which is currently on exhibit at MSU’s Abrams Planetarium.

In the summer of 2024, Dr. Camp returned to the site with 14 MSU students to carry out excavations of the observatory as part of the Department of Anthropology’s Campus Archaeology Fieldschool. The fieldschool provides an intense, 5 week opportunity for MSU undergrads to get hands on experience in archaeological excavation, artifact analysis, historic and archaeological preservation, science communication, and public engagement – all of which are required for undergraduates interested in continuing on professionally in archaeology.

This summer’s fieldschool excavations and discoveries have been featured in several local media sources, including WKAR, WILX, and Michigan Public Radio.