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Michigan State University

Found Underground

The Dig Site

Found Underground

MSU Unearths 142-Year-Old Observatory Foundation

This summer, while workers from MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities were installing hammock posts near West Circle Drive, they encountered an impenetrable surface beneath the ground.

The crew called on MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) who determined it was the foundation of the first observatory on MSU’s campus, constructed in 1881. 

The discovery gives insight into how scientific observation, as well as life on campus, has changed over the last 140-plus years.

“[It] was a radically different institution with only a handful of professors and a relatively small student body,” said Ben Akey, MSU campus archaeologist and anthropology doctoral student.

Located behind what is now Wills House, the dig site will help prepare students for careers in archaeology, and beyond. While most student workers are anthropology majors, some have backgrounds in other areas of study.

“Having students from majors outside anthropology gives us a different perspective on what we’re finding,” said Stacey Camp, director of CAP and associate professor of anthropology. “We feel really lucky to have a wide variety of knowledge on our dig sites.”

Historical image of old MSU observatory
A group poses outside MSU’s first observatory, circa 1888.
Image courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collection.

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