Undisturbed, Prehistoric Sand Dune Discovered at Michigan State University


Photo: Courtesy MSU.

The sprawling campus of Michigan State University takes in 5,200 acres. There are trees that shade the landscape and a Red Cedar River that runs through it. Researchers have just found a 16,000- to 20,000-year-old sand dune on the campus, too, beneath a grove of pine trees.The dune, between buildings called Demonstration Hall and Munn Ice Arena, is one of the most southerly located that researchers have ever seen in Michigan.

MSU started an archaeology program in 2005, with an excavation at the site of MSU's first residence hall that unearthered artifacts including iron woodstoves and a toothbrush made of bone.

In the spring of 2009, when storms damaged trees on the grove, a survey was done to determine how the replacement might disrupt the site, and any possible artifacts. Sand samples ended up revealing that the dunes were between 16,100 and 12,400 years old.

The dune story goes back to the early 1900s, when a forestry professor planted pine and spruce to keep the exposed dune from eroding. That kept most of the ancient sand in place, although most has since been lost to development. One acre, guarded by the trees, remains.

This time, science has given the trees and dunes a reprieve, and they will not be disturbed, said Lynne Goldstein, professor of anthropology and director of MSU's Campus Archaeology Program.


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