Bifacial tools: pick (left) and hand axes. Acheulian Period, 1.4–1.3 million years ago. Pniel, Vaal River, South Africa. African Archaeology, Donner Collection. UMMAA 5599.

The collector of these objects looked towards the stars as well as under the ground. In 1927, the University of Michigan broke ground to build an astronomical observatory in Bloemfontein, South Africa. It was named the Lamont-Hussey Observatory after former undergraduate roommates: the industrialist Robert P. Lamont, who funded it, and William J. Hussey, a U-M astronomy professor, who envisioned it but did not live to see its opening. U-M alumnus Henry F. Donner (who earned his MS in astronomy in 1927) was among the initial team of scientists at the observatory. In 1928, he and his colleague Morris Jessup visited an archaeological site at Pniel, along the Vaal River. Diamond miners had dug deep into gravel deposits along the river, exposing archaeological layers and producing large spoil heaps containing numerous Paleolithic artifacts. These included bifacially flaked tools such as the Early Stone Age Acheulian artifacts shown here. Subsequent work at Pniel has dated the Acheulian deposits to 1.4–1.3 million years ago.

Back to Day 185 or continue to Day 187

In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.