An architect, a historian, a physicist, a classicist and an astronomer dig a hole in the middle of campus - what comes next?
Construction of a temporary obelisk, designed to replicate a Roman solarium constructed by Augustus Caesar in 10 B.C., is underway on the Memorial Quad Lawn north of the Knight Library. Passersby might have noticed the large hole.
Facilities Services will bolt a steel upright beam to the foundation for structural support Friday and, after city inspections, a plywood skin will finish the pillar.
The 33-foot temporary version is intended to raise awareness about the project to build a permanent obelisk and provide proof-of-concept, John Nicols, a professor of history and classics, said.
The project still needs to privately raise funds for the construction of the permanent obelisk and the wooden version will only last until December. That challenge is somewhat mitigated by the interdisciplinary support the project has garnered. Nicols said the project would not have been possible without physics professors Gregory Bothun and Robert Zimmerman, and architecture professor Stephen Duff.
To stand with Nicols at the obelisk's foundation for just 20 minutes in mid-afternoon is to realize the massive scope of unseen community involvement. Nichols is easily able to pull a number of involved professors and community members out from the passing crowds, seemingly at random, who are participating.
Associate Professor of Architecture Ginger Cartwright said the biggest hurdle has been to gain momentum and "capture the imagination of key people."
"We've been doing it as an act of love," she said. "There's lots of art (on campus), but there isn't something that combines scholarly interest with art."
Science Librarian Dean Walton read about the project in the fall and curated a display for the library to help raise awareness.
"It's very neat that we can create a clock that can tell time, but tell you the day of the month and the month of the year," Walton said.
Even erecting the temporary obelisk required a lot of resources, Cartwright said. The structure required the cooperation of many individuals in a variety of departments and approval from the Campus Planning Committee and the city government.
"It's not something where you can just dig a hole," she said.
After nearly three years of work, Nicols is quick to point out this is still an early step: The final location of the obelisk isn't set, nor is the exact cost or even the material.
Nicols said President Dave Frohnmayer had made it clear the obelisk must have a smooth surface to thwart climbers and be able to withstand any prankish painting. One possibility is granite, but one inch thick cast bronze seems more likely.
Another bone of contention between factions on campus is the location. The obelisk will require a series of specific markings on the ground to tell time and that worries some people about the lawn location.
"It's a bit more controversial because of its sacred character," Nicols said.
Another option would be to level out a section of University Avenue between the Collier House and the EMU, but for right now the Memorial Lawn has the flat open space necessary.
What's the history?
Julius Caesar implemented a new calendar, based on a 365.25 day solar year, in 45 B.C. The innovation of a pure solar calendar kept months in line with seasonal changes.
In 10 B.C., Augustus Caesar, Julius' successor, sponsored the construction of the obelisk solarium capable of telling time. When the Roman Empire fell, the obelisk did as well and the ground markings were lost.
The 90-foot Augustan obelisk was rediscovered in the early Renaissance and erected again in Rome.
Twenty years ago, German archaeologist Edmund Boucher found fragments of the original solarium plan under apartment buildings off the Via del Corso in Rome.
The project has an official website at http://solarium.uoregon.edu. It includes a live webcast ...