A “wonderful glacial erratic”: Charles S. Gwynne and a campus landmark

…I would like to say that I have seen an uncounted number of glacial erratics, but I have never seen one that had so many interesting features as this one does. – Charles S. Gwynne (RS 13/8/12)

Charles S. Gwynne in front of the boulder. undated. (University photographs, RS 13/8, box 1057)

Charles S. Gwynne in front of the boulder, possibly during transport to its current location. undated. (University photographs, RS 13/8, box 1057)

If you’ve been in the vicinity of Science I, you may have seen an unusual boulder. It stands approximately 6 feet high and is criss-crossed with bands of a lighter rock. It’s what is known as a glacial erratic – “Glacially transported rock whose lithology shows that it could not have been eroded from the local country rock.”1

This is a diagram (not to scale) of the southwest face of the boulder at the southeast corner of the Science Building. The rock is mostly granite with some inclusions.

From “The Boulder.” Box 6, folder 6. Charles S. Gwynne Papers, RS 13/8/12.

Charles S. Gwynne was a geology professor at Iowa State from 1927-1970. He used the boulder in his teaching by taking students to the rock regularly as part of class field trips.

According to Gwynne, the boulder was originally located on what became the campus golf course. Various efforts to move the boulder were made over the years, but Gwynne always objected as he “remained strongly committed to the idea that the boulder should be left where the glacier put it.”2

Eventually it was decided that the boulder was at risk from potential vandalism and the inevitable widening of Stange Road. Gwynne gave his unofficial blessing and it was moved to its present location by the geology students.

A story on the boulder from Inside Iowa State. The original page is no longer available on the live web, but can be accessed via our web archives. Click on the picture to see the preserved website.

A story on the boulder from Inside Iowa State. Click on the picture to see the preserved website via our web archives.

Interested in seeing the erratic for yourself? You may want to participate in this earthcache about the boulder. See the rest of the Gwynne papers (RS 13/8/12) for more on geology in Iowa and the midwest.


1. “erratic” in Michael Allaby. A Dictionary of Geology and Earth Sciences, 4th Edition. Oxford Paperback Reference. Oxford University Press, 2013. QE5 D54 2013

2. “The Boulder.” Box 6, folder 6. Charles S. Gwynne Papers, RS 13/8/12. Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University.

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