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Our Banded Iron Formation

The 29-ton, approximately 1.9 billion-year-old specimen of banded iron formation (BIF) that sits near the North Farm Lane entrance of Michigan State University’s Natural Science Building, is a gift from the City of Ishpeming, Michigan. The specimen was collected from the long-abandoned Little Mountain Mine, located in Ishpeming (Lat. 46° 29' 22.75" N and Long. 87° 39' 14.71" W). The mine was last believed to have operated in 1855.

The impetus for acquisition of the specimen began with faculty members from the MSU College of Natural Science’s Department of Geological Sciences seeking appropriate visual recognition for the unit, which has been housed in the Natural Science Building since the building’s construction in late 1940’s. It was felt that the selected specimen should reflect the importance of the field of earth science

Iron mining in Michigan’s Northern Peninsula began in 1844 and continues today. Many MSU graduates have also been employed by mining and mineral exploration companies, state and federal geologic surveys, and mining regulators. This specimen is a tribute to all involved in mineral evaluation and extraction, and geosciences in general, and serves to illustrate the scientific, economic, cultural and historical significance of geology to the state.

Scientifically important, the Negaunee Iron Formation of the Menominee Group of the Marquette Range Supergroup is a thick sediment deposited near the edge of a continent that was then adjacent to the Michigan – Wisconsin border. The specimen is composed of alternating bands of the silver-gray mineral specular hematite and red mineral jasper. The red color represents earliest evidence of oxygen in the atmosphere and a cause of early climate change. Complete understanding of the mechanism and environment creating the banding over millions of years of deposition remains elusive.