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Holy rollers: Old Main rocks stump students

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Ashlee Salamon | The Daily Wildcat Ashlee Salamon / Arizona Daily Wildcat Adorning the landscape west of Old Main is one of the multiple boulders mining students use for drilling practice throughout the year. The boulders, replaced on a regular basis, are have been a mystery to many students who pass them on a daily basis.

In front of Old Main sit two granite boulders. With each over six feet tall, they're tough to overlook. After all, an enormous boulder with a spray-painted grid on it that's peppered with deeply drilled holes is hard to ignore.


Each hole is about an inch in diameter and drilled too deep into the rock to see its end. The holes are scattered across the face of the rock in a fashion organized enough to guarantee they have a purpose, yet random enough to give no hint as to what that purpose may be.

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David Bates, a family studies and human development senior, thought they might have ""something to do with mining.""


""Someone told me that it had something to do with music,"" said biology junior Krystal Chee.


""Looks like gunshots,"" said biology freshman Andrew Choi.


Nutritional science senior Lexie Reed guessed it was the rock that the school was built on.


""Maybe they played games on it or something,"" said Ashley Harley, an Africana studies senior. ""Or maybe it was like the first geometry.""


Pre-pharmacy sophomore Michelle Wang had a simple guess: ""Aliens.""


What these students have in common is that they all recognize the existence of these boulders, yet they all have no clue about their significance.


Now the boulders can be revealed for what they really are: a tool for higher education.


Scott Kirkessner is the tour coordinator for UA campus tours, and he knows the secret of the Old Main boulders.


""We've heard (stories) that if you hit each different hole, it produces a different note,"" said Kirkessner, ""which is actually partially true.""


To start unraveling this Old Main mystery, Kirkessner revealed that while the rocks might seem ancient, they are in fact newer to campus than most current undergraduates.


""The rocks out front that you see now are new,"" said Kirkessner. ""They were brought in sometime last year and replaced the ones that were out front for a while.""


These rocks are used in an annual contest put on by the mining and geological engineering department. The competition is more than 50 years old, and each year the boulders get attacked by teams of two with a power-tool used by miners called a jack-leg drill. Each year, teams compete to see who can drill the deepest and the straightest.


""They practice drilling on those rocks to different depths,"" said Kirkessner. ""Which is why you see all the squares and the grids, and why you see all the different colors.


""It's a really noisy process,"" he added.


With each competition, the rocks lose some matter and eventually must be retired. The boulders are replaced every five years or so. Considering the age of the competition, that means the UA has seen more than 10 generations of boulders gracing the front lawn of Old Main.


""In the middle of last year, this giant crane dropped off those two rocks,"" said Kirkessner. ""They sat there for a while, and all of the sudden these guys were out there with this air-powered drill just drilling into the rocks.""


Don't fear: The current boulders still have plenty of face to be drilled.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (12/8)
669 11 1.6%
Total (8/2)
66,070 1,065 1.6%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated December 8, 2021