Never just an ivory tower, or a monument, the Campanile is a trusty landmark, a familiar friend, a treasure trove of history, a music box, a guardian, a solace and a thing of great beauty. But most of all, it is a symbol of the university’s lofty vision and enduring contribution to California and the world.
The Bells: Did You Know?
A carillon needs at least 23 bells – the tower began with a 12-bell chime.
Fear of World War I submarine attacks delayed the first bells’ arrival on a British ship.
The bells played for two continuous hours at the end of World War II.
Famous jazz pianist Herbie Hancock gave a concert on the chimes in 1968.
Famous artist Ruth Asawa sculpted the young bears on the 5.25-ton Great Bear Bell.
The prestigious Berkeley Medal was once the Berkeley Carillon Medal.
Carillonists play with their feet as well as with their hands.
“The coolest job in the world”
Sounds of the Tower
How many fossils are in the Campanile?
Some 20 tons of ancient fossils – about 300,000 individual objects – are housed on five levels of the tower.
UC paleontologists excavated most of them in the early 1900s from tar pits in prehistoric Los Angeles. Tar pits form when natural asphalt seeps up from the ground and creates pits or lakes. Fossils from the La Brea tar pits were brought to the Campanile for storage in 1913, before the tower was completed. More fossils, from the McKittrick tar pits in San Joaquin Valley, arrived in the 1930s.
How many animals – and what kinds – were trapped in the tar pits?
It’s hard to say, since there were no whole skeletons found in the sticky tar seeps, and countless more fossils still are stuck there. UC Berkeley’s fossils include the remains of many animals, such as saber-toothed cats, horses, camels, ground sloths and birds like the vulture, which fed on animals caught in the tar.
What is the most common fossil in the tower?
The No. 1 fossil is that of the dire wolf, an extremely common large, wild dog that lived throughout North America 10,000 years ago, but then became extinct.
In the No. 2 slot is Smilodon, the saber-toothed cat that weighed between 750 and 900 pounds and became the California state fossil in 1974. Professor and UC Berkeley alumnus Donald Savage in the Department of Paleontology lobbied to make that happen.
Why can’t the public see the fossils?
Most of the fossils are stored in cabinets and taken out only for research and teaching purposes. The collections also aren’t exhibited on campus; public research universities rarely have space for that. But you can see a skeleton of Smilodon in the Valley Life Sciences Building and a Smilodon sculpture outside McCone Hall.
According to campus lore, the Campanile’s elevator door used to open onto the levels where the fossils are stored, and animal skeletons were dramatically positioned to scare tower guests.
Why are the fossils still in the tower?
It’s unusual to store fossils in a bell tower, but the location suited students in the early 1900s with paleontology class in nearby Bacon Hall. Today, students and researchers work in the tower measuring, sampling and observing the fossils, and students and staff curate and catalog there. The Valley Life Sciences Building, where paleontology and integrative biology are taught, is close by. So is McCone Hall, home to the geology department. There is no comparable space for the fossils elsewhere on campus.
“Not just dusty old rooms”