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Editor’s Note: On March 21, Governor Haslam signed into law the bill making the McClung Museum’s sandstone sculpture the official state artifact.

A prehistoric Native American sandstone statue of a kneeling male figure that is part of the permanent collections at UT’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is set to become the official artifact of the state of Tennessee.

The Tennessee Legislature recently passed a bill to make the designation, which is awaiting the governor’s signature.

“The McClung Museum is thrilled to receive this recognition of the figure and our museum,” said McClung Museum Director Jeff Chapman. “The sculpture is such an important example of prehistoric Native American art, and we are proud to be the stewards of this piece of Tennessee history.”

The figure is on permanent display in the McClung Museum’s Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibit, which tells the story of 15,000 years of Native American history in the state.

It was found in 1939 with a companion female statue at a farm in Wilson County at the Sellars archaeological site. The eighteen-inch statue was carved between 1000 and 1350 A.D. and is from the Mississippian Period. UT purchased both prehistoric statues in 1940. They are thought to represent chiefly ancestors, real or mythological, from which this prehistoric community originated. Similar stone statuary pairs have been found across the South and Midwest at large Mississippian period town sites, but the McClung’s are particularly noted for their realism and workmanship.

The sculpture has been featured in several scientific and popular publications including a 1941 issue of Time magazine and as a United States postal stamp celebrating the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2004. It was part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand in 2004 and 2005, which recognized masterpieces of prehistoric Native American art. The figure also was featured in the 1992 exhibition Trésors du Nouveau Monde at the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels, Belgium.

Exhibits at the McClung Museum showcase the geologic, historic, and artistic past of Tennessee, as well as cultures from around the globe.

The McClung Museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

To learn more about the McClung Museum and its exhibits, visit the website.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Christina Selk (865-974-2143,