Prehistoric Statues Reunited at McClung Museum

Nov 3, 2017

Paired statues from the Mississippian period, roughly 700 years old. They were discovered in Middle Tennessee, and now reside at the McClung Museum in Knoxville.
Credit David H. Dye, University of Memphis

About seven centuries ago, Native Americans living in what is now Middle Tennessee turned blocks of stone into human figures. About forty of these sculptures are known to us today, and two of them are now in the permanent collection of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee.

The initial figure, eighteen inches high and depicting an older man, turned up in a farmer's field in Wilson County in 1939. That discovery led archaeologists to further finds, and the area is now a state-protected archaeological site. The statue made its way to the McClung Museum during World War II. In 2014, it was named Tennessee's official state artifact. On Friday, November 3, a second statue joined the museum's collection.

The two are considered mates because they show similar artistic style, were carved around the same time, found in the same area and appear to be a matched set - possibly village elders, or representations of ancestors. No one knows their exact purpose, be it decorative, religious or symbolic, but research continues.

In this conversation, Dr. Tim Baumann, curator of archaeology at McClung, tells WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth about the two sculptures, what they tell us about the people who made them, and the questions that for now remain unanswered.