A treasured collection on the UT campus: The McClung Museum
About halfway around Circle Park Drive on the University of Tennessee campus, a bronzed cast of dinosaur bones found in South Dakota sits in front of a brick building with few distinct features. It’s one of the first things you see heading into the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, an almost hidden gem in this oasis of higher learning. The museum opened in the 1960’s and today houses an expansive collection of archaeological, geological, historical and cultural relics from around the world, including the only dinosaur bones found in Tennessee.
When you walk into the lobby of the McClung Museum you’re faced with several choices as to where to start. The curators manage to pack the space with lots of choices. Not knowing much about the museum before my first visit, I chose to start with the exhibits showcasing the archaeology and history of Tennessee’s first residents, the Native Americans. Hundreds of arrowheads, pieces of pottery and other artifacts found throughout Tennessee line the exhibit. One of the biggest pieces in the collection is a 32-foot long dugout canoe found floating in the Tennessee River in the late 1700’s.
Next door to the Native American exhibit you’ll travel back in time even further as you explore the geology and fossil history of the region. Bronzed casts of prehistoric creatures hang from the ceiling while the rest of the room houses examples of the rocks found in Tennessee and plenty of fossils.
When I was in first grade, I remember being fascinated with Ancient Egypt and wanting to be an archaeologist when I grew up. (Needless to say, I chose a different career path). I was truly surprised at the collection of Egyptian relics at the McClung Museum, all part of a permanent exhibit. This mix of reproductions and true ancient relics bring the culture and history of the Nile Valley to life in a way I wasn’t expecting at a museum in East Tennessee.
While the McClung museum isn’t an art museum, there is an artistic side to it. One of the permanent collections contains 175 items dating from 2400 B.C. to the 21st Century. Called “The Decorative Experience,” this exhibit features decorative moccasins, Chinese jars, and even an early American pistol. Round out your visit to the museum by heading to the basement for exhibits on Tennessee’s freshwater pearl industry and the Civil War in Knoxville.
From time to time, special exhibits make their way to the museum. The latest special exhibit is For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. It runs from now through October 20, 2018.
Admission to the McClung Museum is free and so is parking (as long as there isn’t a special event happening on campus.) For more on the exhibits, special events and hours of the McClung Museum visit, http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu .