published Saturday, March 8th, 2014

'Sandy' may become Tennessee's official artifact

  • photo
    Sandy, a prehistoric Native American sandstone statue of a kneeling male figure that is part of the permanent collections at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is set to become the official artifact of the state of Tennessee.
    Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tennessee has a state bird, a state flower, a pair of state rocks and several state songs. Why not a state artifact?

That designation likely will go soon to an ancient figure at the University of Tennessee's McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. The perhaps-700-year-old American Indian sandstone statue called "Sandy" is often used as a symbol for the museum. The 18-inch figure of a kneeling, older man was carved sometime between 1250 and 1350 A.D. and likely represents a tribal chief.

Found in a Wilson County farm field in 1939, the object is part of the McClung's permanent exhibit "Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee."

A bill to make Sandy the official state artifact passed the state Senate and House and awaits Gov. Bill Haslam's signature.

The bills were introduced at the request of the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology.

A state artifact can "elevate the visibility of archaeology in the state," said council President Tanya Peres, a Middle Tennessee State University associate professor of anthropology. "We have some really unique archaeological resources, and a lot of people don't realize we have them."

This isn't Sandy's first honor. The statue was on a United States postage stamp as part of a 2004 series commemorating American Indian art and has been featured in journals.

"It's a real work of art and [has] a whole history to itself and a story to tell about the people who made it and used it," Peres said. "We felt it really showed the artistry and the skills of Native Americans who lived here before Europeans did. We wanted to honor that heritage and show the public some very skilled, interesting people lived here. And maybe interest people to learn more."

"The McClung Museum is thrilled to receive this recognition of Sandy and our museum," museum Director Jeff Chapman said.

"Sandy is such an important example of prehistoric Native American art, and we are proud to be the stewards of this piece of Tennessee history."

Contact Amy McRary at 865-342-6437 or

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