Wilson County’s ‘Sandy’ set to become official state artifact

“Sandy,” a prehistoric Native American sandstone statue of a kneeling male figure found in Wilson County, is set to become the official artifact of Tennessee.
Mar 11, 2014
Courtesy of David H. Dye

“Sandy,” a prehistoric Native American sandstone statue of a kneeling male figure found in Wilson County, is set to become the official artifact of Tennessee.

In January, the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology approached legislators asking that Sandy be listed among the official Tennessee state symbols. Bills sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, passed through the House and Senate on Monday, and await Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.

Tanya Peres, TCPA president and associate professor of anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University, said naming Sandy as the official state artifact recognizes Tennessee’s unique history.

“Tennessee’s archaeological heritage stretches back to the end of the last ice age and includes around 30,000 recorded sites,” Peres said. “Naming Sandy as an official Tennessee symbol acknowledges the state’s ancient past and will encourage Tennesseans to learn more about and work to help preserve our shared history. Listing Sandy as the state artifact also honors the legacy and accomplishments of Native Americans who lived in Tennessee for more than 10,000 years prior to the arrival of European settlers.”

Sandy is part of the permanent collections at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

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

Sandy 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.

Sandy was found in 1939 with a companion female statue at a farm in Wilson County at the Sellars archaeological site. The 18-inch statue was carved between 1000 and 1350 A.D. and is from the Mississippian Period.

Sandy depicts an older male with wrinkles under his eyes and a sagging neck.  Black pigment was also used to highlight his eyes and to create a broad line from cheek to cheek across the nose. Sandy’s head is covered with an elaborate hairstyle and long braid going down his back, which may symbolize his elite status and/or have a ritual purpose.  

Jeff Rogers, a tenant farmer, discovered Sandy at the Sellars farm site, a late prehistoric mound and village in Wilson County. Today, Sellars farm is a state archaeological area and a satellite of Long Hunter State Park.

The university bought both prehistoric statues in 1940. They are thought to represent chiefly ancestors from which the prehistoric community originated. Similar stone statuary pairs were found across the South and Midwest at large Mississippian period town sites, but Sandy and his companion are particularly noted for their realism and workmanship.

Sandy was featured in several scientific and popular publications, including a 1941 issue of Time magazine and as a U.S. 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. Sandy also was featured in the 1992 exhibition "Tresors du Nouveau Monde" at the Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire in Brussels, Belgium.

During the past 50 years, Sandy’s image was used as part of the official logo for the McClung Museum.

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