Local find on display at museum

Published 6:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

When the new gallery at the Alabama Department of Archives and History holds its grand opening today in Montgomery, Robert McLean will be there.

You might say one of the items on exhibit in “The First Alabamians” has his name on it.

Seven years ago, while roaming Butler County, the Greenville resident and amateur artifact hunter happened upon an interesting find.

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“I thought, ‘That looks just like a giant tooth.’ And it was,” McLean said.

As it turned out, McLean had found a Mastodon tooth, with its enamel and root intact. Mastodons disappeared from North America about 10,000 years ago, so it was a” very exciting” find for him.

“I kept it for a while. Then I noticed in the Alabama Room at the ADAH that the mastodon tooth they had on exhibit was actually from Florida. And it wasn’t in nearly as good a shape as the one I found,” McLean said.

“I told the director it didn’t make sense to have a Florida tooth in an Alabama exhibit.”

McLean decided to give his Mastodon tooth to the museum with one stipulation: “If they didn’t actually display it and just stuck it in a drawer somewhere, I would get it back.”

The process took a while, but 18 months ago, McLean officially deeded his ancient find over to the ADAH. And the state historians are living up to their promise to McLean.

“I’ve been told it is one of the first items you will see when you walk into the new gallery,” McLean said.

The description of the artifact is as follows:

Evidence of the large mammals hunted by Paleo-Indians can still be found. At right, the vertebrae and tooth of a mammoth, which ate grass. Below, this tooth of a mastodon, which ate leaves, twigs and seeds, was found by Robert G. McLean of Butler County in 2004.

McLean, who says he discovered his interest in artifact hunting as a college student, admits he tends to be a little disappointed these days when he seeks out evidence of Alabama’s distant past.

“I don’t think I will ever find anything that will beat that mastodon tooth,” he said.

The first two exhibits of the Museum of Alabama—“The Land of Alabama” and “The First Alabamians”—opened Friday, August 26 with a morning ribbon cutting by First Lady Dianne Bentley, followed by tours of the exhibits and opportunities to meet the advisors, artists and designers involved in the project.

Grand opening festivities continue on Saturday, August 27, with a full schedule of public programs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Events include gallery tours, guest speakers, hands-on activities for families and demonstrations by muralists and model makers. The two new exhibits in the Museum of Alabama tell the story of the earliest days of Alabama history, and are the first phase of five renovated galleries and an entirely new centerpiece exhibit, “Alabama Voices.”

McLean will be formally recognized as one of the contributors to the new exhibit this Saturday morning.

And he’s looking forward to seeing his fantastic Alabama archaeological find once again.

“I have to say, I do want to see the tooth for myself on display,” McLean said.

A complete schedule of events and activities for the grand opening is available at www.archives.alabama.gov.