LAURINBURG — Many of the artifacts in Laurinburg’s Indian Museum of the Carolinas were unearthed from the ground only, in recent years, to be stored in an underutilized, barely-visited building.
But those items may find a new lease on life in the coming year, telling the stories of southeastern North Carolina’s Native American population through a consolidated exhibit in the Museum of Scotland County.
The Indian Museum opened in 1972, founded by David McLean, an archaeologist teaching at what was then St. Andrews Presbyterian College. As interest in the museum waned, its board found itself unable to make ends meet through private funding.
“Over the years the enthusiasm sort of wore out and attrition took its toll,” said Scotland County Historic Properties Commission member Philip McRae.
After being closed for several years with only sporadic weekend openings, the museum’s board turned the museum and its contents over to the historical commission this summer.
The commission, a 12-member board, was initially established by the Scotland County Board of Commissioners to manage the John Blue House Complex and the Gill House on Cronly Street. McRae estimated that about half of the museum’s items will be moved to the Museum of Scotland County on West Boulevard sometime in 2014.
“We want to be responsible; we don’t want to just put everything on eBay and start selling it,” he said. “Everything from the southeastern United States we’re probably going to move over to the Museum of Scotland County.”
Among the museum’s displays are artifacts from Native American cultures in the southeastern and southwestern United States, as well as a few relics from indigenous peoples who lived on other continents.
Academics from several institutions have expressed interest in the museum, including archaeologists and anthropologists from the University of North Carolina, UNC-Pembroke, and Louisiana State University. In particular, the museum’s smaller artifacts, including arrowheads, rocks, and tools discovered during St. Andrews’ expeditions, may be of use to future research.
“The delegation from UNC thought they were coming down here to look at a wash basin full of rocks,” said McRae. “They walked in here and they were just astounded that something like this had existed under their nose.”
Those items have spent the years since their discovery in filing cabinets in the museum’s storage room.
“Everything’s documented; this shows you the date it was found and what grid it was found,” said commission member Lee Gaunt. “Every piece in here is documented where and when it came from.”
The commission is currently in the process of clearing and remodeling space in the Museum of Scotland County for the exhibit, allowing for the Native American artifacts to be viewable on a regular schedule alongside the museum’s sampling of vintage cars and farm equipment and other items of early 20th century rural Americana.
“Nothing has been set in stone and we have not made any agreement with anybody,” McRae said. “Hopefully we can preserve at least everything local. If we can get it all moved by this time next year, I’ll be happy.”