If you happen to be traveling to Little Rock, Arkansas anytime soon you might stop by the Old State House Museum and take in a new exhibit (opening today) entitled “Sam Dellinger: Raiders of the Lost Arkansas.” Despite the “over the top” title and similar poster (click on the image for a closer look), this exhibit highlights Samuel C. Dellinger–Arkansas’ first in-state archeologist and the “father” of the University of Arkansas Museum.
Although Dellinger was a zoologist by training, after he became director of the University of Arkansas Museum (ca. 1922) he became deeply and inextricably involved in the history of Arkansas archeology. He was troubled and alarmed at what he saw as the “ripping off of the State’s rich cultural heritage, and [the] carrying of all of the goodies out of state and way up north” (i.e., The Smithsonian, C .B. Moore and New York’s Heye Foundation).
His stance on the subject–in addition to his progressive attitude toward archeology–is clearly stated in an early Arkansas Alumnus article, probably written by Dellinger himself:
We wish to preserve as many antiques as possible in the University Museum, where they will not be retained solely for exhibition purposes but can be used for studying prehistoric inhabitants. Relics give students of archaeology ideas of the culture of various tribes, what they ate and how they prepared it, the instruments they used, their commerce with other tribes and their religious beliefs. These purposes of the museum explain why efforts are being made to obtain all available archaeological specimens in the state for the benefit of the people of the state. In other words, now that the world has been saved for democracy, it’s time to save Arkansas for Arkansans (Arkansas Alumnus 1928:7).
To these ends, Dellinger amassed nearly 8,000 prehistoric artifacts, one of the finest collections of Southeastern North American antiquities anywhere. Many of these will be on display in the exhibt
Unfortunately, The University of Arkansas Museum was shut down in 2003. The collections still survive, however, in the form of the University of Arkansas Collections housed with the collections of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
BTW: The Old State House Museum also interviewed and filmed several of the archeologists and curators at the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the University Collections for the exhibit.