‘Rock on’: Murfreesboro’s Museum of Natural History

In addition to casts of fossils, the museum has sculptures and statues of life-sized dinosaurs, depicting what they would have looked like in the flesh. (Sidelines/Connor Burnard)

Photo by Connor Burnard / Contributing Photographer

Story by Caleb Revill / Contributing Writer 

From teaching geology in the classroom to excavating prehistoric fossils, MTSU Professor Alan Brown has been working towards assembling Murfreesboro’s Museum of Natural History, one bone at a time.

“I’ve always loved museums, and that’s kind of what helped get this museum up and running,” Brown said. “I grew up in Illinois, about 100 miles south of Chicago. We would, every once in awhile, go up to the Field Museum of Natural History, which is one of the best natural history museums in the country.”

Brown explained that when he moved to Nashville, there were not any natural history museums in the Middle Tennessee area. With the help of other collectors and experts, Brown founded “Earth Experience,” Middle Tennessee’s Museum of Natural History. While the museum boasts a collection of fossils and minerals from around the world, most have been found in Tennessee.

Brown does work locally, but he has excavated in eastern Montana for nine years now.

“A lot of people ask, ‘How do you know where to dig?’,” Brown said. “The first thing you have to do is cover a lot of ground.”

He explained that the goal is to first try to find where a bone could be found on the surface and carefully dig it up using aluminum foil and plaster to cast the bone.

“We have excavated Triceratops, T-rex, Edmontosaurus – and one time, in northern Montana, we were excavating what could possibly be a new species of dinosaur,” Brown said. “The number of Paleontologists has actually grown over the past twenty years. Because there are more palentologists out there and more people looking, they are discovering new dinosaurs on a pretty regular basis now.”

It was clear that a lot of passion and work went into excavating the pieces displayed at the museum.

“There is a rib bone from a Triceratops, which was the first dinosaur bone that I ever dug up,” Brown said. “There is a Tyrannosaur tooth, and when I found that one, it was in pieces. There was at least six months of work putting that one together.”

Brown also has a huge collection of fossils and rocks found in Tennessee.

“There really isn’t much from the time of dinosaurs in Tennessee,” Brown said.

He explained that he had more minerals and rocks because much of Tennessee was under water at the time.

There is also a small section in the museum with World War II memorabilia, which Brown hopes to expand to include prehistoric archeology displays.

“The Museum has been entirely built on private donations and lots of hard work by volunteers,” Brown said.

Brown encourages people to bring fossils or artifacts that they would like to have identified. The museum even offers the local youth a way to get involved in Tennessee’s natural history. Once a month, children can visit the museum for a workshop where they can discover history in a hands-on way.

There is a paleontology lab on-site where visitors can view research of authentic dinosaur bones taking place. 

Donations can be made either on the Museum’s Facebook page or at the museum located at 816 Old Salem Road.

Admission to the museum is free for MTSU students.

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To contact News Editor Brinley Hineman, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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