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Ancient artifacts, fossils donated to the University of Oklahoma

The George C. and Cecilia McGhee Collection gives visitors to OU’s Western History Collections a view of the world through time.
by Kathryn McNutt Modified: June 8, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: June 8, 2014

Cultural artifacts and natural specimens from around the world and across the ages have found a new home at the University of Oklahoma.

Ancient Roman pottery, North American stone ax heads from the Middle Ages and a three-tiered Chinese picnic box from the 1700s are among the objects in the vast George C. and Cecilia McGhee Collection.

There are Byzantine crosses dating from 400 to 1100 and a Hebrew Bible with an ornate silver binding that depicts the 12 tribes of Israel and King David playing a Harp.

A turquoise-glazed Syrian bowl from the 1200s is nearly as colorful as the many rocks and minerals.

A sampling of the collection — brought to OU in February from the McGhee Foundation in Middleburg, Va. — is on display at OU’s Western History Collections in Monnet Hall.

“It started as a preview for the university community, but transitioned into a public exhibit that will be on display into early fall,” said John Lovett, director of Special Collections and curator of the Western History Collections.

It was too good not to share.

The complete donation — photographs, books, papers, art, artifacts, fossils — still is being researched and cataloged.

“We would have never expected it to drop into our lap. It caps off my 30 years here,” Lovett said.

Elsbeth Dowd, registrar at OU’s Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, said the significant donation broadens the educational experience the university can offer students and the public.

Her favorite object is a 200-pound fossil of a Crinoid, a marine animal common called the “sea lily.” The creature appears to be a flower until closer inspection.

“It’s a remarkable example of a large invertebrate fossil,” Dowd said.

A rich life

George McGhee was a millionaire oilman, career diplomat and world traveler. He graduated from OU with a degree in geology in 1933, earned a Rhodes scholarship and received a doctorate from Oxford University in 1937. During World War II, he enlisted in the Navy. He spent many years after the war working for the U.S. State Department.

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