“People, I’ve been told, would call Bob Campbell and say, ‘Bob, I’ve found a cave bear! Would you want it?’” says Adam Smith, curator of the Bob Campbell Geology Museum. “I get the sense that Bob never said no because his collection was expansive.”
The cave bear Smith is referring to is a 35,000-year-old skull that peers from one of the glass cases in the museum, which is settled in the hills of the South Carolina Botanical Garden to the right of the gated entrance. The skull is hulking and toothy, and the sign next to it shows that cave bears were nearly twice as large as grizzly bears and that it was collected in Austria. It’s one of Smith’s favorite pieces.
Along with many fossils and casts like the cave bear, the museum boasts an impressive collection of rocks and minerals. This collection largely comes from the museum’s namesake.
Bob Campbell graduated from Clemson in 1937 and after returning from World War II, opened his own successful quarry business. Campbell soon became known for his collection of rocks and fossils, and he had a network of contributors who helped him. Facing an increasing inventory displayed at their house, Campbell’s wife, Betsy, eventually convinced her husband to open his own museum. Ergo the Bob Campbell Geology Museum.
To highlight what the museum has to offer, we asked Smith to give us his top two picks from the exhibits:
What’s up? This exhibit features a collection of associated triceratops fossils (including a large piece of head frill, four pieces of skull and parts of two of the animal’s three horns) that were collected and prepped by Smith and Clemson students. Associated means that all of these fossils belong to one individual, whereas composite means that the fossils belong to multiple individuals.
What’s cool? A piece of this massive dinosaur’s head frill has been partially embedded in acrylic, allowing visitors to touch and feel a real 68-million-year-old fossil.
Minerals of South and North Carolina
What’s up? This collection shows off the diversity of rocks that can be found in the western Carolinas, which are very mineral-rich states despite their lack of fossils (fossils are quite common in the eastern Carolinas).
What’s cool? The museum runs a free-of-charge mineral and fossil identification service, but Smith has never seen anyone bring in a fulgurite. These very thin tubes of fused sand are created by lightning strikes and are often found near the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But any sandy area has potential, Smith says.
Editor’s Pick ↑
This exact replica of a Smilodon skeleton assembled from fossils pulled from the La Brea Tar Pits in California shows visitors the size and shape of a prehistoric tiger.