The Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona in Tucson is the southwest’s oldest and largest anthropology museum. The collection entails over three million objects including over 300,000 catalogued artifacts, ethnographic artifacts, over one half million photographs and negatives, as well as almost 100,000 rare books.
The archeological collection is organized into four areas of study. These four areas include catalogued artifacts, a bulk material research collection, specimens from site surveys, and a library of southwestern pottery fragments, or sherds. The catalogued objects are most often used for exhibits and as reference materials for research and teaching. The sherd library is used for research and reference, and contains samples of pottery and cultures from thousands of sites across Arizona. The Bioarcheology collection includes human skeletal remains from archeological sites throughout Arizona. The Bioarcheology Laboratory provides research and teaching resources to the University of Arizona. Ethnology is the study of people’s characteristics and the relationship between groups of people. The ethnology collection contains artifacts from over 400 different cultures throughout the southwestern United States and dates from the 1880’s through the 1980’s. Highlights include a Navajo collection with one of the world’s largest woven Navajo rugs. Pottery, baskets and textiles from Mexico, over 400 Mexican folk costumes and masks, and the largest collection of materials from the indigenous Seri people of Mexico are also included. The photography collection includes documentations of historic and prehistoric artifacts and archeological fieldwork. Historic photographs of the Piman Native Americans and the Western Apache, photographs of mission architecture from Mexico, and aesthetic photographs of Arizona landscapes are included in the collection. Noted photographers include the missionary and teacher Daniel Boone Linderman who worked in the early 1900’s on the Pima and Maricopa reservations, as well as the anthropologist Grenville Goodwin who studied culture among the Western Apache.
History: The Arizona State Museum was founded in 1893 with a primary focus on the indigenous cultures of the southwestern United States, northern Mexico, and in particular, Arizona. As the official museum of the state of Arizona, it operates under several government mandates, including protecting and upholding the Arizona Antiquities Act. Under this act, the museum is the permitting authority for all archeological activity over close to 10 million acres of state land, as well as the official keeper of inventory from over 100,000 historic and archeological sites. The museum works with the government to prosecute crimes that occur against archeological and historic sites, and administers the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act by working with Native American tribes to protect human burials on both state and private land. Alongside the University of Arizona, the museum offers robust research resources. Areas of focus include water rights between Spain and Mexico in the southwest, the cultures of the Hopi and Hohokam people of Arizona, how prehistoric people adapted to the land and use of animals in a desert landscape, and the ancient migration of people. A preservation division at the museum takes care to ensure that each object is preserved and cared for, and works to develop best practices in the testing of objects, as well as their storage and documentation.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Events at the museum include hands-on workshops, lectures and close-up tours of the collections. An Ancestral Pueblo Glazed Pottery program spanned multiple days and offered morning lectures about the history of the 14th and 15th century pottery with hands-on activities in the afternoons. A basket identification workshop taught participants about different types of baskets, and concluded with a hands-on basket making session led by a Native American weaver. Past lectures have included “Indigenous Perspectives on Cultural Property,” a guide about best practices for following State Preservation Acts, and “The Many Journeys of Father Kino,” a look at the Jesuit missionary’s legacy in Arizona and Sonora.
Past and Future Exhibits: The current exhibit, “Woven Through Time: American Treasures of Native Basketry and Fiber Art” is on display through 2022. The exhibit showcases Arizona’s tradition of basket weaving and the finest examples of this work, from ancient times through the present day. The exhibit highlights the best of the museum’s collection of over 35,000 baskets and weavings, including cradleboards, mats and sandals. Contemporary Native American voices interpret the display.
What’s Nearby: Additional museums on the University of Arizona campus include the Museum of Art, the Science Center and Planetarium, the Mineral Museum and Biosphere 2 which is home to 6 biospheres under a giant glass dome.
1013 East University Boulevard, Tucson, Arizona 85721, Phone: 520-621-6302