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Anthropological Collections

An iron tool from tenth-century Kenya. A shell amulet from the ancient American Southwest. A pottery sherd from prehistoric Brazil.  These objects from the anthropology collections at The Field Museum were once in the hands of individual people attempting to solve everyday problems in their environments.

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An iron tool from tenth-century Kenya. A shell amulet from the ancient American Southwest. A pottery sherd from prehistoric Brazil.  These objects from the anthropology collections at The Field Museum were once in the hands of individual people attempting to solve everyday problems in their environments.

Today at the Museum and in the field anthropologists and their colleagues restore these objects to life. The tool reveals a hidden link between coastal urban elites and craftspeople in the East African interior. The amulet unlocks the secret of Pueblo status and aesthetics as well as the exchange of resources over wide areas. The pottery sherd discloses complex cultures adapted to fishing and farming without tearing the ecological fabric of the Amazon basin.

By helping us to understand such linkages, The Field Museum’s collections offer us a basis for addressing two crucial contemporary problems: how to respect and preserve cultural diversity and how to protect the natural diversity on which all life depends.


Image above: Detail of a transformation mask (shown open), representing a shaman, which was fashioned from carved and painted cedar by Xániyus (Bob Harris) before 1893. Kwakiutl, Vancouver Island, Northwest Coast. Catalog Number 61.19166. © The Field Museum, A108352_1c, Photographer Ron Testa.

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Collections

A.B. Lewis left Chicago on May 8, 1909, with Fiji as his first destination and with the primary objective, as instructed by Dorsey, to assemble a display worthy museum collection from the southwestern Pacific.
In 1958 The Field Museum purchased one of the most extensive and valuable collections of Pacific artifacts ever assembled; Captain A.W.F. Fuller’s collection of 6,884 objects of material culture.
Africa's complex art, technology, architecture, and political systems are documented both by the Museum's archaeological assemblages and varied historical and contemporary collections.
Collections of clays from the valleys of Peru and Chile help us understand ceramic production and economy among the early states of the Andes.
Collections of Basalts, Andesites, and Rhyolites from the Lake Titicaca Basin allow us to identify the source quaries for artifacts and architecture at regional archaeological sites dating to the Middle Horizon.
Seemingly fragile, textiles can be an enduring link to vanished cultures, as well as a fascinating cross section of the aesthetic sensibilities of far-flung contemporary peoples. Among the five most distinctive collections in the United States, The Field Museum’s holdings...
The Museum’s collection from Australia numbers over 2,200 objects.
The Museum is rich in collections from three of the ancient Middle and South American cultures whose conflicts with European societies were among the most dramatic and far-reaching. These collections are particularly strong in ceramics:
Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures.  During his tenure at The Field Museum he made significant contributions to the collections of both Anthropology and the Library.
The Boone Collection consists of over 3,500 East Asian artifacts gathered by Commander Gilbert E. Boone and his wife Katharine Phelps Boone. The Boones acquired most of these objects in the late 1950s, during a three-year tour of duty in Japan. Consequently, the objects are...
Material records of pre-contact cultures include polychrome pottery excavated from artificial earth mounds on Marajó Island, at the mouth of the Amazon. These well-preserved vessels hint at Brazilian lifeways over a 700-year span in the first millennium A.D.
For more than 1,500 years rubbings have been a vital medium for preserving China's art, culture, and history. These beautiful works are made by pressing thin sheets of wet paper into carvings or inscriptions cut in stone or other hard materials and carefully inking the...
Material records of pre-contact cultures include ceramics and textiles from settlements thriving between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1300 on the Peruvian coast. These pieces came to light through the excavations of Field Museum Curators George Dorsey in the 1890's and Donald Collier...
While the acquisition of new collections for the Museum still involves obtaining actual objects, our collecting also involves much more than just this. 
The Museum’s initial holdings from the Pacific islands included notable collections that were received from the K.K. Naturhistorisches Hofmuseum in Vienna, Austria, J. G. Peace from Melanesia, Carl Hagenbeck, and Otto Finsch and exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian...
The Field Museum has a collection of about 80 Javanese Masks from the World's Columbian Exposition 1893. The masks were worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known in the Indonesian language as wayang topeng. 
The ancient city of Kish was occupied from at least as early as 3200 B.C. through the 7th century A.D. From 1923 through 1933, joint archaeological expeditions of The Field Museum of Natural History and Oxford University explored many of the twenty-four-square-kilometer...
The Museums's Latin American collections include fine textiles from highland Peru and Bolivia and from Guatemala.
The Museum’s ethnographic materials from Melanesia, numbering over 38,000 objects, represent one of the world’s finest collections of Pacific material culture ever assembled.
Far from “discovering the New World,” Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere long after complex societies had already risen, fallen, persisted, and transformed in the Americas. The Field Museum’s collections from Middle and Central America have allowed anthropologists to...
The Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic materials from Micronesian number nearly 16,000 specimens.
The Department of Anthropology holds an exceptional collection of ancient Peruvian objects purchased in the 19th century from a private Peruvian collector. This collection consists of approximately 1,200 objects, of which the vast majority are ceramic vessels from the Inca...
Our collection of clays and other ceramic raw materials from the Sepik coast of northern Papua New Guinea helps us understand the history of potting and exchange networks in the western Pacific.
Since its founding, The Field Museum has devoted considerable attention to the Native peoples of North America. The result is a series of collections of striking depth, strong in recent history and contemporary culture. Staff collaborate actively with Native American groups...
Our growing collection of obsidian from sources in the Mountain West allow us to identify the geological origin of obsidian artifacts housed in our collections, as well as those acquired during ongoing archaeological research projects.
The Field Museum of Natural History has an extensive collection of valuable archaeological materials from the southwestern United States from work conducted between 1930 and the early 1970s, when Paul Martin was involved in excavations at 69 sites.
The Field Museum contains one of the finest collections of Cameroon artifacts from the West African grassfields. The purchase included 332 ethnological photographs taken in 1912 and attributed to a man named Schroeder.
The Photo Archives has an extensive collection of anthropological images from the past and present.
In the early 1900's, the four scientific departments collected in North, Central and South America, and Africa.
This collection of sculptures and cast bronze figures by Mavina Hoffman depicting the peoples of the world, was comissioned in 1930 by Stanley Field the nephew of Museum Founder Marshall Field I.
Between 1895 and 1910, the Museum collected most of its Native American ethnological and archaeological material to augment the collections obtained from the World's Columbian Exposition.
The Worcester Collection is an extremely important and untapped resource for the study of Philippine anthropology
The Museum’s ethnographic materials from Polynesia number nearly 8,000 objects and represent almost every island group in the region.
The Field Museum’s European collections offer visitors and scholars a view of daily life--and death--in the Classical world of the Mediterranean and in prehistoric Europe.
The Carl Schuster collection of Chinese textiles is unique and by far the largest and most exclusive collection of early 20th century Chinese folk embroidery in the world. As an embroidery collection, it is exceptionally well documented.
For six short months in 1893, Jackson Park in Chicago was home to one of the largest and most spectacular expositions of the 19th Century. Near the close of the Fair, The Field Columbian Museum (now The Field Museum) was founded.