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Anthropology is all about what makes us human, our place in nature, our common concerns and our differences. Field Museum anthropologists explore these issues through laboratory and collections-based research at the Museum and at field sites throughout the world. They build and maintain the Museum's world class collections which now include more than a million and a half objects documenting the diversity and accomplishments of humankind. Our scientists also  teach others, through exhibits, public programs and advanced training.

Image above: Ceramic mask from Teotihuacan, Mexico. Catalog Number 2475.240829. © The Field Museum, A114447_01d, Photographer John Weinstein.

Cultures Collections

A. B. Lewis Collection

A.B. Lewis was born in Clifton, Ohio in 1867 and went to graduate school at Columbia University where he studied under Franz Boas.  In 1907 George Dorsey recruited and hired Lewis to work at the Field Museum.  A.B. Lewis served as Assistant Curator of African and Melanesian Ethnology between 1908 and 1935 and as Curator of Melanesian ethnology from 1936 until his death in 1940.

Early Pacific Collections

When the World’s Columbian Exposition ended at the end of October 1893, the newly founded Museum became the recipient of the majority of the anthropological and natural history collections that had been assembled.  In addition to the numerous donations of collections, many other valuable collections were purchased from both domestic and foreign exhibitors.  The anthropological collections originating from the World’s Fair numbered some 50,000 specimens of which between three and four thousand objects formed the Museum’s original co

Melanesian Collections

The Melanesian collections, numbering over 38,000 ethnographic objects, represent one of the world’s finest collections of Pacific material culture ever assembled.   Originating mostly during the first two decades of the 20th century, most of lowland and coastal New Guinea as well as the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain, New Ireland, and the Admiralty Islands), the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia are represented.  The Joseph N.

Polynesian Collections

The Polynesian collections number nearly 8,000 objects and represent almost every island group in the region.  The Museum received approximately 200 items from the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and in 1897 added a 113 piece collection from Gustavus Goward from Samoa and a 300 piece collection from William Preston Harrison representing the Solomon Islands and Polynesia.  In 1898 the Museum added W.T.

Schuster Collection

The Carl Schuster collection of Chinese textiles is unique and by far the largest and most exclusive collection of Chinese folk embroidery in the world, including China. Distinct from multicolored and multi-technique silk or cotton embroideries from other parts of China, the Western and Southwestern folk embroideries collected by Schuster are mainly cross stitches in cotton thread on cotton cloth with combinations of either blue on white or white on blue.

Aztec, Inca and Maya Collections

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: Aztec pottery from Late Post-Classic Mexico (ca. A.D. 1450-1521)--one of the finest collections of Aztec ceramics outside Mexico. Through analysis of clay samples from a series of vessels, a Museum research associate uncovered pathways of economic exchange during this period on the brink of European contact.