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.

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Image above: Chinese rubbing in vermilion ink. Catalog Number 341389. © The Field Museum, GN91259_058d, Photographer Karen Bean.

    rwilliams's picture

    Ryan Williams

    Associate Curator and Section Head Integrative Research Center
    jkelly's picture

    Jamie Kelly

    Head of Anthropology Collections; Collections Manager Gantz Family Collections Center

Cultural 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.

Africa Collections

The Museum’s collection of material culture from the continent of Africa,  acquired through donations, museum sponsored expeditions, purchases, and exchanges with other museums, includes over 173,000 objects and continues to be an important resource for knowledge, ongoing research, and loan and exhibition.  The African collections are comprised of nearly 30,000 ethnographic and approximately 143,500 archaeological objects.  Africa's complex art, technology, architecture, and political systems are documented both by the Museum's archaeological assemblages and varied historical

Andean Clays

The pre-Hispanic states of Andean South America are famous for their polychrome ceramics. They are recovered during archaeological excavations of burials, houses, palaces and temples. Ceramic vessels were used for many functions, including cooking, storage and in ritual events. In order to understand not only what ceramic vessels were used for but also how they were made, Field Museum scientists have been examining pottery production in the ancient Andes by investigating where people procured the raw clays used to make ceramic vessels.

Andean Fine-grained Volcanics

Field Museum curator Ryan Williams and colleagues have conducted an intensive survey of basalt, rhyolite, and andesite sources in the western Titicaca basin to examine the potential for compositionally matching raw materials from these sources to archaeological artifacts, monuments, and prehistoric architecture on the Altiplano, including archaeological collections from middle Horizon archaeological sites at Taraco and Isla Esteves in the north basin and the sites of Tiwanaku, Lukurmata, and Iwawe in the south.  Basalt and other fine-grained volcanic rocks were a key resource in the an

Asian Textile Collections

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 of Asian textiles include nineteenth and twentieth century pieces from India, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

Australian Collection

The Australian collection, numbering over 2,200 objects, includes stone tools, boomerangs, shields, clubs, spears, spear throwers, ornaments, and ceremonial objects.  While the first objects in the collection were received from the W.C.E. Commission of New South Wales, A.W.F. Fuller contributed the largest segment from this continent; 699 items.  Other notable additions include 474 objects received from the University of Melbourne in 1911 and over 500 objects received from J.F. Connelly in 1928.

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.

In a black and white photograph, a man wearing a pince-nez as well as a suit and tie holds up a carved horn.

Berthold Laufer Collections

Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures. With a doctorate in oriental languages from the University of Leipzig, Laufer was a sinologist who was fluent in more than a dozen languages, many of which were non Indo-European. Polymath and polyglot, his interests seemed unbounded and his linguistic skills unequaled.

Boone Collection

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 predominantly Japanese (accounting for over 50% of The Field Museum's Japanese collection), but a significant number are also from China and Korea.

Brazil Collections

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.

Chinese Rubbings Collection

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 surface to create a copy of the original. The resulting rubbing has white impressions where the paper was pressed into the carving surrounded by a typically black ink field.

Coastal Peru Collection

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 in the 1940's and 50's as well as University of California anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in the 1920s.

Contemporary Pacific Collections

While the acquisition of new collections for the Museum still involves obtaining actual objects, our collecting also involves much more than just this.  It includes talking and listening to the people who made and used the objects being acquired to see if we can develop relationships with them that, at least in some cases, can grow into lasting partnerships between the Museum and people out in the Pacific. 

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 collect

Javanese Mask Collection

These masks were brought to the United States by a group of dancers, who performed at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Such masks are worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known as wayang topeng. The dancers were from the island of Java in Indonesia. While in Chicago they resided in the Java Village, which was organized and financed by the colonial government of the Netherland's East Indies as Indonesia was known in those days.

Kish Collection

The ancient city of Kish was occupied from at least as early as 3200 B.C. through the 7th century A.D. Located on the floodplain of the Euphrates River eighty kilometers south of modern Baghdad, Kish held an extraordinary position during the formative periods of Mesopotamian history. At that time, it seems to have been the only important city in the northern part of the alluvium, while there were several major centers in the south. The ancient Mesopotamians regarded Kish as the first city to which "kingship descended from heaven" after the great flood that had destroyed the world.

Latin American Textile Collections

The Museum's Latin American collections include fine textiles from highland Peru and Bolivia and from Guatemala. Dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Andean collection captures a weaving heritage altered by the influence of industrial dyes and tourism on local communities. The diverse Guatemalan pieces shed light on social affiliation (as expressed through dress) and on the artistic vision of women.

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.

Mesoamerica and Central America Collections

The Field Museum's Mesoamerican and Central American collections include a wide-range of archaeological and ethnographic pieces, many of the highest exhibition quality. This collection also includes a number of collections of significant research value, including those from scientific excavations made by J. Eric Thompson, and the research collections gathered by several significant cultural anthropologists.

Montez Collection

  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 Period. Several important pieces have previously been loaned to the Fowler Museum, University of California, Los Angeles.

New Guinean Clays

Potting was first introduced to Papua New Guinea over two thousand years ago, and remains a flourishing craft there even today.  Potters on the Sepik coast of northern Papua New Guinea utilize complex paste recipes to produce their final finished ceramics, often mixing several types of clays and other materials such as beach sands (referred to as "temper") to obtain exactly the consistency and working properties that they favor.  During field work on the Sepik coast between 1990 and 1997, Field Museum curator John Terrell and his colleagues collected clays and tempering materials

North America Collections

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, who come regularly to visit and study the collections of their nations.

North American Obsidian

Obsidian, natural glass formed during volcanic eruptions, was an important raw material in prehistory worldwide.  Obsidian was prized for tool making for a number of reasons, including its workability, sharpness, and visual appeal.  Consequently, prehistoric peoples went to great lengths to obtain obsidian, often from very distant sources.  For archaeologists, obsidian is a powerful tool for understanding prehistoric economy and interaction, because individual obsidian outcrops are usually spatially discrete and chemically distinct from one another.  During the 1960s, ar

Paul S Martin Collection

The Field Museum has an extensive collection of valuable archaeological materials from the southwestern United States, most often referred to as the "Paul S. Martin Collection." These materials derive from work conducted between 1930 and the early 1970s, when Paul Martin was involved in single-season and multi-season excavations at 69 sites; six major surveys were also undertaken during this period.

Photo Archives - Africa Collection

The Field Museum contains one of the finest collections of Cameroon artifacts from the West African grassfields. In the 1920's, Jan Kleykamp, representing the J .F. G. Umlauff Company in Hamburg, sold a collection of artifacts to the Field Museum. The purchase included 332 ethnological photographs taken in 1912 attributed to a man named Schroeder. The Umlauff collection of images illustrate the use and social context of the artifacts.

Photo Archives - Malvina Hoffman Collection

In 1930, artist Malvina Hoffman was commissioned to sculpt and cast bronze figures depicting the peoples of the world. The resulting exhibition, The Races of Mankind, is the largest single commission of her work and consists of 104 busts, heads, and life-sized figures. In preparation for the exhibition, Hoffman and her husband, S. B. Grimson, traveled throughout the world to find authentic models for the sculptures. Photographs from the trip appear in her two autobiographies, as well as in several publications about Hoffman.

Photo Archives - Native American Collection

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. Between 1897 and 1898, free-lance photographer Edward Allen and Museum curator George Dorsey documented the daily activities, ceremonies and peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and the plains, plateau and desert regions of the western United States.

Photo Archives - Philippines Collections

Between 1908-1910, Museum curator Fay-Cooper Cole visited the Philippine Islands and Indonesia and produced over 400 photographs while visiting the areas. Through Edward Ayer and the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Field Museum made copies of the Newberry's collection of Dean C. Worcester's collection of photographs.  Over 2,000 copy negatives were made of the photographs made by Worcester and by his government photographers.

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.