Cultures of the Pacific

Cultures of the Pacific

Rather than a barrier, the sea has been a passageway of exploration, settlement, and exchange for the peoples of the Pacific. Among the world’s greatest, The Field Museum’s collections from Oceania have been the inspiration for influential advances in social and evolutionary theory.

Learn more about Pacific Anthropology and the Museum at:

Figure above: Network mapping of the genetic relationships of islanders in the southwest Pacific (Figure 7 from Terrell, John Edward. 2010. Social network analysis of the genetic structure of Pacific Islanders.  Annals of Human Genetics 74: 211-232)


    terrell's picture

    John Terrell

    Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology Integrative Research Center

Cultures of the Pacific 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.