Anthropology

About Conservation

Behind-the-scenes at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, conservators are working to preserve our collections. Conservation means preparing specimens for exhibits, repairing unstable artifacts, and improving collection storage. Conservators study science, art, and anthropology to become experts in everything from identifying insect pests to knowing which adhesives work best on a variety of materials.

Preservation of our more than 1.4 million irreplaceable artifacts is a central part of the Museum's mission and involves the participation of the Museum community as a whole. Conservators work with curators, collections managers, exhibits staff, and others to insure the long term safe-guarding of our world-class collection.

History

First established as the Department of Archaeology in 1937, with a special focus on Paleoindian and Archaic archaeology, the Museum was long home to pioneer scholar Hannah Marie Wormington. In 1968, the Department of Anthropology was created when the 12,000-piece Crane Collection of North American Indians was donated to the Museum. Today's department focuses on original research, collections development, inclusive outreach, and service to the discipline.

Research

The need for active and innovative research has always been emphasized at the Museum. Research in the past has included tracing Paleoindian migrations, the aesthetic development of basketry, and spiritual and historical importance of bison for Native peoples. Research in the department today focuses on tree-ring chronology and the history of archaeology in the American Southwest, locating the earliest evidence of humans in the Great Plains, and the social and political uses of history.

Outreach

Exhibits have long provided the department with the opportunity to present world cultures. Since 1956, the department has supported more than 170 individual exhibits. Aside from sustaining two permanent exhibit halls, the department creates small temporary exhibitions in two spaces, the Weckbaugh Special Exhibit case and the Ethnological Art Exhibit. Recent efforts have extended beyond exhibits to include a range of programs geared towards connecting with the Rocky Mountain region's Native American communities.

Collections

  • Folsom point and Clovis point
  • Hopi Kachina dolls
  • Ancestral Pueblo Pitcher

More than 50,000 objects constitute the Anthropology Collection. As recently described in the book Crossroads of Culture, the collection is mainly comprised of archaeological and ethnological artifacts from North America. The department also curates collections from Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Additional holdings include the 800-piece Ethnological Art Collection and archival photographs and documents. The department is fully committed to compliance with the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and all other national and international laws that impact anthropological objects.

 

Service

In addition to administrative duties, the Museum encourages staff to contribute to the development of the discipline. In 1968, Hannah Marie Wormington held one of the country's highest positions, as President of the Society for American Archaeology. Current staff holds a diverse range of positions, including board memberships with the American Anthropological Association's (AAA) Archaeology Division, the AAA Council for Museum Anthropology, the American Quaternary Association, and the Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums.

Conservation Treatments

Museum conservators are responsible for helping to preserve large collections of objects. Most conservation efforts focus on "big picture" strategies for preventing damage and protecting objects over time. There are also cases where individual objects need attention and care. Conservation treatments at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science focus on stabilizing specimens and artifacts so that they can safely go on display, travel to another institution during a loan, or be viewed for research purposes. All materials used for treatments have been scientifically tested to ensure that they remain stable for many years, and do not pose additional risks to the museum objects.

Conservators abide by a professional Code of Ethics, which states that conservation treatments should aim to be reversible. All actions taken by conservators must also be thoroughly documented in writing and photographs.

Preventive Conservation

Preventive conservation improves the condition of the collection as a whole rather than focusing on each individual object.  By making these overall improvements, individual problems are less likely to happen.  The "big picture" approach of preventive conservation involves:


Temperature and Relative Humidity

Artifacts and specimens are best preserved in stable environmental conditions.  Frequent changes in temperature or relative humidity can cause materials to expand and contract.  This, in turn, can lead to cracks, embrittlement, and other deleterious effects.  Conservators monitor the temperature and humidity in galleries and collections storage, and work with Building Operations to stabilize the environment in these areas.


Integrated Pest Management

Insects find their way into every building-and museums are no exception.  Wool-eating clothes moths are familiar to most people, but there are also insects that eat wood, leather, feathers, and even paper.  As all of these natural materials are present in the collection at DMNS, insect pests would be very happy to make our collection their home.  Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a multifaceted approach to monitoring and eradicating pests.  Each exhibit and collection storage area is checked regularly for damaging insects. Through this strict monitoring program, the Museum can avoid using the harmful pesticides that may have been common in the past.  In the rare event that an infestation is discovered, the specimen or artifact can be frozen at a low-temperature to naturally kill the pests.


Light Levels

Light can cause irreversible fading to a variety of colorful materials including dyed textiles, animal fur and feathers, and even some minerals.  Conservators consider the light sensitivity of each object before it goes on display, and make recommendations on appropriate light levels.  Artifacts that are particularly light sensitive might only go on display for 3-6 months, whereas more durable artifacts could be displayed indefinitely.  In a museum, conservators must balance risks such as light damage with the need for displaying important collection items for the benefit of the public.


Mount Making for Exhibits and Storage

When artifacts and specimens are displayed, a supportive structure-or mount-is often created to hold it securely in place.  Conservators provide information on the stability of the artifact to experienced mount makers, who then fabricate unique and unobtrusive mounts for display.

Museum objects typically need supportive structures while in storage as well, to minimize the need for handling.  These mounts typically involve a box or overall structure to contain the object, and padding to support and keep the object from moving.  When objects are transported within the museum, staff can handle the storage box without actually touching the artifact.

Who We Are

The Department of Anthropology aspires to curate the best understood and most ethically held anthropology collection in North America. We seek to document and understand the human communities of the Rocky Mountain region and beyond through study of their material cultures while adhering to the guiding principles of respect, reciprocity, and dialogue. 

Through ethnology (the study of recent and living peoples) and archaeology (the study of ancient human culture) the department investigates human diversity in our rapidly transforming world and shares with the public the excitement of the discipline's art and science.

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STAFF

  • Chip Colwell, PhD

    Senior Curator of Anthropology & NAGPRA Officer

    Learn More
  • umbraco.MacroEngines.DynamicXml
    Michele Koons, PhD

    Curator of Archaeology

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  • Steve Nash, PhD

    Department Chair & Curator of Archaeology

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    Taylor Foreman

    Business Support Specialist
    303.370.6367
    [email protected]

  • Amanda Mascarelli

    Managing Editor, SAPIENS.org
    [email protected]
    303.370.6136

  • Jude Southward

    Conservator and Department of Conservation Chair
    [email protected]
    303.370.6496

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