Incorporating ethnography and archaeology, the Department of Anthropology studies humans and their many cultures

The Department of Anthropology aspires to curate the best understood and most ethically held anthropology collections 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 ethical principles of respect, reciprocity, and dialogue. Through ethnology (the study of recent and living peoples) and archaeology (the study of ancient human cultures), the department investigates human diversity in our rapidly transforming world and shares with the public the excitement of the discipline’s art and science.

More than 50,000 objects constitute the anthropology collections. As recently described in the book Crossroads of Culture, the collections are 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.

World Ethnology

This collection represents the crafts, arts, traditions, beliefs, and practices of living cultures around the world.  The world ethnology collection of approximately 5,000 objects derives from cultures outside the Americas. Objects in the world ethnology collection come from every corner of the earth, although three subcollections represent the most significant holdings.

African Collection

The 1,500 African objects center on Central and Southern Africa with special attention to cultures from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Botswana.  Figures, carvings, raffia cloth and masks are highlighted from the Bakuba, Baluba, Songye and Ndegese of the DROC.  Clothing, tools and weapons from the San, Tswana, Herero, Hambukushu, Bayei and Basubiya are the focus of a significant number of objects from Botswana.  Other highlights include a collection of carved bronze figures from Liberia, Yoruba masks and statues from Nigeria, weaponry of East Africa, and beadwork from the Zulu and Southern Ndebele in South Africa.

Asian Collection

The Southeast Asian collection of more than 1,000 objects is the Museum’s most significant world ethnographic holding, outside of the Native American collections. Collected during the last 40 years, it represents a systematic, documented holding from the Hmong, Mien, Akha, Lahu, Lisu, and Karen hill tribes of the northern margins of Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam, and southwestern China. Small groups of Asian objects illustrate scattered peoples and traits of Han (China), aboriginal Taiwanese, Japanese, South Asian (India, Bangladesh), Indonesian, and Philippine Indigenous cultures.

Oceanic and Australian Collections

About 700 objects make up this smallest and perhaps most diverse Denver Museum of Nature & Science ethnology holding. It illustrates the main materials, technologies, forms, and designs used during the early to mid-20th century by the peoples of Pacific Ocean islands from Hawaii to Papua New Guinea and the continent of Australia.

American Ethnology

The American ethnology collection dominates the anthropology collections with about 21,000 objects from nearly every corner of the Americas representing hundreds of cultural groups. Objects range from those made last year to the 1700s, from unidentified to maker-identified, and from hobbyist creations to artistic masterpieces. The region in and around Colorado is prime, representing 65% of the collection, and the majority of the objects are from Native American tribes in North America. Strengths also include Hispanic crafts, Mexican Indian arts, Guatemalan and Andean textiles and utilitarian objects, and a variety of Amazonian objects. Several small documented holdings derive from travelers and government or business missions.


The archaeology collection includes many significant artifacts, particularly from the American West, Latin America, and select objects from around the world. The department has long been known for our Paleoindian collection, which includes the original Folsom point. Other significant Paleoindian collections include those from the Jones-Miller Site, the Dent Site, Lindenmeier Site, and Frazier Site, all in northern Colorado. Another notable collection from Colorado is from the Magic Mountain site near Golden, outside of Denver. We recently acquired the WS. Ranch Archaeological Field School collection from west-central New Mexico. That collection will be a focus of cataloging and research activities for the next several years. In addition to WS Ranch, the Southwestern US collection contains representative pottery types from across the region as well as rare organic materials. Collections from Latin America include textiles, ceramics, stone materials, and organic remains representing all major ancient cultural groups, including the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, Inca, Nasca, Tiwanaku, and Moche, among others. The world archaeology collection is composed of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylonia, and Sumeria.

World Archaeology

Two thousand artifacts from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylonia, and Sumeria dominate the world archaeology collection. They provide the greater Rocky Mountain region with a unique resource facilitating the examination of diverse cultural paths along and the human evolutionary journey.

Latin American Archaeology

The Mesoamerican collection contains 2,000 objects representing all major ancient cultural groups, including the Maya, Aztec, and Olmec. Highlights include an Olmec greenstone figurine, a stone mask from Teotihuacan, and Huastec shell armband/anklets. The South and Central American collections include 900 objects representing the Inca, Nasca, and Moche, among others. Of particular importance are 133 whole ceramic vessels from Cochabamba, Bolivia, one of the largest such collections outside Bolivia. 

Southwestern Archaeology

The Southwestern collection contains representative pottery types from across the American Southwest, including classic Mimbres black-on-white bowls from southwestern New Mexico, Salado polychrome from east-central Arizona, and Casas Grandes polychrome vessels from Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico. The collection includes rare organic materials, including exquisitely preserved yucca sandals from the Four Corners region and a split-twig figurine from southwestern Colorado, the earliest known example of this enigmatic artifact form. These collections continue to provide research and educational opportunities; Dr. Koons and Stephen E. Nash, PhD, rely on these collections as a vital resource for their ongoing work on Mogollon archaeology in the greater Reserve, New Mexico, region.


Michele Koons, PhD

Acting Director of Anthropology

Chris Patrello

Curator of Anthropology

Erin Baxter, PhD

Research Scientist

Erika Heacock

Assistant Collections Manager of Anthropology

Amy M. Gillaspie, M.A., RPA

Anthropology Collections Assistant

Emmy Dawson, PhD

Research Assistant

Elizabeth Kriebel

Collections Assistant - WS Ranch Archaeological Project

Johnny Gordon

Anthropology Collections Assistant

Libby Couch

Business Support Specialist III

Frequently Asked Questions

The department acquires new items for the collections if the appropriate curator determines the objects fit within the specifications of the Long-Term Collections and Research Plan. The majority of new acquisitions are through donation because acquisition funds are severely limited. If you have a question regarding a potential donation, please email the Collections Manager photos of the object along with a basic description including information on how, when, and where you acquired the object(s). This information will then be passed along to the appropriate curator for consideration.

The department reviews requests for loans from the collections on a case-by-case basis. Please review our Guidelines for Borrowers. Please note that due to the various steps required to complete loan requests, the department requests at least four months between initial contact and the loan start date. There is no set fee for loans; however, there may be costs associated with conservation work, formal appraisals, object packing, and transport.

Highlights may be found in Crossroads of Culture: The Anthropology Collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010).

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