The archaeology collection contains more than 72,000 objects, with primary focus on the Rocky Mountain and Plains regions. This collection helps us understand the region’s fascinating and complex past with astonishing time depth, while also serving to bring the far corners of the globe to modern-day Denver. The archaeology collection provides rich and continuing opportunities for humanistic, scientific, and multidisciplinary research. It provides a unique forum for examining the ethics and philosophy of museum collections and collecting activity in the context of new and truly collaborative relationships with Native American tribes and other source communities. The archaeology collection strengthens regional teaching opportunities, provides lifelong learning possibilities through exhibitions, outreach, and volunteer activities, and serves as a gateway to 21st-century multi-vocal curation and inclusive community relationships.
The most important archaeology collections at the Museum were professionally acquired by scientists through controlled excavation and survey. Such materials have been received sporadically since the mid-1920s and constitute a small portion of the collection. Controlled collections are primarily from Paleoindian sites, including the Folsom Site (1926–28), Dent Site (1932–33), Lindenmeier Site (1935), Frazier Site (1965–66), Jones-Miller Site (mid-1970s), and Kanorado Site (1976, 1981, and 2002–07). Other important collections include those from Hannah Marie Wormington’s excavations at Archaic sites in western Colorado in the 1930s–40s, Dr. Steve Holen’s Arikaree River survey collection (2003–04), Magic Mountain collections from Centennial Archaeology, Inc., (1994–96), Magic Mountain collections (2017–18) (Dr. Michele Koons, lead), and Reserve Area Archaeological Project collections from the Torriette Lakes Great Kiva (2018), collected by Dr. Koons and Dr. Steve Nash. All of these collections have significant research potential and continue to be the subject of ongoing study. In 2017, the Museum took legal control of the WS Ranch collection from southwestern New Mexico. It is a massive collection of Mogollon material culture excavated by the University of Texas at Austin that remains yet to be cataloged and published; it is nevertheless one of the most important archaeological collections now owned by the Museum.
Archaeology collections of secondary importance include those donated from private collections, which are characterized by highly variable amounts of contextual information. The Southwestern collection, which includes the Stahlgren collection of Southwestern pottery, 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 Dr. Nash rely on these collections as a vital resource for their ongoing work on Mogollon archaeology in the greater Reserve, New Mexico, region.
Another important North American collection is the Herfurth Collection of projectile points and “discoidals,” acquired in early 2017 from a private collector in Colorado. On a percentage basis, these constitute a small portion of the archaeology collection, although many of the exhibition-quality artifacts are represented.
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 that country.
The world archaeology collection is dominated by 2,000 artifacts from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylonia, and Sumeria. They provide the greater Rocky Mountain region with a unique resource facilitating the examination of diverse cultural paths along the human evolutionary journey.