NEH Archaeology Collections Grant

Sustainably rehousing the archaeology collection to improve preservation and access

The Anthropology Department received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections implementation grant for a three-year project to rehouse and move its internationally significant archaeology collection into the Avenir Collections Center. We are almost two years into this project, with grant funds supporting two collections assistants to move and rehouse this collection. Meghan Grizzle and Baylee Hughes both recently completed their master’s degrees in museum studies and work with Museum staff to better identify, document, and sustainably preserve the archaeology collection.

Project background

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science archaeology collection consists of over 100,000 artifacts from all over the world and, with active projects and acquisitions from other institutions, continues to grow. The collection has been the foundation for numerous Native American intern and fellowship projects, academic humanities courses, and a large-scale, community-based archaeological excavation and research project. The collection is significant for the artifacts it contains, for the scholarly research to which it bears witness, and especially for the opportunities it provides to make new and meaningful connections within and between cultural groups, academic disciplines, and the public.

Prior to this grant, the archaeology collection was overcrowded, causing damage to artifacts when we tried to remove them for exhibit or study. Grizzle and Hughes, along with a dedicated team of volunteers, rehouse the collection into custom-made archival boxes for complicated ceramics or stone pieces and carefully bag and sort smaller lithics. They also update information about each artifact in our collections management database and take a reference image to then be made accessible via our online collections.  



Starting in early 2018, the team first focused on whole ceramics from numerous Mesoamerican cultures. These objects are stabilized by building an archival storage mount, which requires custom boxes and inserts, measured and created for each individual object. It is a time-intensive process, and in the first year of the project, over 3,600 objects were rehoused through this method. The rehousing process is important as it creates support and protection for the object in storage and during handling.

The team is now in the second phase of the project, which involves bagging smaller pieces of lithics, bone, and ceramics. These pieces, previously jumbled together loosely in drawers, are better protected from damage, with the individual bags placed in trays like a filing system. In the first three months of this phase, the team has already rehoused 8,500 artifacts from important sites in Colorado such as the Lindenmeier and Frazier sites. The next major Colorado collection the team will be tackling is from the Magic Mountain site near Golden.

This NEH-funded project allows the Museum archaeology collection to be better preserved for future generations and to be more accessible for scholars, students, source communities, and the general public.


Back To Top