About the Anthropology and Archaeology Department | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Jennifer Saracino, a former Curatorial Assistant, carefully ties the archival cloth tape around a Moche effigy vessel from Peru (100 B.C-A.D. 600) that is currently on display in the Visible Vault: Archaeological Treasures from Ancient Latin America
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Featured Object from Our Collections

This item is a stick chart or map from the Marshall Islands of Micronesia. It was used as a navigation aid, working like a subway map for the ocean. The webbing of criss-crossed pandanus strands represent wave patterns and possible boat courses. The cowrie shells indicate locations of land. Looking at the piece, it is easy to see the dominance of the ocean to the inhabitants of the vast Pacific Ocean.

This item was collected in the 1940’s by Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Zost, a couple that both spent their later years working at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Most of the Oceanic collections that were collected in the 1940’s come from donors who were in the military. Micronesian and Polynesian territories served as strategic locations during World War II. Several sites in the Marshall Islands were also designated Pacific Proving Grounds, or sites used by the United States to conduct nuclear testing between 1946 and 1962.


About the Anthropology and Archaeology Departments

Anthropology is the study of humankind — past and present. The Anthropology Department of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County curates archaeological and ethnographic collections collected by and donated to the Museum. Objects from the Anthropology Collections are on display in several exhibit halls and display cases throughout the Museum. Collections are also available for scholarly research. The Archaeology Collection includes approximately 100,000 ancient artifacts.

The majority of the collection is from the Americas, with an emphasis on the western United States and Latin America. Tools, decorative and utilitarian objects are included in the vast assemblage of materials in addition to samples of shell, animal bone, soil, and plant remains that can be used to study past human adaptations. There are 33,000 cultural objects from North, Middle, and South America, Pacific, Australia, Asia, and Africa that comprise the Ethnology Collection. The tools, costumes, and art objects in the ethnology collections document the changes in material culture of indigenous societies caused by the dynamic global interactions of recent centuries and the inherent vitality and continuing diversity of traditional cultures around the world.

The Anthropology Section Archives consists of 10,000 photographs and 350 linear feet of collection documentation, related documents, and items pertinent to our exhibit, research, and collection history.

View the Collections >

What are we working on now?

We have been photographing and updating our inventory of the Hawaiian material in our collections so that the images and data can eventually be added to our online collection search. The image to the left shows part of a brightly colored feather necklace that was collected by a missionary living in the Kohala region of the Big Island in the 1840s.


To see the images on this page in more detail click HERE.


Featured Object from Southern California

This axe head was found in a backyard in Eagle Rock and attests to the existence of ancient trade networks that extended from the Southern California region into Arizona. The carving style and material tells us that it was made in the Phoenix area around 1,000 years ago. It is slated for inclusion in Becoming Los Angeles, an exhibit that looks at LA’s history through the lens of its interaction with the environment.


To see this and the other images on this page in more detail click HERE.