The Museum of Anthropology grew out of the general museum development at the University of Michigan. One of the earliest specimens to become a part of the Cabinet of Natural History was a Chippewa birch-bark canoe, which was sent from Lake Superior to Ann Arbor about 1840 by Douglass Houghton, Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, who was in charge of the University's natural history collections.

During the 1800's a division of anthropology was not recognized as such in the natural history collections, although stray pieces and small groups of specimens were added from time to time. Joseph Beal Steere made the first significant systematic collection in the course of his famous trip of 1870 to 1875 up the Amazon, across the Andes and the Pacific, and through southeastern Asia. Steere collected archaeological and ethnological, as well as botanical and zoological, specimens in the regions he visited, thereby greatly increasing the anthropological materials of the University. Other expeditions by Steere and his associates added to the holdings. Steere was in charge of all the natural history collections from 1876 until 1894, when he resigned. One of Steere's students, Assistant Professor Dean C. Worcester, was appointed Curator of the zoological and anthropological collections in 1895. He was given a leave of absence in 1898 to go to the Philippines, where he had visited previously as a member of one of Steere's field parties, and resigned in 1900.

An accession of interest and importance was the Chinese government exhibit at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition at New Orleans in 1884-85. This collection of Chinese craftsmanship was given to the University through President James B. Angell's contacts with the Chinese government. For many years a part of this gift was on exhibit in the old Museum Building. It now forms one of the valuable collections in the Museum's Division of the Orient.

In the spring semester of 1892 the University of Michigan offered its first instruction in anthropology. This was, significantly, a museum laboratory course in American archaeology. Two students were registered, and they prepared exhibits in the Museum, assembled the anthropological collections of the University, and conducted independent investigations. The outstanding resources were a group of Danish neolithic implements, Professor Steere's South American and Southeast Asia specimens, and the materials of Michigan prehistory. In the next few years, under the leadership of Harlan I. Smith, an inventory was made of Michigan prehistoric sites and collections. This initial impetus for scientific study was not continued, and the next continuing program was begun in 1922.

Dean Worcester in 1922 returned to Ann Arbor to obtain support for an archaeological expedition to the Philippines to investigate cave sites containing great quantities of Chinese porcelains. Professors Francis Kelsey and Alexander G. Ruthven supported his program and requested that Carl Eugen Guthe ('14, Ph.D. Harvard '17) lead the expedition with funds contributed anonymously by Horace H. Rackham. Guthe agreed to lead the party if a Museum of Anthropology were established to house the material so collected and to make possible the necessary research. This expedition of three years' duration resulted in the acquisition of the most valuable single collection in the Museum of Anthropology.

In 1922, with the reorganization of the University Museum, the Museum of Anthropology was recognized. In this same year the School of Homeopathy was abolished, and the Dean, Wilbert B. Hinsdale (Hiram College '75, M.D. Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College '87), who was thereby retired, was made Custodian in charge of the Collections in Michigan Archaeology. The Regents in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology, of which Guthe was made Associate Director, included these. Hinsdale and the collections under his immediate supervision were housed in the old Museum Building; Guthe and the large collection from the Philippines were quartered in the basement of Angell Hall from 1925 to 1927.

Guthe prepared his first annual report of the Museum of Anthropology to the Regents for the year ending June 30, 1927, and was made Director in 1929. He is primarily responsible for the present organization of the Museum, and its research interests were crystallized while he was in charge. He left the University in 1944, and in 1946 he was succeeded by James Bennett Griffin (Chicago '27, Ph.D. Michigan '36) as Director.

It is interesting to note in historic perspective the origin of the Department of Anthropology at the University. In the spring of 1928 E. F. Greenman, who was then associated with Hinsdale in the Division of the Great Lakes, resigned, and the funds allocated for him as a Museum staff member were transferred to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, plus an additional sum, to provide for an instructor in the new Department of Anthropology. Again in 1930 funds were transferred from the Museum budget to that of the department when an assistant professorship was established.

When the Museum of Anthropology moved to the fourth floor of the University Museums Building on its completion in 1928 there were five major rooms for collections, seven rooms for offices, a library, and a receiving room. One large range was transferred to the Visual Education section of the Museums, and an office, originally provided for visiting scientists, served as the office of the Department of Anthropology for more than twenty years. During the twenty-six years which have passed since the present quarters were occupied, the holdings of the Museum have increased to the point where considerable ingenuity is necessary in order to provide for the annual collection increase, in spite of the fact that from its inception the Museum has emphasized quality in research rather than quantity, and specialized research rather than size. At present some specimens are housed in a temporary building at Willow Run while others are in the Museums basement. The addition of cabinets in the fourth-floor corridor has materially assisted storage. Each of the four active ranges and offices are equipped with laboratory facilities, which include connections for hot and cold water, gas, electricity, and compressed air. The ranges are furnished with insect- and dust-proof filing cases especially designed to care for anthropological material, in which every kind of specimen, from arrowheads and potsherds to weapons and clothing, may be immediately available for examination and study. Various accessories to the collections, such as maps, notes, reports, catalogues, publications, and negative records are also easily available. In addition to the collections, the Museum has maintained and is responsible for a large number of slides for instruction and research. As a result of the wide interests and diversified teaching program of the department, in which the Museum of Anthropology staff participates, this slide collection is one of the largest and most effective in existence. A photographic center is now being prepared, and this will be a most valuable research and teaching aid.

The administrative head of the Museum, the director, is responsible for the collections and research program of the several divisions. When the Museum of Anthropology was formally organized five divisions were recognized. The four functioning ones are the Division of the Great Lakes, the Division of the Orient, the Division of Archaeology, and the Division of Ethnology. Unfortunately, no provision was made for a curator of physical anthropology, and in 1930 the room assigned to this phase of anthropological research was turned over to the Exhibit Section of the University Museums.

The Great Lakes Division deals with the anthropological resources of the state of Michigan and those regions of other states and of Canada, which border on the Great Lakes and is interested in the study of the historic Indian tribes of the area as well as its archaeology. It is the only properly qualified unit in Michigan devoted to the scientific study of the Indian inhabitants of the state and it has the only comprehensive collections in this field. It serves also as the depository for the Society for Michigan Archaeology.

W. B. Hinsdale was in charge of the Great Lakes Division from 1922 until his death in 1944. During this time he was active in archaeological work throughout the state and was responsible for the first systematic attempts to organize and record the prehistory of Michigan. In 1924 Emerson Frank Greenman (Michigan '23, Ph.D. '27) was appointed Assistant in Anthropology. He made numerous excavations until in 1928 he left the University to become Curator of Archaeology of the Ohio State Museum. In 1935 he returned to the Great Lakes Division of which he has been Curator since 1945. During the middle and late 1930's the archaeological program of this division was concentrated in southeastern and eastern Michigan, resulting in a number of publications dealing with the late ceramic Indian cultures of the state. Fieldwork in the Manitoulin district of northern Lake Huron was also carried on each summer from 1938 to 1954 and served as a summer training school for students of archaeology. As a result of this program, Greenman has made a number of unusual contributions to the early prehistory and geology of the Great Lakes area as well as to the late ceramic and historic cultures.

Closely connected with the program of the Great Lakes Division were the studies in the ethnohistory of the Indians of the Great Lakes area by W. Vernon Kinietz, carried on from 1935 to 1942 through grants from the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. His publications, particularly The Indians of the Western Great Lakes, 1615-1760 (an Occasional Contribution of the Museum of Anthropology), have been of unusual value to anthropologists, historians, and to educators.

The Division of the Orient was established to care for Far Eastern anthropological collections presented to the University by the government of China and by private individuals and for those obtained as a result of the three-year excavation program in the Philippines. The present University program in Japan is adding to the collections of the division. The long-standing interest and participation of the University of Michigan in the affairs of the Far East makes this unit of the Museum of Anthropology particularly valuable.

The first active curator of the Division of the Orient was Benjamin March, who served from 1933 until his untimely death in 1934, when the University lost an outstanding student of Chinese culture and art. B. A. deVere Bailey served as Assistant in this division from 1936 to 1941. In 1942 Mrs. Kamer Aga-Oglu began her research and curatorial work and has concentrated her attention on the outstanding Chinese export ware collected by Guthe in the Philippines. Her publications have served to call attention to the importance of this collection in the study of Chinese culture and to the nature of Chinese trade in Southeast Asia.

The Division of Archaeology has valuable research collections from Europe, Africa, Mexico, and South America, but most of the material is North American in origin. Since the establishment in this division of the Ceramic Repository for the Eastern United States in 1927, under the auspices of the National Research Council, particular emphasis has been upon the archaeology of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The Repository was conceived as a central sherd library for representative prehistoric ceramic materials from the region east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Gulf of Mexico. Research on the prehistory of this area was carried on and the collection was strengthened from 1933 to 1940 with the support of E. Lilly of the Indiana Historical Society. James B. Griffin held a fellowship in the Museum for work on these ceramic materials from 1933 to 1936, when he became Research Associate and Assistant Curator of Archaeology. These ceramic collections have become the most comprehensive in existence. Their value is augmented by a large photographic and note file on all phases of the prehistory of the eastern United States. When Griffin was made Director in 1946 it was necessary to add a staff member in the Division of Archaeology. Albert Clanton Spaulding (Montana '35, Ph.D. Columbia '46) was appointed Associate Curator of Archaeology in 1947 and is now a Curator in the Division of Archaeology. His research program has dealt with Mississippi and Missouri Valley archaeology, with one field season in the Aleutians.

The Division of Archaeology has been engaged since 1950 in a survey of the prehistory of the Mississippi Valley from the mouth of the Illinois River to Memphis, Tennessee. This is a strategic area for American archaeology, and the data obtained in this work are of interest and importance to many prehistorians. An earlier program in which Griffin collaborated with archaeologists at Harvard and at the American Museum of Natural History was concentrated in eastern Arkansas and northwestern Mississippi. The Peabody Museum of Harvard University has published the results of this work.

The Division of Ethnology houses specimens from various areas of the world, the majority being of North American origin, Little effort is made to develop these collections, for to do so would require space and staff far beyond foreseeable needs or facilities. This division contains the Ethnobotanical Laboratory, an outstanding center for the identification and interpretation of plant materials utilized by the American Indian.

The Division of Ethnology may be said to have begun functioning in 1929 when Melvin Randolph Gilmore (Cotner College '04, Ph.D. University of Nebraska '14) became its first Curator. Because of his botanical training and deep interest in the ability of the Indians to take advantage of the flora, Gilmore was instrumental in establishing in 1938 the Ethnobotanical Laboratory as a major research interest of the division. Upon Gilmore's death in 1940 Volney Hurt Jones (Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas '29, M.A. New Mexico '31), Assistant in the Laboratory since 1933, was put in charge, and it has been largely through his efforts as Curator that this unique research unit has become so effective. As a result of the years of operation of the Laboratory, extensive collections have been obtained of the varieties of cultivated crops in use in the New World before European colonization. More than 350 reports have been issued to individuals and to institutions, which have submitted material for identification.

The Museum of Anthropology is responsible for two series of publications. They are issued at intervals as opportunity permits. The contributions are prepared by staff members and associates and include descriptions of museum collections, field work, results of research in various anthropological fields, and discussions of field and museum techniques. The Occasional Contributions from the Museum of Anthropology, with fifteen numbers issued, began in 1932, and the Anthropological Papers, of which nine numbers have appeared, began in 1949. These two series have called attention to the work and collections of the Museum throughout the scholarly world. In addition, the Museum has sponsored individual publications, of which the Archaeological Atlas of Michigan by W. B. Hinsdale and The Fort Ancient Aspect by J. B. Griffin are perhaps the best known.

The Museum has been and is an effective training area for students interested in anthropological research. The availability of the collections, particularly in the field of American archaeology, has made it possible for undergraduate as well as graduate students to participate in the research programs. The opportunity has enabled them to receive training in the study and analysis of anthropological materials, a feature, which many schools have not provided, and to publish papers. These resources of the University have attracted advanced students whose primary interest has been in American archaeology. Twenty-five active professional anthropologists have received a significant amount of their training in the Museum.

James Bennett Griffin


Guthe, Carl E."Museum Growth Is Interesting Story."Mich. Alum., 36 (1929): 211-14.

Smith, Harlan I."Work in Anthropology at the University of Michigan."University Record, 1894, pp. 98-100.

President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1909, 1920-54.

Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1870-1954.

The University of Michigan, an Encyclopedic Survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor. Pages 1476 - 1481.

History of the University of Michigan

Museum of Anthropology