What We Do


Arizona State Museum, established in 1893, is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the region focusing on the indigenous cultures of the US Southwest and northern Mexico. ASM has never wavered in its commitment to the people of Arizona, ensuring that the state's cultural resources are protected, shared, and cared for in perpetuity.

Mandated Programs

Arizona State Museum is precisely that — the state's official museum. ASM's archaeological respository is the nation's largest and busiest state-run curation facility. Other government-mandated functions include:

  • ASM administers the Arizona Antiquities Act, making it the permitting authority for all archaeological activity conducted on more than 9.5 million acres of state land. Objects and associated documentation produced as a result of that activity fall under ASM's curatorial responsibilities.
  • Under the Arizona Antiquities Act, ASM assists other state agencies, and in some case federal authorities, in the investigation and prosecution of crimes that result in damage to the archaeological record.
  • Arizona's official inventory of more than 100,000 archaeological and historic sites, AZSITE, is housed at ASM. AZSITE is an internet-based geographic information system and nationally recogized as a model of best practices in cultural resource data management.
  • ASM administers the state statues that protect human burials on both state and private lands and is a leader in working with tribes to implement the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Research

Scholarship at ASM cuts across many disciplines. ASM scholars:

  • conduct excavations to understand the lifeways of ancient peoples, including the Hohokam of central and southern Arizona and the ancestral Hopi people of northern Arizona;
  • study the ancient migration of people;
  • research the origins and influence of the ancient people of northern Mexico;
  • advance knowledge of Spanish and Mexican water rights in the US Southwest;
  • research, edit, and publish documentary histories of Native people during the Spanish and Mexican periods (1540-1848);
  • investigate prehistoric human adaptations to desert ecosystems;
  • conduct research on prehistoric and historic uses of animals by southwestern peoples, and;
  • use research findings to establish the highest standards of conservation practices, and recognized worldwide.

Collections

ASM's collections are held in trust for the people of the state of Arizona. Numbering more than 3 million objects, these include 300,000 catalogued archaeological artifacts, 40,000 ethnographic artifacts, 500,000 photographic negatives and original prints, 90,000 volumes of rare and hard-to-find titles, 6,000 maps, 1,500 linear feet of archival documents, and more than 1,000 sound recordings. ASM is home to:

  • the worlds largest and most comprehensive collection of American Indian basketry - more than 35,000 specimens representing the major indigenous basket-making cultures of North America, spanning the period from 8,000 years to present; 
  • the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Southwest Indian pottery, comprising more than 24,000 whole-vessels that tell a story 2,000 years in the making;
  • one of the nation’s top Navajo textile collections, including some of the earliest, rarest, and largest examples;
  • more than 500 outstanding examples of Mexican folk masks and and more than 500 katsina dolls; and
  • the archival papers and original field notes of giants of Southwest anthropology such as Emil Haury, Grenville Goodwin, Edward Spicer, and Clara Lee Tanner.

Preservation

ASM's Preservation Division is passionate about protecting the collections entrusted to its care. The treatment of objects is guided by the principle that the integrity of the object should be preserved in every way possible.

Calling on its state-of-the-art laboratory, the Preservation Division provides preventive and interventive conservation of ASM's vast collections, serves the public through workshops and queries, instructs scores of conservation students, and continues to conduct cutting-edge research in areas such as nano-particle technology, imaging technology, and frozen technology, or the use of dry ice "snow," which has been found to safely remove dust, soot, and other contaminates from delicate surfaces without causing scratches or other damage.

Key contributions include:

  • curricula for the care and treatment of archaeological and ethnographic collections;
  • respectful strategies for the care of human remains in museum collections;
  • chemical spot-testing procedures for identifying the materials that compose objects and to establish methods for pesticide removal, and;
  • models for institutional responses to natural disasters.