The Department of Anthropology curates collections that are available for teaching, research, exhibition, and public programming.  We provide public education through exhibitions on campus, public lectures, events, and outreach activities with K-12 and other audiences.  In addition, teaching collections are utilized in training undergraduate and graduate students.  Faculty, students, and scholars from UW-Madison and other institutions utilize collections for research.

The UW-Madison Anthropology Collection is listed in the UW-Madison campus’ Research Core Directory, including identification of currently available resources and services.

Research Collections

The archaeological research collections consist of artifacts (stone, animal bone, ceramic, floral remains, and metal materials) mainly from Wisconsin and Illinois, although materials from other portions of the United States and Canada are also present. These artifacts number in the millions, although many are small and fragmentary. The archaeological research collections amounts to roughly 2,000 cubic feet of space. These materials are stored in polypropylene boxes, on a compact shelving system, in a secure collections storage location. The ethnographic research collection consists of materials collected mostly during the early 20th century, totaling over 300 cubic feet or roughly 750 objects stored in polypropylene boxes and specialized object mounts, on a compact shelving unit, and on shelves in locked metal closed cabinets. The ethnographic research collection is geographically widespread and includes a sizeable amount of materials from Brazil that were collected by former graduate student and internationally renowned ethnographer, William Crocker. Images of the entire ethnographic collection are available in the “Anthropology Collection” in the UW Digital Collections database.

Teaching Collections

The archaeological teaching collections include stone, animal bone, ceramic, and metal objects from archaeological sites from all over the world, and amounts to roughly 800 cubic feet.   It includes a significant southwestern United States ceramic type collection of fragmentary sherds, ceramics from Central America, and the Palmer Collection of stone tools from the midwestern US.  In many cases, materials in the archaeological teaching collections were surface collected or lack precise provenience. The biological teaching collection consists of approximately 300 cubic feet of skeletal remains (modern human, early hominins, and primate skeletons, and reproductions/casts of these remains).  This collection does not include NAGPRA materials. This is a significant collection for teaching students about biological evolution and cultural adaptations through time and is used regularly for laboratory courses.

Archives and Documents

The Department of Anthropology maintains roughly 1,000 linear feet of associated records, photographs, film, negatives, slides, etc.

Curation of Federally-Owned and Administered Archaeological Collections

The Department of Anthropology curates collections on behalf of the Federal government including agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management. These collections remain in the control of the respective governmental agencies but are cared for by the Anthropology Department curator on a fee basis. All fiscal and curatorial responsibilities of collections, including compliance with NAGPRA, are the responsibility of the Federal agency.

Accessing the Collections

If you are interested in accessing collections for research, teaching, outreach, or exhibition purposes, please contact our  Academic Curator, Elizabeth Leith at or at (608) 890-1823.

Mask from Thailand
Curated archaeological artifacts (stone tools and pottery)
Photograph of Students in Anthro 212 working on lab project with faunal material
Mississippian rim sherd and Late Woodland rim sherd