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History of the Division of Anthropology

at the Yale Peabody Museum

The establishment of the Division of Anthropology at the Yale Peabody Museum in 1902 by George Grant MacCurdy brought together the Museum’s archaeological, ethnological and physical anthropology collections under a single authority. Since then, through the University’s scientific expeditions and donations from Yale alumni and friends, the holdings of the Division have grown to over 280,000 catalogued lots.

 

While Othniel Charles Marsh is best known for his paleontological research, during his association with the Museum significant anthropological collections were also acquired, many through the Yale Scientific Expeditions, or through the efforts of individuals.

 

The Anthropology Division collections include both Connecticut and Old World artifacts acquired by MacCurdy, as well as a large collection of pottery from Panama that he published in 1911. Some of MacCurdy’s most interesting collections are those from the American School for Prehistoric Research’s summer field programs in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

Although not an anthropologist by training, nor formally affiliated with the Peabody, Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of Peru’s Machu Picchu brought archaeological material from the site, along with associated documents and photographs, to the Division.

 

Cornelius Osgood was Curator of Anthropology from 1934 to 1973 and brought significant collections to the Museum from his research expeditions to the Arctic, China and Korea. Osgood may be best known for his research among the Athapaskan-speaking people of interior Alaska, much of it published through the Yale University Publications in Anthropology series. He was also active in Connecticut archaeology.

 

Froelich Rainey was an assistant curator of anthropology from 1935 to 1937 and contributed to the Caribbean and Connecticut archaeological collections. Wendell Bennett was a research associate in anthropology from 1945 to 1953. Bennett’s major contribution to the anthropology collections were in South American archaeology, particularly the Huari material from Peru and other collections from Columbia and Ecuador that are curated by the Museum.

 

(Benjamin) Irving Rouse’s research has given the Peabody one of the world’s largest collections of systematically excavated archaeological material from the Caribbean, comprising 52% of the Division’s catalog records and hundreds of thousands of individual objects. (For more on Ben Rouse, see “Passing of a Pioneer Researcher in Caribbean Archaeology,” by Dr. Basil Reid, March 12, 2006, in UWIToday, a monthly magazine produced by the Office of the Campus Principal of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.)

 

Professor and Curator Emeritus Leopold J. Pospisil’s pioneering research in Papua New Guinea has provided the Museum with one of its most important ethnographic collections. Curator from 1956 until his retirement in 1993, his students also acquired Oceanic ethnographic materials now housed In the Division.

 

Professor and Curator Emeritus Michael D. Coe is world famous for his research and publications on the Maya, the Olmec, and many other archaeological topics. His archaeological collections from the site of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan are housed at the Peabody. Coe was Curator of Anthropology from 1968 until his retirement in 1994.

 

Professor and Curator Emeritus Harold C. Conklin’s ethnographic research in the Philippines has given the Anthropology Division one of its largest systematically acquired ethnographic collections from that region, one of the largest in North America. Conklin was Curator from 1974 until his retirement in 1996. Other significant Southeast Asian collections were acquired by Conklin’s students.