Collections Highlights

This section presents objects from the Textile Collection, as well as Mexico & Central America Virtual Hall, The Buddha Project, Tibetan Paintings (tangkas), Ethnographic Collections from the most significant Museum expeditions.

Textile Collection

Textiles tell a great deal about the history, daily life, aesthetics, environment, and technology of people all over the world. Used to make clothing, accessories, and domestic goods, textiles vary in complexity from plain and utilitarian to decorative and ceremonial. The symbols and designs in textiles are important cultural signifiers of identity, status, and wealth for makers, users, and observers alike.

Mexico & Central America Virtual Hall

The Hall of Mexico and Central America presents an anthropologically oriented overview of pre-Hispanic culture. The Virtual Hall complements the existing hall by providing visitors with digital images and detailed information on artifacts and by presenting new information about pre-Hispanic culture gleaned from research taking place since the hall's inauguration in 1970.

An Asian Bestiary

A bestiary is a compendium of animals with a description of how the compilers understand them. Our Asian bestiary describes some of the ways a range of animals have been engaged and imagined in different Asian cultures. Explored in this way the bestiary becomes a virtual exhibit.

The Buddha Project

The set of over 1,000 objects is a compilation of images related to the Buddha and Buddhist practice collected from the AMNH Asian Ethnographic Collections. The project was funded by the Anthropology Division with the support of the Jane Belo Tanenbaum Fund and the Whitney Tibetan Fund.

Additional Resources: Four Buddhas at the American Museum of Natural History (Video-lesson at the Khan Academy)

Amazing Tangka Stories

The interactive website presents two sets of Tibetan tangkas: Jataka Tales (past life stories of the Buddha) and Dipankara Atisha (famous Indian Buddhist monk). The tangkas are shown with their original Tibetan inscriptions and English translation.

Tibetan Medical Paintings

This rare, complete set of 79 Tibetan medical tangkas was painted by the Nepalese tangka artist Romio Shrestha and his Tibetan, Nepalese, and Bhutanese students in Kathmandu during seven years in the 1990s. The paintings were donated to this Museum by Emily Fisher, a Museum Trustee.

Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition (1935)

In January 1935, the Vernay-Hopwood Chindwin Expedition set out from Rangoon to explore the upper reaches of the “mighty Chindwin River” on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. The three-month expedition gathered the museum’s founding biological and anthropological collections from an under-researched area to the east of Burma’s border with Assam and to the south of Tibet.

Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition (1909-1915)

Mammalogist Herbert Lang and his assistant James P. Chapin collected and documented zoological, botanical, and anthropological collections and produced painted and photographic images of the natural and human environment. The collection that resulted from the Congo Expedition includes carvings made of wood and ivory, incised gourds, bark cloth, metalworking and musical instruments.

Starr Congo Expedition (1905-1906)

American Anthropologist Frederick Starr joined the missionary/explorer Samuel Verner on a collecting expedition to the Congo from 1905-1906. He collected nearly 5,000 artifacts including musical instruments, shields, baskets, masks, stools, and games that have become part of the Museum's collection of material culture from the Congo region.

Laufer China Expedition (1901-1904)

Berthold Laufer, who would become one of the most distinguished sinologists of his generation, led the Jacob H. Schiff expedition to China where he was to make a comprehensive ethnographic collection and to conduct scholarly research on the history and culture of a sophisticated people that had not yet experienced the industrial transformation.

Additional Resources: The Expedition Photo Archive in AMNH Library Digital Special Collections

Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902)

The anthropologists Berthold Laufer, Waldemar Jochelson, and Waldemar Bogoras conducted ethnographic research and made collections in Siberia, Manchuria, and on Sakhalin Island in Asia. On the American side of the Bering Strait, their colleagues Franz Boas, George Hunt, John Swanton, and Harlan Smith studied and collected among the Northwest Coast tribes.

Additional Resources: The Expedition Photo Archive in AMNH Library Digital Special Collections

Lumholtz Mexico Expeditions (1890-1897)

Carl Lumholtz, the Norwegian anthropologist and photographer, did field research in Mexico on three AMNH Expeditions in the 1890s. During his 5 years of travel by mule along the 900-mile long Sierra Madre Occidental he studied several northwestern Mexican tribes. At the turn of the last century, he was the foremost authority on these tribes. He published his findings with excellent photographs and drawings in a two-volume set, Unknown Mexico, in 1902.

Additional Resources: The Expedition Photo Archive in AMNH Library Digital Special Collections

Finsch Pacific Expeditions (1879-1885)

Otto Finsch, a German ornithologist, collected over 1,000 objects during two expeditions to the Melanesian islands of New Guinea, New Britain, and New Ireland, and to the Caroline Islands, Gilbert Islands, and Marshall Islands. Finsch also compiled an extensive archive which includes over 3,000 manuscript pages, photographs, drawings, and watercolor paintings.