Exhibition History

The Division of Anthropology presents current and recent past exhibitions at the AMNH which draw substantially from its collections.

Pueblo Bonito: Trading Treasures, Trading Ideas (8/2018-5/2019)

An exhibit case in the Grand Gallery provides a window into the world and commerce of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon from AD 850 to 1140 through a selection of rare objects from the Museum's archaeological collection.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Our Senses: an Immersive Experience (11/2017-1/2019)

Every day, we perceive the world around us through our senses - including sight, smell, hearing, touch, balance, and taste. But as it turns out, for humans "reality" isn't ever exactly what it seems. In this highly experiential exhibition, explore 11 spaces that dare you to trust your senses - then show you how what we perceive is not simply a window into the world around us but a product of our brains.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

¡Cuba! (11/2016–8/2017)

Its complex politics and vibrant music have attracted the attention of the world. But Cuba, the largest island nation in the Caribbean, is also home to the unexpected. It’s a place of stunning contrasts: mysterious caves and bright boulevards, sweltering fields and cool forests, hard challenges and high energy.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Whales: Giants of the Deep (3/2012–1/2014)

The exhibition explores the latest research about these marine mammals as well as the central role they have played for thousands of years in human cultures. From the traditions of New Zealand’s Maori whale riders and the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples of the Pacific Northwest to the international whaling industry and the rise of laws protecting whales from commercial hunting, the exhibition traces the close connections humans and whales have shared for centuries.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture (11/2012–8/2013)

In this exhibition the American Museum of Natural History explores the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork. In sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating, the exhibition illuminates the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world. Visitors examine the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history - and consider some of the most challenging issues of our time.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Body & Spirit: Tibetan Medical Paintings (1/2011–7/2011)

On view for the first time in a museum exhibition, 64 Tibetan hand-painted reproductions of traditional scroll medical paintings (also known as tangkas) from the American Museum of Natural History's collection provide a unique and rich illustrated history of early medical knowledge and procedures in Tibet, and are believed to be among only a handful of such sets in existence. The paintings were donated to the Museum by Emily Fisher, a Museum Trustee.

Traveling the Silk Road (11/2009–8/2010)

This intriguing exhibition brings to life one of the greatest trading routes in human history, showcasing the goods, cultures, and technologies from four representative cities: Xian, China's Tang Dynasty capital; Turfan, a verdant oasis and trading outpost; Samarkand, home of prosperous merchants who thrived on the caravan trade; and Baghdad, a fertile hub of commerce and scholarship that became the intellectual center of the era.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

The Horse (5/2008–1/2009)

The exhibition examines the powerful and continuing relationship between the horse and humans. It explores the origins of the horse family, extending back over more than 50 million years; examines early interactions between horses and humans that led to horse domestication; and sees how horses have, over time, changed warfare, trade, transportation, agriculture, sports, and many other facets of human life. The Horse showcases spectacular fossils and cultural objects from around the world - including many from the Museum's extraordinary collections.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Water: H2O = Life (11/2007–5/2008)

The exhibition gave visitors an in-depth look at one of the most important substances and environmental issues that we face. This exhibition illuminated one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century: humanity's sustainable management and use of the life-giving, but finite, resource - water. It was a most compelling exhibition devoted to water in all its forms and phenomena. The exhibition also examined the most compelling challenges that people and ecosystems around the globe face with respect to water quality and availability.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids (5/2007–1/2008)

An enchanting exhibition that traced the cultural and natural history roots of some of the world's most enduring mythological creatures of land, sea, and air such as dragons, griffins, mermaids, sea serpents, and unicorns. It included spectacular sculptures, paintings, and textiles, along with a number of cultural objects from around the world ranging from shadow puppets to ceremonial masks and helmets that bring to light surprising similarities and differences in the ways peoples around the world had envisioned and depicted these strange and wonderful creatures.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Gold (11/2006–8/2007)

A dazzling exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History explained the scientific, historical, cultural and financial significance of one of the world's most rare and highly prized metals. Over thousands of years, the pursuit of gold launched explorers, built empires, and inspired artists. Gold itself became a symbol of wealth, beauty, purity, spirituality, and the afterlife. Today, gold is increasingly difficult to mine, but the demand for gold continues to grow. Gold's high status and value are unsurpassed around the world, its pivotal role in human history unending.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Totems to Turquoise (10/2004–7/2005)

A spectacular exhibition featuring a stunning array of historic and contemporary jewelry and artifacts that celebrate the beauty, power, and symbolism of Native American arts. Totems to Turquoise examines techniques, materials, and styles that have evolved over the past 100 years as Native American jewelers have adapted to technical, societal, and commercial changes, transforming their traditional craft into a full-fledged mode of artistic expression.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind & Spirit (3/2003–3/2004)

This exhibit invited the visitor to travel in Vietnamese shoes, both on the ground and in the imagination. It explored daily life in the early 21st century among Vietnam's more than 50 ethnic groups. The objects on display ranged from the traditional to the contemporary, and often merged the two, reflecting the dynamic process that has created modern Vietnamese culture. The exhibit was the product of a unique collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi and is jointly curated by Dr. Laurel Kendall, Curator of Asian Ethnographic Collections, AMNH and Dr. Nguyen Van Huy, Director, Vietnam Museum of Ethnolgoy. The staff of both museums worked togehter in conceptualizing the exhibit, selecting objects, and drafting label text.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Pearls (10/2001–4/2002)

Throughout the ages, humans have been enchanted by pearls and the shells of the mollusks that produce them. As products of living animals, pearls are unique among gems. The evolutionary history of this group extends back some 530 million years, with approximately 100,000 species of mollusks alive today. The exhibition integrated science, art, literature, history, and fabulous jewelry into the story of pearl-forming mollusks.

Additional Resources: AMNH Exhibition Website

Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion (9/2001–2/2002)

The exhibition was a window into the third largest religion in the world (one in six human beings is a Hindu, and two million Hindus live in the United States). In the exhibition, more than 75 photographs portrayed many of the rituals, prayers, customs, and festivals in India. Architectural elements transformed the Museum gallery into a series of rooms containing wooden shrines brought from different parts of South Asia. Visitors opened the doors to these shrines to reveal the sacred spaces within, as well as the unique variety of icons and devotional items inside, such as offering plates, bowls of holy water, bells, incense holders, and glowing, backlit transparencies of divine images. The diversity of Hinduism was further revealed by more than 60 devotional objects chosen from the Museum's collections. The Museum organized and hosted a lecture series on Hinduism.

Body Art: Marks of Identity (11/1999–5/2000)

The exhibition explored the ways in which human beings around the world, past and present, decorate their bodies. Celebrating both cultural invention and individual artistry, this exhibition presented over 600 objects and many images from around the world dating from c. 3000 B.C. to the present, including superb sculptures, paintings, contemporary and historical photographs, rare books, engravings, and films. More than half of the objects and images presented were from the Museum's collections; the remainder was from public and private collections in the United States and abroad. The exhibition examined the historical and cultural significance behind ancient and modern body art practices including tattooing, piercing, body painting, body reshaping, henna, and scarification. 

Spirits in Steel (4/1998–1/1999)

The exhibition presented works of a Kalabari sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp. Born in Buguma, Nigeria, Sokari Douglas Camp received her art education at the Central School of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art, both in London. She had exhibited her sculptures not only in Britain and Nigeria, but in New York and Washington, D.C., several European countries, Japan and New Zealand. In this exhibition, she juxtaposed masks from the American Museum of Natural History and the British Museum with her recreation of the Kalabari Masquerade.

Drawing Shadows to Stone (11/1997–3/1998)

The exhibition commemorated the centennial of one of the most significant expeditions in the history of American anthropology, the American Museum of Natural History's Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902). Providing a rare and compelling visual record of northern peoples and their cultures, this exhibition included approximately 1,200 archival photographs depicting scenes from daily life. Taken by members of the Jesup Expedition, these photographs provide an early example of the revolutionary use of the camera as an anthropological tool. In 1997, Curator Dr. Laurel Kendall and Research Fellow Alexia Bloch visited museums in areas of Kamchatka and Chukotka studied by the Expedition, introducing local communities to the Museum collections through digital imagery. This material is of immediate practical importance to local artisans who are reviving and perpetuating traditional handicrafts but it is of immense value to native communities in the post-Socialist world who are taking new pride in their cultural legacy.

Chiefly Feasts: the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch (10/1991–2/1992)

The magnificent collection of objects made by the Kwakiutl Indians of northern Vancouver Island and the nearby mainland lies at the heart of the exhibition. It featured some of the extraordinary 19th-century creations such as masks, headdresses, blankets, coppers, feast dishes, and other ceremonial objects, which George Hunt collected for Franz Boas. Also featured were 20th-century pieces made at the time potlatching was illegal, and contemporary artworks, many made by George Hunt's descendants. Members of the contemporary Kwakiutl community participated in preparing this exhibition. More than 100 objects from the American Museum and other collections were displayed, including modern items in an exhibit case titled "The Potlatch Today."

Tibetan Dolls (10/1991–11/1991)

The Losel Doll exhibition introduced visitors to the diversity of traditional Tibetan culture by displaying an extensive and comprehensive selection of elaborately costumed doll characters. The exhibition depicted Tibetans and their lifestyles in a unique format by placing the Losel Dolls in detailed traditional settings recreated to scale by Losel craftsmen. The Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery who created the dolls took part in the exhibit by producing their craft in public. The exhibit provided viewers with exquisitely crafted examples of the many types of colorful people who made up the world of old Tibet before the current era of Chinese domination.

Arctic Art (6/1991–6/1992)

This exhibit of Eskimo soapstone and ivory carvings was based on the Harry Goldsmith collection donated to the Museum by his widow and children. The magnificent soapstone carvings were collected by Mr. Goldsmith during his frequent fishing trips to Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. The nine carvings on display are excellent examples of the Inuit sculptors' artistic skill in depicting their traditional life and environment. The sculptures range from the graceful forms of a seal and a walrus to a lively scene of seal hunters in a skin boat to a model of a traditional sod and sealskin house with a miniature kayak and other equipment. Five small prehistoric ivory carvings from the Museum collections were included in the exhibit to show the continuity of artistic tradition in the Arctic. The Ipiutak people, forerunners of today's Alaskan Eskimo, created these tiny representations of sea mammals and supernatural beings.

African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire (6/1990–1/1991)

The exhibition explored the art from Northeastern Zaire, a region that included numerous cultural and linguistic groups such as the Mangbetu, Azande, Barambo, Bua and Mbuti. Soon after 1900 , the people of Northeastern Zaire gained world attention for an exquisite style of art that portrayed the body painting and the bound, elongated head then popular among Mangbetu rulers. Knives, harps, pottery, and other implements were embellished with carvings depicting turn-of-the-century Mangbetu fashion. The exhibition traced the origins of this fascinating art from the first known examples to the present. It featured over 400 objects of ivory, terracotta, wood, and fiber, many incorporating images of African life. This was the first major exhibition based on the American Museum of Natural History's Congo Expedition of 1909–1915. Some of the 9,000 photographs taken on this expedition were on display. The exhibition began a national tour in January, 1991.