Welcome to the Department of Anthropology. Our department undertakes research on human evolution and cultural diversity, from our earliest ancestors to the present. Active research projects include the study of hominin fossil remains in Africa, while our permanent collection of ethnographic materials exemplifies cultural variation and adaptation from around the world. Collection strengths include western North America, Oceania and the Pacific rim.
The permanent research collection of the Department of Anthropology comprises approximately 16,000 objects, the majority of which are ethnographic.
The Department actively collects material of the indigenous cultures of western North America (exclusive of Mexico) and the Pacific Rim, including all Pacific islands and East Asia. Current collection strengths are holdings from the U.S. Southwest and the Pacific islands, and basketry from California. Earlier collections include ethnographic and archaeological materials from East Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Central and South America.
Mayan pottery salvaged from the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The Department of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences was established in 1900, forty-seven years after the insitution's founding. In 1906 however, the department was suspended when the San Francisco earthquake and fire devastated the Academy's premises on Market Street. The conflagration destroyed much of the Anthropology collection, as well as large portions of the collections of other departments. Although the Department of Anthropology was no longer formally recognized, materials and artifacts continued to be amassed by the Academy. By 1976, thanks to the generosity of the Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Foundation, the Wattis Hall of Human Cultures was opened, featuring the materials collected through the mid-1970s. The Department of Anthropology was re-created at that time, thanks to the endowment of a Chair in Anthropology by the James Irvine Foundation. Today, staff conduct research into various aspects of human evolution as well as ethnographic work related to the Department's collection. The collection consists of nearly 16,000 ethnographic and archaeological items from around the world. The Department actively collects material of the indigenous cultures of western North America and the Pacific Rim.
Anthropology in the News
Accessing the collection
The Anthropology collections are available for study by qualified researchers by advance appointment only. To determine if our collection contains any objects which might prove useful to your research, please visit our online collection database which is searchable by culture, geography, object type, and other selected criteria.
If you would like to arrange a visit to view specific objects and/or related documentation, please contact Senior Collection Manager Russell Hartman at rhartman at calacademy dot org or (415) 379-5385.
Borrowing collection objects
Objects from the Anthropology collections are available for loan to accredited institutions for public exhibitions and limited educational use. Please visit our online collection database to search for objects by culture, geography, object type, and other selected criteria.
If you would like to arrange to borrow objects from the collections, contact Senior Collection Manager Russell Hartman at rhartman at calacademy dot org or (415) 379-5385. Final approval of any loan is at the discretion of the Collection Manager and/or Curator of the Department of Anthropology.
The Department of Anthropology actively collects materials from the indigenous cultures of western North America (exclusive of Mexico) and the Pacific Rim, including all Pacific islands and East Asia. Select items from outside these areas may also be accessioned when they complement and enhance current holdings. The Department relies almost exclusively on donations to expand its collection. Although our collection is primarily composed of ethnographic materials, items from any time period may be considered. Objects retaining good provenance data are highly preferred. Acceptance of donations is at the discretion of the Collection Manager and Curator of the Department of Anthropology.
If you are interesting in donating to the department, please contact Senior Collection Manager Russell Hartman at rhartman at calacademy dot org or (415) 379-5385.
Staff of the Department of Anthropology may be able to assist in identifying cultural affiliation, date of manufacture, material, and/or other aspects of anthropological items of types or from cultures with which we have expertise.
If you have an object with which you believe we might be of assistance, please contact Senior Collection Manager Russell Hartman at rhartman at calacademy dot org or (415) 379-5385. For non-anthropological items, please contact the Academy’s Naturalist Center or the relevant Research department.
Professional standards prohibit Academy staff members from appraising items or recommending an appraiser. Please locate a professional appraiser qualified in the area relevant to your item(s).
The Department of Anthropology is currently accepting intern applications in collections management, to assist with our ethnographic collection digitization project. Internships are unpaid and usually count towards course credit. All positions have been filled through fall 2013. Applications for spring 2014 are due by Jan. 15. For a full description of the position and instructions on how to apply, click here. For more information, contact the department at (415) 379-5385 or email rhartman at calacademy dot org.
There are currently no volunteer positions available in the Department of Anthropology.
The Department of Anthropology periodically has volunteer opportunities in collections management. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the Academy's Volunteer Department at (415) 379-5111 or via email at volunteer at calacademy dot org to request an application.
The entire Anthropology collection database is available and searchable online, including digital images for the entire collection.
Requests for permission to publish are required in writing. Downloadable PDF forms are available for Permission to Publish Photographic Materials and for Permission to Publish Written Materials. Fees may apply. Please print out the appropriate page, fill in all requested data, and send it to the address listed at the bottom of the form. For further assistance, please contact Senior Collection Manager Russell Hartman at rhartman at calacademy dot org or (415) 379-5385.
The old saying “You are what you eat” takes on new significance in the most comprehensive analysis to date of early human teeth from Africa.
Our ancestors used to dine almost exclusively on leaves and fruits from trees, shrubs and herbs until 3.5mya when a major shift occurred, according to four new simultaneously published studies.
A series of 4 scientific papers shows evidence of an expanding variety of plant foods, written into the enamel of fossil teeth.
Zeresenay Alemseged and others study diet via powder from fossilized hominid teeth.