Building up of the Ethnology Collection began in 1939 with the donation of a small collection of South American materials. Since then the collection has grown to over 5500 objects, with over half of the materials from North and Central America. Objects from South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania are included as well. The Collection spans an approximate 150+ year period, from the mid-1800s to the late-1900s. They represent predominately horticultural, pastoral, and hunting-gathering peoples living in semi-arid and arid environments.
The Collecion consists of two types: Systematic Collections generated by field work with associated documentation, and Synoptic Collections generated by donations and purcahses with little or minimal documentation. Three field-generated collections – the Cordry, the Yaqui, and the Qashqa’i – form the core of the Ethnology Collection. A number of smaller collections generated by individuals also have significant research, exhibit, and educational value because of the donors/collectors’ meticulous notes and subsequent research-generated information.