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IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology designed to make exhibits, holdings more accessible

Mar 5, 2021

Indiana University’s newest museum will open in 2022. The IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will present the university’s world-class collections of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts in newly designed collection areas, exhibits and learning spaces that will make its materials and activities more open and accessible than most museums by turning “inside-out” for visitors.

rendering of museum shows accessible ramp and parking
A rendering of the new IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on the IU Bloomington campus.Image courtesy of IU Capital Planning and Facilities

“Cultural museums awaken us to our shared humanity across space and time, while archaeological and historic perspectives remind us of how we got here,” said Edward Herrmann, executive director of the new museum. “But we need to do more. We need to open up the museum, to provide more access to the collections and museum work we do, and to serve as a place for dialogue and understanding.”

The “inside-out” approach of the museum will be physical, intellectual and technological. Visitors will be able to walk behind the scenes of the museum to see collections in storage, and peer into labs and workspaces to learn about museum research and study. Learning and program spaces will connect offsite teachers and students to museum educators and curators for research and education. And technology in the exhibit galleries will enable visitors to engage with objects and places in new ways.

Virtual reality will highlight this approach and provide an immersive component of the museum’s featured exhibition on Angel Mounds, an important Native American site that dates between 1050 and 1450.

The IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology curates over 2 million artifacts from the Angel Mounds National Historic Landmark Site, on the banks of the Ohio River in southwest Indiana. The Mississippian site was occupied at one point by more than 1,000 people, and it served as an important religious, political and trade center.

Beyond its regional importance, Angel Mounds shares common practices with other ancient cultures of the Americas. The IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will engage colleagues throughout the Americas to explore the history of influences and contact between geographic areas, focusing on material evidence such as artifacts or site diagrams, as well as evidence of intellectual activity such as ritual, symbolism and innovation.

The museum will also involve IU faculty who research complex societies in the Americas. Given similarities between certain North American cultures and those in Central America, for example, museum staff and scholars will use the tools of archaeology, anthropology and ethnography to understand both societies in the past and their descendants in the present.

The museum’s work is informed by collaboration with Indigenous partners. Representatives from Native American tribes descended from Mississippian people of Indiana are developing the Angel Mounds exhibition in partnership with the museum.

“We aim to reconnect archaeology to the Indigenous people whose ancestors created the sites and artifacts that archaeologists uncover,” Herrmann said.

Inaugural exhibitions will be models for future programs, collections, research and exhibitions the museum intends to conduct involving Indigenous peoples, descendant community representatives, university scholars and public audiences.

In his September 2019 “The State of Indiana University at the Bicentennial” speech, IU President Michael A. McRobbie announced the creation of this museum as part of the university’s ongoing effort to care for its collections and preserve the knowledge they hold. The museum brings together over 5 million artifacts formerly housed at the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures to tell the story of humanity, from the rich heritage of Indiana’s First Peoples to the lives of contemporary Hoosiers, and how those stories are connected to peoples around the world.

IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will open to the public in summer 2022. For more information, email or visit the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology website.

Judy Kirk is assistant director of the IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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