About Anthropology Collections

Collections Management


With over 50,000 catalogue records in the Anthropology Department database, proper collections management policies and procedures are essential when tracking down either a collection item or it's associated documentation. Each of these records represents at least one object in the collection, and at times may represent hundreds of items as occurs in our Archaeology collections where one number has been assigned to several hundred lithics or potsherds. Our goal is to successfully find any requested object, in storage, within five minutes.


Proper Collections Management includes conducting consistent and ongoing inventories, updating the Collections database to reflect current understanding of the collections based on research, problem-solving, and consultation, as well as addressing the physical condition of the objects. Rehousing using archival quality support material following Conservation best practices and methods is a key part of the work.

IMLS Save America's Treasures Grant 2009-2012

In 2009, the Department of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was awarded $321,449 by the Save America's Treasures and Institute for Museum and Library Services programs to complete a survey on the Anthropology Collections, to conduct preventive and interventive conservation to mitigate threats against the collections, and to create finding aides for the associated documentation.


The Anthropology Department hired two full-time Collections Management Assistants,  Bethany Williams and Bridget Sabo, who worked with Anthropology Collections Manager, Isabel Tovar, to gain intellectual and physical control of the collections. Part of their efforts included thorough inventory, problem-solving, and processing of material, as well as determining special storage needs for the collections. In collaboration with Conservator, Julie Parker, hired specifically for this project, the Collections Manager and Assistants created archival storage for the collections to prevent further damage to the material.


The Archives Department hired an Archives Technician, Aly Jabrocki, who focused her efforts on processing and creating finding aides for the papers of Ruth Underhill.


For more information on either of our sponsors, please visit their websites below:



IMLS Latin American Textiles Grant 2008-2011

In 2008, the Conservation and Anthropology Departments at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were awarded $149,827 by the Institute for Museum and Library Services program to complete a preventive conservation project on the over 700 Latin American textiles in the Anthropology Collections.


The first phase of the project began in October of 2008 and included a full inventory of the collection during which detailed object analysis was completed on each item. Further research into the documentation files provided even deeper provenience information. All of this data was entered into a spreadsheet, a complete version of which will be posted soon, once document cleanup is finished. Fourteen volunteers donated 1,034 hours to this portion of the project.


Also during this first phase, storage conditions for the collection were vastly improved by the installation of new museum quality storage cabinets. Due to lack of space and funds, these items had previously been stored in very tight conditions. For many years, they had been wrapped in plastic bags and stacked an average of thirty at a time in large boxes. This made access to the items very difficult for research. Once the new cabinets were installed in July 2009, project team members Isabel Tovar and Bridget Sabo systematically unwrapped and individually laid out each item in the Latin American textile collection in preparation for rehousing.


Beginning in September of 2009. the second phase of the project included construction of custom designed archival boxes and internal support mounts to better preserve the objects. Twenty-eight specially trained volunteers donated 1,912 hours of their skill and creativity to individually address storage needs for the collection. Boxes were built out of archival board and polyethylene rivets to the individual item dimensions. Catalogue numbers were hand written in archival pen on each box, and individually laser printed tags were hand sewn on to each item for tracking purposes. Internal support pads and mounts were custom sewn to avoid creasing of the textiles along folds or to maintain the three-dimensional aspect of the item.



General summary of the DMNS Latin American textile collection

During the summer of 2011, Andrew van der Heever, Robert L. Akerley Intern for the Department of Anthropology, completed photography of the collection in order to more easily share the these items with the public. He also completed a general survey of the collection as follows:


The Department of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) holds a collection of over 700 textile objects from Central and South America. The types of items range from shirts, pants, scarf's and belts to rugs, bags and hats. They were collected from the early- to late-20th century by various parties and represent a range of countries in Latin America.


Provenience issues do exist with many of the items in the collection. Sometimes donors offered the objects to the museum but the documentation on the origins of the items is no longer available. On the other hand some objects have very good geographical and cultural provenience; these objects will be focused on in the following section.


Within the Latin American textiles collection, 5 major contributing individuals or groups stand out based on the amount of material donated to DMNS. First are Dr. Michael and Mrs. Mannetta Braunstein who collected and donated 142 objects represented in this collection from various regions in Guatemala. They collected from 1950 to 1999 after which the items were donated to the DMNS.


A generous donation of 68 objects in the collection came from the Crane Foundation. Francis and Mary Crane, along with former Curator of Ethnology Joyce Herold, were responsible for what can be seen in today's Crane Hall of North American Indian Cultures exhibit. The Cranes were interested in anthropological materials of Native Americans and so worked for many years acquiring objects from trade posts, dealers, private collectors, and obscure shops as well as personally collecting them from various regions of the Americas. Several items in their collection were left to them through inheritance from family members. They actively collected from 1954 to 1968  at which point the material was transferred to the DMNS. The regions covered by these 68 objects are Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru.


Dr. Robert and Mrs. Imogene W. Waugh collected and then donated 67 objects from Guatemala, Colombia, Panama and Peru. The Waughs collected from 1973 to 1979 and then donated their collection to the DMNS in 1991. A part of their collection was from a deceased family friend. These objects came to them during the 1990's and they subsequently donated it to DMNS.


Mr. Thomas P. and his first wife, Mrs. Arletta Ahrens, collected 58 objects from Chile and Peru. They were actively collecting from 1930 to 1940 while Thomas was working in South America as a water engineer. In 1961 he and his second wife Helen Ahrens donated a portion of this collection to the Crane's, with the remainder being donated to DMNS by Helen after his death in 1976.


Mr. John M. Goggin collected 27 objects from Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. He collected from all over the world during the 1950's and these 27 objects are a small representation of the larger collection donated to the DMNS by his wife Mrs. Margaret Knox Goggin in 1984.


Certain nations in Latin America such as Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru are represented in much stronger numbers. However, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and Honduras, are also represented in smaller numbers, and sometimes even by only a single item. From the overall collection we have selected 16 objects that represent the 3 major nations and 5 collectors/donors mentioned above. Photographs of these objects can be seen in the slide show above.


Out of the regions represented in the collection we can see 7 distinctively different cultures. These are Mayan, associated with Mexico and Guatemala; Aymara, associated with Bolivia; Cuna, associated with Panama; Inca, associated with Ecuador; Quechua, associated with Peru and Bolivia, and Tehuana, associated with Mexico. There are many items with no regional provenience data as well as many that do not have any associated cultural information.


A side note to Andrew van der Heever's 10 week project: To take high quality pictures of the 703 objects in the collection, Andrew needed to develop a method to capture even the larger textiles from above with a birds-eye-view shot. He resolved this by laying the object on a table, then proceeding up a 5 step ladder to a tripod on the top step where he took a picture of one side of the object, climbed down to turn the object over, walked back up the four steps to photograph the reverse side, and came back down again. The end of all of this stair climbing meant that Andrew would have climbed 5,624 steps. To put this into perspective, the Empire State building in New York City is 1,860 stairs to the 102nd floor, this means during the 10 weeks working on the project Andrew climbed the Empire State building 3 times. No easy task!


The project team consisted of (in alphabetical order):

Dr. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Curator of Anthropology

Bridget Sabo, Conservation Technician and Collections Management Assistant

Jude Southward, Conservator

Isabel Tovar, Collections Manager


Thank you to Moe Shuley, Volunteer Coordinator, and to all the interns and volunteers who worked on this project:

Shirley Beverly

Shauna Batcheller

Aurora Cuevas

Minka Frohring

Pamela Frost

Nancie Halls

Kimberley Hannigan

Elizabeth Harvat

Larry Harvey

Judith Hubbard

Rebecca Hughes, intern

Catherine McAllister

Carolyn McCuan

Gene McCullough

Rae Mosher, intern

Jamie Neuenschwander

Jill Mally

Dena Mann

Ann Moller

Suzanne Morine

Oksana Moshinsky

Lesley Parker

Jean Saul

Nan Stine

Bob Torbenson

Sean Tseng

Andrew van der Heever, intern

Peggy Whitehead

Holly Wolfe

Suzanne Woodward

Eunice York

Lou Zinanti

Dale Zitek

Collections Management Staff

Melissa Bechhoefer, Anthropology Collections Manager:

Melissa Bechhoefer joined the Museum as the anthropology collections manager and NAGPRA coordinator in 2012. She is responsible for the care, maintenance, and facilitation of the anthropology collections. She has 15 years of collections management and registration experience from her service at the Museum, History Colorado, the National Park Service, and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. She received her M.S. in museum and field studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder and B.A. in archaeology and geology from Oberlin College. Over the last 10 years, Melissa has been managing relatively large collections in both museum and off-site storage settings. Just before starting at the Museum, Melissa worked on the development and design of new museum and collection facilities and was responsible for numerous collections moves, experience that is beneficial as the Museum moves its collections into the new Rocky Mountain Science Collections Center.


Jeff Phegley, Anthropology Curatorial Assistant:

Jeff Phegley became the anthropology curatorial assistant in June 2014. This position is funded by a National Endowment for Humanities, American Ethnological Collection Grant. Jeff is archivally rehousing and relocating the anthropology collections to the Museum’s new Rocky Mountain Science Collection Center. Jeff’s previous professional positions include graduate assistant at the David T. Owsley Museum of Art in Muncie, Indiana, exhibits technician at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, head designer and preparator at the Bullseye Gallery in Portland, and printmaking technician at the University of Southampton Winchester School of Art in the United Kingdom.


Bethany Williams, Collections Assistant for the Science and Collections Initiative:

Bethany Williams has been working as collections assistant in the Department of Anthropology since August 2010. Her position is funded by the IMLS Save America’s Treasures Grant. Long before starting in Anthropology, Bethany volunteered in the Museum’s Education Collections. Volunteering inspired her to return to school, and she earned a graduate degree in anthropology with a focus on biological anthropology and archaeology at the University of Colorado at Denver. During her studies she worked as a research assistant for a biological anthropology field school in Tanzania for several summers, and helped design exhibits for a Visitors Center at Laetoli and the National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam. Throughout graduate school Bethany continued to volunteer at the Museum and was awarded a Robert L. Akerley Internship Award from the Department of Anthropology in 2010.

Volunteers and Interns

The Department of Anthropology receives help from a large group of dedicated volunteers and interns. Some of our volunteers have been with the Museum for over 25 years, while some have just started. The number of people working with the Department varies depending on the number and size of projects. At times we have around 70 volunteers working on the larger grant rehousing project.


As of September 2011, we are between projects and have around 15 active volunteers working on the following projects:


  • Our Bead Study Group just completed successful planning for and presentation of a Bead Symposium with the Rocky Mountain Bead Society on August 20th hosted at DMNS. The team also completed research in preparation for installation of the temporary Weckbaugh case exhibit "Glass Seed Beads Around the World."
  • Data entry and cleanup in preparation for migration to a new collections management database.
  • Processing of outstanding accessions. Volunteers complete description, object labeling, data entry, and housing of the items.
  • Rehousing of accession documentation with archival quality material to improve the preservation of the documents.
  • Reorganization of the accession documentation to assist with easier access to the information.
  • Sewing archival labels on the textiles collections.
  • Completing work on the IMLS Latin American Textiles grant project.
  • Maintaining cleanliness in the collections storage area as part of the Museum's Integrated Pest Management program.

Currently, the Department is not seeking new volunteers, however as future projects arise, we will be open for availability.

Requests for Information and Access

Can someone tell me what I have?

The Department of Anthropology welcomes inquiries from the general public. Please do not bring the object(s) to the Museum as volunteers at the Information Desk are not able to accept Anthropology materials for review. If you have a question about an object in your care, please consult the instructions for Specimen Identification Requests & Donations. Your inquiry will then be passed along to the appropriate Curator for consideration.

The Department does not provide appraisals on material. Please visit the American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America, or the International Society of Appraisers to find an appropriate appraiser.


How do I visit the Anthropology Collections?

Research visits to the Anthropology Collections require approval through the Deparment and at least two weeks notice to coordinate a time. Please note that visitation and work schedules for the Collections staff and Curators tend to fill up two months in advance, so more lead time is preferable. Visits will be arranged during regular public hours, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM.

Forms for access to the collections can be found on the Department of Anthropology's main page. Please review the Collection Use Agreement Form along with the Policies for Sensitive and Hazardous Collections document. Once you understand the expectations, fill out the Request for Access Form and return to the Collections Manager.

The Department cares for human remains and a number of sensitive items that are religious or ceremonial in nature. We make every effort to respectfully care for these entities, primarily collaborating with the communities from which they came. Human remains are stored in a secure location separate from the rest of the collections. Visits to these sensitive collections are severely restricted and require special permission to access.


Does the Department of Anthropology acquire objects for its Collections?

The Department acquires new items for the collections if the appropriate Curator determines that they fit within the specifications of the Long-Term Collection and Research Plan. This Plan can be located at the main DMNS Collections webpage. The majority of new acquisitions are through donation as acquisition funds are severely limited. If you have a question regarding a potential donation to the Department, please email the Collections Manager photos of the object along with a basic description including information on how, when, and where you acquired the object(s). This information will then be passed along to the appropriate Curator for consideration.


May I borrow material from the Anthropology Collections?

The Department will review requests for loans from the collections on a case by case basis. The Guidelines for Borrowers document can be found on the Department of Anthropology's main page. Please note that due to the various steps required to complete loan requests, the Department requests at least four months between intial contact and the loan start date. There is no set fee for loans, however there may be costs associated with Conservation work, formal appraisals, object packing and transport.

Have a Question?

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Welcome to the Anthropology Department Collections page. Here you will find information on how we care for the items in our collection ranging from grant funded work to volunteer research and inventory projects.



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