Museum celebrates U-M bicentennial by featuring 200 objects in 200 days


When most people go to the Ruthven Building on U-M’s Central Campus, they go to the Museum of Natural History. But at the top of the marble staircase, behind the double doors marked Research Wing, is another museum. Few visitors know about the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, because it is a research museum used mainly by graduate students and faculty.

To celebrate the U-M’s bicentennial year, the UMMAA is opening its doors — in a digital way. Every day for 200 days, from March 31 through Oct. 16, an artifact from the UMMAA’s collections will be featured in a news post on its home page. Through these 200 photographs and stories, the UMMAA hopes to give readers a sense of what lies behind those doors.

The millions of artifacts in the UMMAA’s collections testify to a rich history of archaeological and ethnographic research around the world. Objects are sorted geographically, by region: Asia, Europe, Latin America, Great Lakes, Near East, North America. There are also ethnobotanical, ethnographic and photographic collections. The Museum itself is not quite 200 years old — it was established in 1922 — but what it lacks in age it makes up for in depth.

Carla Sinopoli is curator of Asian archaeology and ethnology at the museum and director of U-M’s Museum Studies Program. It was her idea to celebrate the bicentennial by posting photos of objects from the collections on the Museum’s website. Graduate students in anthropological archaeology are working with Sinopoli to select and research the featured objects.

Besides giving people a chance to peek into UMMAA’s holdings, it also provides a countdown to an exhibit on archaeology that she is co-curating at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. The Kelsey is also counting down to the exhibit with 200 facts about their most important people, places, events and artifacts. Follow their countdown on Twitter with the hashtag #KMA200 and on Facebook.

“Museums have been part of the vision of the university since its founding in 1817,” said Sinopoli. “The first documented cultural object came to U-M in 1840 — an Anishinaabe birch bark canoe collected by Douglas Houghton. Sadly, it’s no longer in our collections. As the university celebrates its bicentennial, we are excited to share our museum’s long history of archaeological and ethnographic research around the globe with the university community.”

A bicentennial exhibition on Michigan archaeology will open at the Kelsey Museum on Oct. 18. “Excavating Archaeology at the University of Michigan, 1817–2017” is a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey, and is curated by Sinopoli and Terry G. Wilfong.

“The 200 days project sets the stage for the exhibition, which will explore the history of archaeology at the University of Michigan and the stories behind the formation of our two distinct archaeology museums,” said Sinopoli. “It also allows us to feature parts of our extensive collections that few members of the public ever get to see.” 


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