Milwaukee Public Museum director Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi spent many years excavating in and around Lake Amatitlán in Guatemala. This area was occupied over a great length of time by the Maya, from 500 BC to the Spanish Conquest (about AD 1500). Many items were brought up from the lake by divers, including several ceramic censers, containers used to burn copal incense, which played an important role in Maya rituals. The Milwaukee Public Museum is one of the primary repositories of artifacts from sites from this area.
This ostrich shell belt was made by the San (Bushmen) of Botswana, a country in southern Africa. Ostrich shells play important roles in their culture, serving not only as beads for body ornamentation, but also as water storage containers, essential in the hot, dry environment in which the San live. To make beads, the egg shell is broken into small fragments, which are further shaped by hand into circular pieces. A small hole is drilled through the center of each bead. The whole process is by hand, so considerable time would have gone into the making of this belt.
The Milwaukee Public Museum has approximately 860 Peruvian textiles in its South American collection, a large portion donated in 1964 by collector Malcolm Whyte. Most of these items were obtained from the southwest coast of Peru and are associated with burials. The intricate textiles preserved by the dry, hot climate of the Peruvian desert coast, illustrate a variety of weaving and decorative styles, representing several different cultural periods. Items from the collection can be viewed on the 3rd Floor Pre-Columbian Mezzanine.
The Museum's Chamacoco Collection consists of 70 objects, such as this belt ornament made of tropical bird feathers, and represent items both for everyday use and for ceremonies. Collected in 1925 by the Museum of the American Indian in New York, they came to the Milwaukee Public Museum that same year. The Chamacoco live in the Gran Chaco region of northwest Paraguay. The Chamacoco today alternate between their traditional hunting and gathering and more recent light agriculture, craftsmanship, or labor.
The Swiss Lake sites were first excavated in the mid 1840s and popularized by Swiss archaeologist Ferdinand Keller. Their interpretation as villages located over the lakes brought them much acclaim and made the collections from the sites' excavations much sought after by museums world-wide. Today, it is known that some, but not the majority, of these sites were built over water. They date from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age (4,000 BC-700 BC).
Trinidad, one of the islands forming the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the southern Caribbean, has been ruled by several previous European powers, the last being Great Britain. On this small island, people from the various cultures of Asia, Europe, Africa, and native groups live and interact. This rare collection is from the East Indian peoples on the island, and was collected by Milwaukee Public Museum Curator of Anthropology, Dr. Arthur Niehoff, in 1957. The East Indians were brought to the island by the British as indentured servants.
George West, a Milwaukee lawyer with a strong interest in archaeology, helped found the Wisconsin Archaeological Society in 1903. West also served on the Board of Trustees of the Milwaukee Public Museum for 32 years, for most of which he was president. Particularly interested in Native American pipes and smoking customs, West began collecting pipes around 1873 and continued to do so for several decades. The West pipe collection consists of 516 pipes; the majority are Native American. They represent all typical pipe styles found in the United States, three-fourths of them from Wisconsin.
This collection of 21 items contains some of the most exquisite pieces in the Museum's Mesoamerican archaeological collection. Thomas Fifield, lawyer and Museum board member and his wife Marilyn, amassed the collection through art galleries, primarily in New York. Promised as a gift to the Museum many years ago, they were formally donated in 2006, just months before Tom passed on.
Over several decades, James R. "Jim" Neidhoefer, a local businessman with a passion for butterflies and moths, donated his collection of more than 100,000 specimens plus several hundred volumes of rare books and monographs on Lepidoptera.
Once the most common bird in North America, the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) or wild pigeon lived in enormous migratory flocks that some estimate were between three billion to five billion upon European arrival.