History of AMNH’s Native Collection

November is Native American Heritage Month; to celebrate both the Anniston Museum of Natural History’s birthday and the important cultural contributions and extensive history of Native peoples, Anniston Museum’s Collections Department has chosen to highlight its Native American collection. The oldest pieces are a few thousand years old, while the newest date from the 1990s and 2000s. Our collection houses ethically collected artifacts from tribes in South America, Central America, and North America.


The Americas have been inhabited for 13,000-18,000 years. Natives, like most pre-historic humans, were nomadic. This means they travelled in search of food until the Agricultural Revolution (sometimes called the Neolithic Revolution) occurred roughly 12,000 years ago. New technology and techniques concerning seed propagation allowed people to settle down and create farms and hunt nearby wildlife for protein. Different tribes relied on various hunting methods depending on their location. For example, the Tlingit inhabit the extreme northern coast of the United States and rely more on fishing than Plains cultures like the Lakota.


To store seeds, water, and produce, Native Americans created pottery in all sizes, from only a few inches tall, to a couple of feet! Anniston Museum’s Native collection showcases the impact a difference in location and diet had on things like pottery. Central American pottery tends to be brightly colored, with traditional art painted on top of red or brown clay. In the American Southwest, pottery was typically red, white, and black. Plains cultures and Southeastern cultures produced pottery with softer earth tones because of the materials available to them. These differences are also recognizable in the materials used in textile production!


At Anniston Museums and Gardens, we recognize Native Americans as the First Peoples of the Americas and strive to maintain an ethical, documented collection as is required by museum ethics and federal guidelines. Under NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act), Anniston Museums and Gardens is required to return all artifacts associated with funerary practices to the appropriate tribes as requested. Alabama is rich with Native history, and artifacts of tribal culture are easily found; however, it is unethical (and oftentimes illegal) to keep randomly discovered artifacts. To view artifacts collected ethically and carefully, make a visit to the Anniston Museums and Gardens, where several of our pieces are currently on display in Berman Museum’s American West gallery!