The collections of the American Section are the largest of the Penn Museum, numbering approximately 300,000 archaeological and ethnographic specimens. They span the continents of North and South America from Alaska to Argentina, and documenthuman habitation and history from the ancient past to the present day. More than half the specimens are archaeological in nature, and most were acquired on more than 100 archaeological and ethnographic collecting expeditions initiated by Museum and University faculty and staff as early as 1895.
The collections hold objects of everyday life, such as weapons and tools, hunting and fishing equipment, boats, clothing, medicines, raw materials, musical instruments, ornaments, toys and games, household utensils, and ceremonial items. In addition to objects acquired through research, many items came to the Section through donations, which continue today. We actively collect North America items as opportunities arise. The most varied components of our American holdings are the North American ethnographic collections, approximately 40,000 specimens attributed to 200 tribes and organized by geographic region: Arctic, Sub-Arctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, California, Great Basin, Southwest, Great Plains, Southeast, and Northeast. The strongest collections are those systematically created via study and expedition in Alaska, the Northwest Coast, Southwest, Southeast, and Sub- arctic regions.