The University of Arizona

A Brief History of Arizona State Museum

Photo slideshow: ASM Celebrates 120 Years!

Arizona State Museum (ASM) is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwest.

Established by the Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1893 (with House Bill 42, written and submitted by George W. P. Hunt), the original name of the museum was Arizona Territorial Museum and it was placed in Tucson on the campus of the only existing university in the territory at the time. The University of Arizona (UA) was established in 1885. When Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912, the name of the museum had to change, naturally, from Arizona Territorial Museum to Arizona State Museum.

Sign in front of north buildingArizona State Museum is precisely that, the state's official museum. It is the official repository for, and curator of, Arizona's archaeological collections. It is also the state's official permitting agency for all archaeological activity conducted anywhere in the state on state lands. Objects and associated research materials produced as a result of that archaeological activity fall under ASM's curatorial responsibilities. The museum's archaeological repository is the largest and busiest state-runl intake facility in the nation, second only to the Smithsonian (which is federal).

As a free-standing state agency, ASM administers the Arizona Antiquities Act and assists other state and federal agencies in enforcing related legislation and repatriation.

Because it is located on the UA campus, ASM serves the university as its anthropology museum and as a very active research, teaching and training unit.

The museum's vast, varied, and ever-growing collections are recognized worldwide as unique and significant resources for the study of southwestern peoples. Many aspects of its collections are unparalleled by any other comparable museum in the world.

Because of its ever-growing collections, the museum has had many homes on the UA campus. It has moved from a single room in Old Main (1893–1904) to a shared space with the library in the Douglass Building (1905–14), to Agriculture Hall (1915–29), to quarters in the lower regions of Arizona Stadium (1930–35), to a brand new building in 1936. In 1977 the museum expanded to a second facility—the former UA library building. Today, ASM’s two historic buildings are the first to welcome students and visitors as they enter UA's Main Gate.

Hundreds of thousands of artifacts from numerous excavations shed light on the prehistoric Hohokam, Mogollon, and Ancestral Pueblo cultures. More than 26,000 catalogued ethnographic objects document the lifeways of historic and living Native peoples of the region. The museum's library, archives, and photographic collections hold unique materials and primary documents garnered by pioneers of Southwest anthropology, as well as by leading figures in related disciplines.

At 20,000+ whole vessels, ASM’s Southwest Indian pottery collection is the world’s largest and most comprehensive. ASM is also home to the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of American Indian basketry -- more than 25,000 woven pieces of rare and outstanding baskets, sandals, cradle boards, mats, cordage, and preserved fibers.

A significant portion of the museum’s renown comes from the fieldwork and research of its former directors, all leaders in their respective disciplines and known for cutting edge work: Byron Cummings (1915–1938), Emil W. Haury (1938–1964, bioOpens in a new window), Raymond H. Thompson (1964–1997), George J. Gumerman (1998–2002, bio), Hartman H. Lomawaima (acting dir. 2002-2004, dir. 2004–2008, obituary), and Beth Grindell (July 14, 2008-May 31, 2013, bio).

Indeed, ASM has been home to many of the world’s leading experts in Southwest anthropology and related fields. Coupled with the extensive collections, the collective body of research conducted at ASM over the past century tells the story of some 13,000 years of human history, culture, and interaction in the region.

Well into its second century of service, offering a full annual calendar of rotating exhibitions, educational programs, and public events, and in conjunction with volunteer and membership programs, ASM continually strives to reach out to and engage the University of Arizona, Tucson, the state, and the world.

Director Patrick D. Lyons assumed the reins on June 1, 2013. An archaeologist and former associate director and head of collections, Patrick is the museum's seventh director since its founding in 1893. Patrick brings passion, vision, ambition, and strategic orientation to ASM. As director, he is responsible for ensuring the long-term financial health of the institution; for positioning it as an integral participant in the community; for energizing relationships with the museum’s diverse constituencies; and for setting a unified and ambitious strategic vision for the museum’s multifaceted pursuits. “I want ASM to become as relevant to the larger community as it is and has been to researchers, academics, students, professional archaeologists, tribal governments, and state and federal agencies. Through focus and unification, and with the help of our members, friends, and community partners, ASM’s future is as vibrant as its past is storied.”

Related Links

Patrick D. Lyons Named Director, March 2013
in the History of American Museums
George W. P. Hunt, Father of ASM
Herbert H. Brown, ASM's First Curator