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Washington State University
Museum of Anthropology Using Archaeological Collections

We encourage use and research of collections housed at the Museum of Anthropology. Those who are interested in working with archaeological, ethnographic, and archival materials, should contact us to obtain preliminary information about collections, the research process and protocols, and to schedule an appointment to discuss research plans. All researchers, including WSU faculty and students, are required to complete a research request in coordination with Museum staff, collections-owning agencies, and Tribal communities as appropriate. Additionally, researchers may be asked to fill out Tribal permits depending on the site locations of interest. The Museum of Anthropology is committed to research transparency and an ethic of collaboration with Tribal communities and we encourage all researchers to reach out to Tribes in the area from project inception. A brief project description and proposal is required for all requests, including both destructive and non-destructive analyses. Loan requests are handled on a case by case basis, and researchers should anticipate full review of projects may take time depending on the nature and scope of the request

Who Can Access the Collections?

Collections are available to qualified individuals for study. Qualified individuals are:

  • individuals with specific written objectives that are appropriate to the character of the collections
  • members of any tribes of American Indian communities from whose traditional territory the collections were removed.
  • professional archaeologists affiliated with a university, federal, state, or local agency, or a private CRM firm.
  • graduate students under the supervision of a professional archaeologist.

What Should a Research Proposal Include?

  • Name and contact information for the research personnel. Graduate students must include contact information for, and a brief letter of support from, their thesis or dissertation advisor
  • The Smithsonian number(s) for the site(s) and the federal, state, or local agency which has responsibility for the site(s)
  • The goal of the project and/or hypothesis to be tested, and any background information, such as previous research or analyses conducted
  • Type(s) of artifacts or samples requested
  • Type(s) of analyses to be conducted, including the name of any commercial firm if appropriate. This is particularly important if analysis is potentially destructive.
  • The expected length of the loan.

Staff will review the proposal and respond regarding the feasibility of the research. The contact information for the relevant federal or state agencies and local tribes will be sent and the student/researcher will be expected to forward the proposal to these entities for approval. No artifacts or samples will be loaned until approval from all entities has been obtained.

Which Collections are Accessible?

Only collections that have been curated are available for study. These collections have relational databases.  Databases can be sent to you in Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access format.

The time we can spend on each research request without charge is limited. We encourage you to contact us with questions on how to search the databases, so that your sample list accurately reflects the criteria that best identify the materials you need for your research. Repeated requests that result from incomplete or erroneous database searches may require us to charge for staff time.


Collections can only be studied on the WSU campus unless permission has been obtained from the Museum. This means that you should make arrangements with the Museum in advance to study materials here at Washington State University. The Museum can make space available to you. Bring your own calipers, laptop computer, magnifying lens, etc. Many artifacts in curated collections have been photographed in digital format. Photographs and slides have been digitized and can be made available to you at no charge.


Permission for destructive scientific analysis must be obtained from the responsible agency. Museum staff will ship samples to scientific laboratories upon receipt of that permission.

What Information is Included in Site Databases?

In general, each database will contain the following fields, reading from left to right.

Field Contains
Smithsonian site number
WSU inventory number
Original catalog number
Unit N or S
N/S unit bearings
Unit E or W
E/W unit bearings
Beginning level/strata
Ending level/strata
Object Group (OG)
Object Type (OT)
Raw Material (RM)
Box number