What Is the Arizona State Museum?

Jennifer Voight

The Arizona State Museum is the largest museum in the American southwest and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Established in 1893 by Arizona’s first governor, the Arizona State Museum is located on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson and works with the university in research and educational programs. The museum grants archaeological permits and works with the state to enforce its laws regarding antiquities, including preserving and documenting any finds. As an invaluable resource for the preservation and research into native cultures, paleontology, and anthropology, the Arizona State Museum plays a vital role in educating the public about southwestern U.S. and northern Mexican culture.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Owing to the fact that southwestern culture and history predates recorded history, many of the collections housed in the museum are from excavations conducted by museum or university researchers. Excavated baskets, pottery, and waste make up a small part of the materials collected and preserved. The museum also houses donated objects from current cultures. Many of the archival materials from the nation’s leading anthropologists are held by the museum. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian, the association gives the museum a wider audience and access to greater resources, increasing the capabilities of the museum to carry out its mission to preserve, research, and educate.

Some of the largest and most prominent collections of southwestern artifacts in the world are located at the Arizona State Museum. The museum holds more than 25,000 pieces of basketry and woven pieces from many native cultures. About 20,000 pieces of Indian pottery are held and documented by the museum. The museum is the largest state-run archaeological repository in the U.S., processing materials for federal and tribal government agencies.

The museum’s location on the campus of the University of Arizona gives it unique partnership opportunities with the educational institution. University and museum researchers are able to collaborate on research projects and share resources. The museum also operates an internship program for university students. Together, they are able to gain greater insight into the development of prehistoric peoples, the effects of interfacing with other cultures, and how these cultures interacted with and were affected by their environment.

There are many educational outreach programs in place for the museum to share information with students and the general public. Interactive, hands-on displays are meant to engage students and broaden their experience with history. Throughout the year, the Arizona State Museum hosts art fairs, lectures, and workshops.

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Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - That may be the case, but to me I really feel like that the museum itself gets a lot of money from the state as well as what is given to the college.

What I would like to know is if this is a type of museum that includes a wide variety of different exhibits at this site or if it simply a place that only specializes in archaeological work or if it also focuses on the history of the state?

I find the history of the state of Arizona unique because of the fact that it was one of these earliest explored states by Europeans and there is literally over five hundred years of history involved with Europeans in the state.

I am wondering if the Arizona State Museum has an emphasis at all on the cultures and history of the state or focuses on more natural history?


@kentuckycat - That is probably what they housed early on as the United States was at war with the Spanish a few year later and I doubt people wanted to look too much at their artifacts.

As far as the Indian Wars go, yes this is a true point, but people were interested in learning about Native American culture and researching them.

I really think that it is interesting that the Arizona State Museum is located on the campus of the University of Arizona. I find that this was probably done on purpose in order for research to be done right on the spot and proper analysis to done immediately on finds.

I am also guessing that there is a reason the state government did this due to the fact they only have to fund one place as opposed to multiple places.


@jcraig - I have to say to be totally honest I think that there was little that could be offered as far as history was concerned when the museum was created and it was probably used more as a research center than anything.

The one other thing that I can think of it being used for is as a place to house the archaeological finds that turn up in the South West besides Native American pottery, such as Dinosaur bones or fossils.

I know that during this time they were just starting to make great finds in this field and I am imagining that due to Arizona's location they set up an early form of one of these museums close to where the research centers were and at a college where it professors and researchers were close by in order to study the finds.


I have to say I find it to be incredibly interesting that the Arizona State Museum was founded in 1893, which happened to be a full 19 years before they became recognized as a state.

I have to wonder if this state had quite a bit of pride in its history, as it was one of the first places explored in America?

This could be the case, but to be honest I have to wonder exactly what they had back then to look at and house in the museum besides things related to the Native Americans.

To my knowledge the Indian Wars were still going on during this time and there was not a whole lot of white history in the state of Arizona besides the Spanish, so this makes me wonder exactly what there was offered in the museum during its early days.

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