20th century cotton Cuna mola panel

Americas

Contact details

AOA

Email: aoa@britishmuseum.org
Phone: +44 (0)20 7323 8041

Anthropology Library and Research Centre

Email: anthropologylibrary@britishmuseum.org
Phone: +44 (0)20 7323 8031

The British Museum cares for a comprehensive collection of material culture from the Americas.

There are about 90,000 contemporary, historical and archaeological objects that reflect the spectacular diversity of culture spanning more than 12,000 years.

These objects encapsulate the remarkable narratives of cultural achievement and human experience across two continents.

By working closely with communities, colleagues and governments in 35 countries, we continually work to improve our care for the collection and find innovative ways to collaboratively engage a diverse global audience with these important collections.

Americas objects are on permanent display in the Mexico Gallery (Room 27), North America Gallery (Room 26), the Wellcome Trust Gallery (Room 24), the Enlightenment gallery (Room 1) or through the Collection online system.

Further details can be found below on the collections, current research, ongoing collaborations and past exhibitions.

The Americas collections

The Americas collections

The vibrant cultures of the Americas have thrived across the diverse geographic and environmental landscapes of the region.

Societies have developed beautiful and complex material worlds that reflect the character and personality of these landscapes.

This material diversity provides challenges in terms of conservation, collections care and display with objects in the collection ranging from fragile 2,000-year-old archaeological textiles from Peru to 20-year-old sugar figurines from Mexico.

Underlying all ongoing work with the Americas collections is an ambition to collaborate closely with communities and stakeholders brought together by the collections.

Examples of recent projects that aim to achieve this can be found below.

Research on the collections

Research on the collections

Detailed research and improved documentation of the Americas collections are vital to the Museum's mission.

Recent research has shown how provenance research and digitisation can help improve public understanding of the collections.

Taking advantage of recent digital innovations is also helping to foster collaborations to further object research and documentation.

For example, a recent research project in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture has focused on a collection of glass plate photographs and plaster cast monuments of Ancient Maya sites collected by Alfred Maudslay in the 19th century.

Since many of the originals recorded have been lost or eroded over the past 150 years, these casts are an important and often unique record.

This project has 3D scanned, digitised and transformed these casts into publicly accessible 3D renderings for scholars worldwide and through augmented and virtual reality has curated ways in which people can see these photographs and plaster cast monuments contextualised within their original landscape.

Community partnerships and outreach

Community partnerships and outreach

The Americas Section is committed to working closely with indigenous communities across the region bringing visitors to work with the collections and reinterpret and re-examine the objects and the narratives they tell.

The Museum hopes to collaborate with communities to contest and reinterpret many of the collections, which represent difficult and complicated histories.

As an example of this work, The Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research is collaborating and supporting projects in Latin America that deal with archaeology, history, memory, political activism and emerging artists.

The Centre has recently worked with members of the Muira-Muina indigenous community in Colombia and an indigenous artist from the Puno region of Perú to aid in documenting and interpreting the collections from their perspective.

Throughout the Americas section, community partnerships and collaborations are a key part of the Museum's mission and its commitment to research, explore and reinterpret the collections.

Past exhibitions

Past exhibitions

The Museum is focused on providing public access to the collections through a variety of temporary exhibits and permanent gallery spaces.

Wherever possible, exhibitions are conceived, created and curated in close collaboration with communities and colleagues around the world.

A recent exhibition entitled Where the Thunderbird Lives explored the lessons for cultural resilience that people wanted to share from the Northwest Coast of North America – a place that has more than 10,000 years of cultural and linguistic continuity and an extraordinary record of artistic expression and material creation.

This exhibition allowed the objects in the collection to communicate their important narratives of strength and adaptation in the Northwest Coast of North America which are highly relevant in our global world today.