Looking for Objects

The Collections Database provides access to information on over 420,000 archaeology and ethnology catalog records, representing some 2 million individual objects documenting world cultures.

• Coverage • Data Sources and Quality • Search Tips • Use of Images and Information • More information • Following Up


Emu Collections Database The Collections Database includes 97% of the cataloged specimens that are currently in the Ethnology and Archaeology collections. New records are added as specimens are cataloged.

The online records include the fields of information most commonly requested by researchers, including digital images. Over 111,000 digital photographs of objects are currently available, with more added every week. Most ethnology records also include a scanned image of the corresponding catalog card, showing how the object was originally cataloged, and sometimes providing additional information.

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2008-2000.jpgThe catalog information displayed here was created over the course of 150 years. The data is drawn from many sources, including catalog cards, original accession papers, letters from donors, and staff attributions. Much of the data has not been recently reviewed by specialists to verify its accuracy. Terminology used in the database reflects the time when the materials were cataloged and may be out of date or offensive by contemporary standards.

Culture terms
, or ethnonyms, have generally been retained from the original catalog with some standardization in spelling, although they may include terms that are now obsolete or no longer preferred by members of a particular culture, tribe or ethnic group. Individual researchers should consider how the ethnonym usage of a given time correlates with terminology used today.
Object names and descriptions generally derive from the original time of cataloging. They often were based on information provided by the collector.
Index terms have been developed in recent years to facilitate computer searches by simplifying terminology and standardizing spelling. Such terms are based solely on the object name and do not provide more precise information or a typological classification.
Place names are usually derived from information given by the donor or collector. To facilitate database searching, most place names have been updated to reflect current terminology and political boundaries.



  • • Open and review one of the sample data sets to familiarize yourself with the type of information that appears in different fields.
  • • Some terminology in the catalog has not been standardized. Try your search with alternate spellings and older terminology.
  • • Ethnology records often have more complete culture information than locality information. When searching for materials from a certain place, you might find more records searching by the culture(s) associated with that place than you would by using geographic terms.
  • • Archaeology records often have more complete locality information than culture information. When searching for materials from a certain prehistoric culture, you might find more records searching by the geographic areas associated with that culture.

To speed up search time in this large database:

  • • Use the Detailed Search to search specific fields rather than searching across all fields with the Basic Search.
  • • Limit your search to the Ethnology or the Archaeology division if appropriate.
  • • Do not use more search terms than necessary; use the most specific term that defines your query. For example, if you put Pomo in culture, there is no need to fill out state, since all will be from California.

Search the Collections Database

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2005-2766.jpg Subsets of information and images in this database may be reproduced for non-commercial, educational and personal use only. Students, teachers, and individual users may download, print, photocopy, and distribute these materials for personal or classroom use without prior permission, provided that the files are not altered and the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice is included. Please acknowledge the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, as the source of these materials.

The reproduction of images or text from this database on a Web site or CD-ROM, or for any publication or commercial use, is strictly prohibited without prior written permission. Please refer to our Rights and Reproductions Guidelines for additional information.

Images in this database come from a variety of sources, and most are reference shots not suitable for high quality reproduction or publication. If there are photo negative numbers listed in the catalog record, this indicates that publishable quality images produced by the NMNH Imaging Office are available for ordering.

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ET17125_sm• Additional catalog data, such as accession histories and information about deaccessioned items, may be available in the main collections database. Submit a printout request to receive a downloaded copy of this data.
•Archival documents such as accession files, ledger books, and catalog cards and field notes may contain more information. Please consult our Guide to Collection Records for detailed information on what is available and how to access it.

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  • • Schedule an appointment to study the collections in person. Hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 9am to 5pm, excluding federal holidays. Availability is limited, so visitors are advised to request an appointment at least one month in advance.
  • • Individuals or groups who wish to inquire about repatriation or schedule a consultation visit should contact the Repatriation Office.

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National Museum of Natural History | Department of Anthropology | Collections and Archives Program