As they enter the massive brick building, visitors pass the Watercarrier, a curved bronze statue that lends a first glimpse at a staggering collection of ancient and modern Native American works. Established in 1893, the Arizona State Museum celebrates and records Southwest Indian cultural history with more than 3 million objects, including a collection electrified with more than 25,000 pieces of woven basketry, more than 300,000 catalogued archaeological artifacts, 500,000 photographic negatives and original prints, 90,000 volumes of rare titles, 6,000 maps, 1,500 feet of archival documents, and more than 1,000 sound recordings. The collection forays out onto the museum floor in exhibitions such as Ancient Architecture of the Southwest, where striking photographs frame some of the crumbling archaeological ruins of 1,000-year-old cliff dwellings set against a rugged desert landscape while tastefully photoshopping out the ancient satellite dishes. The Pottery Project spans 2,000 years of Native ceramics with more than 20,000 whole pieces and a lab for hands-on pottery testing. Using artifacts, life-size dioramas, and film, Paths of Life explores the history and contemporary lifeways of ten Native cultures, including those of the Yaqui, O’odham, Apache, Navajo, and Hopi.
Museum staff further engage visitors in events that range from talks with museum curators and Native artisans to learning expeditions, which invite guests to tag along with museum and university archaeologists to survey nearby sites, immersing them in the scientific dig experience nearly as effectively as watching Indiana Jones with your nose to the screen. Educational outreach for public-school and university students immerses them in camps and workshops. At the Native Goods museum store, visitors browse a stock of books alongside basketry, jewelry, carvings, and textiles crafted by artists from Yaqui, Hopi, and other nations.