Hidden treasures at the American Museum Of Natural History

Some of the most valuable and historically significant pieces are hidden out of view in the American Museum of Natural History’s permanent collection, which can only ever display a fraction of its vast archive. Document gets an exclusive look at some of the curators’ most coveted items.

Who doesn’t remember the first time stepping past a museum’s doors as a child—the overwhelming awe of things to see and things to explore. A museum is a treasure trove of hidden gems. And the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest, dedicated to the natural world’s and humanity’s past, present, and future. Founded in 1896, the museum now holds over 33 million specimens and artifacts in its 45 permanent exhibition halls as well as in its archives. More than just a museum, the institution is a scientific research facility with 200 active researchers, as well as a teaching facility where masters and Ph.D. students conduct their research under the supervision of the museum’s curators.

The museum’s anthropology division is split between archaeology, ethnology, and biological anthropology, and has amassed over 535,700 specimens alone—and they are continuously collecting. But only 2.8 percent of the objects are ever on display in the museum’s eight anthropology halls at any one time. The rest of the objects are held in climate-controlled storage cases, only to be brought out for special occasions and exhibitions. In an exclusive portfolio for Document, the museum’s anthropology curators have selected some of their favorite— and historically significant pieces—not on view to the public.

This portfolio first appeared in Document’s Spring/Summer 2015 issue.