Visit the Chaco Culture Museum Collection Web Exhibit
The Chaco Museum Collection is primarily an archaeological research collection documenting the full range of prehistoric and historic occupation of Chaco Canyon, from ca. 2900 BC to the mid-1900s. The emphasis is on the Ancestral Pueblo occupation of the Canyon, ca. AD 1 - 1250, the cultural period the park was created to preserve. The museum collection is divided into two components: objects and archives. The collection contains over 1 million artifacts and nearly 900,000 archival records.
The Chaco Collection is one of 374 collections in the National Park Service museum system. By law, all cultural and natural collections from the park must remain the property of the federal government and be accessioned into the museum collection.
NPS museums collect objects specific to the mission of the individual parks and interpret those collections in their original context. The collections are site-specific, that is, they pertain to that particular NPS site. A strong association with place is a characteristic that continues to distinguish park museums and collections.
Another distinguishing characteristic of NPS museums is that they are part of a larger NPS museum system. The NPS museum system provides broad representation of the natural and cultural heritage of the United States. The scope of the system is wider than that of most public or private institutions. The NPS museum system is the largest such system in the world.
National Park Service museum collections are used in a variety of ways. In keeping with the Service's public trust responsibilities, most uses of collections are educational. The primary uses are:
The History of the Chaco Collection
Chaco Culture NHP has always been a remote and isolated park. Although it was created in 1907, the first superintendent was not appointed until 1923. Park facilities were limited, and so museum collections from excavations and donations were sent elsewhere for storage. The "Pueblo Bonito Expedition"; from 1921-1928 was directed by Neil Judd, curator at the National Museum of Natural History, a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution was designated as the repository for the collection, where it is still housed today.
Prior to 1970, most of the NPS artifact collections at the park were made during ruin stabilization and salvage archaeology projects. These collections were sent to the Southwest regional repository in Arizona. In 1970, the NPS initiated the Chaco Project, a multidisciplinary research program of survey and excavation from 1970-1985. During this time, park collections in the regional repository were transferred back to the park and housed at the Chaco Center on the University of New Mexico (UNM) campus while they were being studied.
For 36 years, the museum collection was housed in an assortment of facilities across the UNM campus. None of them were designed for museum storage, and all of them put the collections at risk of water, fire, and environmental degradation damage. In 2001, the park began planning a new facility that would bring the collection together in one building and meet professional stands for museum collection storage and preservation.
Chaco Museum Collection Today
For more information, consult the Access to Collections page.
If you are interested in obtaining electronic or physical copies of images in the Chaco Collection, please review the photo services information.
• Brenna Lissoway, Archivist (505) 346-2871 x 208
Last updated: August 28, 2020