Archeological Collections

What is archeology?

Archeology is the study of the material past. It is a way of studying people, like anthropology (study of culture) and history (study of events). All three disciplines, and their sub-disciplines, are put to work in Yosemite to understand the story of humans in the park.

In Yosemite, the focus of research is ancient peoples, American Indians, and groups after the Mariposa Battalion entered the Yosemite Valley in 1851 (which include European-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and more). With over 1500 archeological sites identified in the last 100 years, Yosemite has a rich diversity of human stories told through artifacts left behind. At least 10,000 years of humans visited or lived in what is now Yosemite National Park. We know that thanks to archeological research. Just like today, past peoples left their mark.


What does an archeologist do?

Archeologists have several roles. In the field, they can be seen with their tools and equipment searching for artifacts. In the museum, they can be found examining objects and doing other research.


  • Survey. Archeologists are specially trained to recognize human impacts on a landscape. When they find a site they take coordinates and document the area for future research.

  • Monitor. Archeologists are often consulted during other projects in the park to make sure that archeological sites are not damaged or obscured. Working with local American Indian representatives, archeologists can evaluate an area and whether it will have adverse impacts on artifacts and cultural landscapes.

  • Excavate. Using a systemic technique, archeologists can find materials buried in layers of soil. Some archeological sites in Yosemite Valley are more than six feet deep!

  • Research. Like any other kind of scientist, archeologists form hypotheses and collect data to draw conclusions. For example, using x-ray technology to study obsidian flakes and map where the stones came from originally to recognize trade routes and other travel. Using a technique called obsidian hydration dating, archeologists can even discover how long ago a stone tool was made! Their work can be combined with the research of anthropologists and historians to create a portrait of the past.

  • Educate. Archeology isn’t just at a site, in a lab, or a museum. Yosemite’s archeologists work with park rangers and the public to teach about cultural resource stewardship.

  • Create Partnerships. Archeologists work with many different groups of people to excavate sites and make new discoveries. Descendants of Yosemite’s people can share oral histories of where people lived and the types of things they did, providing valuable clues of where to look next.

Every visitor can do their part to help protect Yosemite’s cultural resources.

To see the archeological collections at Yosemite National Park...

Visit the Indian Cultural Museum to see artifacts that are on display highlighting the work of Miwok people in Yosemite Valley. Other objects may be on display at other sites within the park or in other exhibits.

You can also contact the Yosemite Museum staff by email or by phone at 209-379-1314.

Last updated: August 11, 2017

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