Treasures in the Collections
Have you ever wondered where you can see and research things used by both prehistoric and historic peoples who have lived in southern New Mexico? One place to do so is the University Museum at New Mexico State University.
Since 1959 the University Museum has been quietly preserving prehistoric and historic collections from American Southwest and northern Mexico as well as some other parts of the world. They have archaeological (170,000 items), ethnographic (5,000 items) and historical (10,000 items) collections.
The Museum is a repository for archaeological materials surveyed and excavated by faculty, staff and students at the University. Some of this work was done at historical sites, although most involved prehistoric sites. Field records and reports associated with these sites also are archived at the Museum. Some work was on federal land and the museum curates this material for federal agencies according to federal standards
One of the most important federal collections is from dry caves excavated in the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces. It contains evidence of the earliest domesticated corn in the American Southwest as well as artifacts from the Archaic period of human occupation of New Mexico. Several collections document the lives of the Mimbres people living from AD 1000 to AD 1150 in the valleys of southwestern New Mexico. The Museum also cares for material excavated from early American military forts, from 1800s ranches, stores and homes, and from centuries-old camping places along the trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Whole ceramic vessels excavated and owned by the museum are in the visible storage area of the museum’s east wing.
Some interesting prehistoric pottery vessels and figurines from areas in Mexico and Central America have been donated to the museum over the years.
Ethnographic objects made in the 19th and 20th centuries form the smallest portion of the collection. Woven textiles of Native American and Hispanic origins, historic Pueblo ceramics and baskets made by western tribes, and Native-made southwestern jewelry compose most of these items. One significant item in the collections is a 1860s second-phase chief’s blanket. The pottery vessels made by Southwestern Peoples are in the visible storage area of the museum’s east wing.
Some weapons, work tools, clothing and household objects from Hispanic and Indian populations in Mexico have been donated to the museum. In addition, the museum has several hundred artifacts from Africa, Iran, Southeast Asian, China, northern South America and spain.
Historical objects make up the rest of the collections. Much of this material is enhanced by documents and photographs held in the Archives and Special Collections Department of the University Library. These documents and photographs were given to the University at the same time as the objects. There is a sizeable collection of household items from a prominent Las Cruces Hispanic family covering the late 1800s and early 1900s, along with whose letters and family papers in the Archives provide a fascinating look at early Las Cruces. Objects found in several buildings being torn down from Urban Renewal in Las Cruces also are in the collections.
A large collection of Spanish Colonial styled furniture made under the National Youth Administration program in the 1930s is a significant museum holding. Household furnishings, women’s clothing, men’s military uniforms, toys, work tools, business equipment and decorative arts represent other aspects of the nineteenth and twentieth century Hispanic and Anglo life in the Mesilla Valley and New Mexico.
Items of historical significance to the university and its programs also have been collected. We have bits of old buildings long gone from the campus. We care for old equipment once used in science and engineering laboratories. We have a significant collection of material once used in the home economics programs. Former students and faculty have donated memorabilia from their days on campus.
The museum’s collections give glimpses of prehistoric and historic life in southern New Mexico and at the University. No other museum locally, regionally or state-wide can provide the same view. The University Museum indeed is a treasure house for the University, the Las Cruces community and the State of New Mexico.