The Collections at IAIS are divided into two categories, Ethnographic and Archaeological. Both categories of the collection are used for exhibition, research and study. When not on display or being used for scholarly purposes, our collections are housed in a climate- and temperature-controlled vault to preserve them in perpetuity. All collections must be approved by our collections committee before they are accepted into the care of the IAIS.
The Ethnographic Collection of the Institute for American Indian Studies contains over 6,000 cultural items. The collections represent indigenous communities throughout the Western Hemisphere. Ethnographic items generally date to the near (Post-European contact) past. The objects were collected, purchased, bartered from or gifted by indigenous owners to others, and often passed down as heirlooms by indigenous and non-indigenous families. These objects represent the diverse history and continued presence of Native American societies, many of whom still dwell on the homelands of their ancestors and maintain their cultural traditions today.
The Archaeological collection of the Institute for American Indian Studies features over 300,000 artifacts representing over 1,300 New England Native American archaeological sites. Archaeological items are mostly from below-ground archaeological sites. Some however were disturbed from their original location and brought to the surface either by natural causes or human activity. The vast majority of these are nonperishable items such as stone tools and clay pottery fragments. Most of the perishable materials used in the past are rarely found due to the acidic soils and temperate climate of the Northeast. The archaeological collections in the care of the IAIS span over 12,000 years of indigenous history, including objects from the oldest known site in Connecticut: the Templeton site (6LF21) in Washington. The IAIS holds overall the largest collection of artifacts from Western Connecticut anywhere in the state. This collection spans from the earliest known occupation to the colonial and federalist periods of Euro-American history and hold enormous historical significance. The majority of the sites where these artifacts were retrieved have been destroyed by urban development, river erosion, sea level rise or other factors. The only remains of the culture and activities from these sites are the items in our collection.
The archaeological collections have been collected through professional archaeological excavation conducted by IAIS staff and archaeological club members from 1970 through today, as well as donations and acquisitions form avocational archaeologists. The roots of the founding of the Institute for American Indian Studies in the American Indian Archaeological Institute was the use of archaeology to educate the public about the inhabitants of the Connecticut thousands of years ago. Today we continue this tradition to bring understanding and knowledge of the important history of Connecticut through our archaeological study and collections.