Ethnography is the process of describing the richness and complexity of human life as it is lived in different ways and in different places. Ethnology, or cultural anthropology, is the comparative and analytical study of cultures – the customs, behavior and beliefs of living peoples. This study includes material culture – the variety of objects that people make and use in all aspects of life.
The centerpiece of the ethnographic collections is Chumash basketry. At the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, our studies and our collections focus mostly on the Chumash Indian culture of south central coastal California. The Museum holds 44 Chumash baskets (in addition to several more archaeological examples), the largest such collection in the world. These are all currently on public display.
The complete collections extend far beyond the local Santa Barbara region. Materials from indigenous cultures of California, the Great Basin, Southwest, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Great Plains and Arctic are housed in the Anthropology Department. Particular strengths include about a thousand baskets made by native peoples throughout western North America, many Northwest Coast wood carvings, Plains Indian regalia, and textiles of the Southwest, Mexico and Central America.
Above. Most of the ethnographic collections are housed in a climate-controlled archival facility. They are brought out for special exhibitions and are also available for study by appointment.