To learn more about some of the cultures represented at the Museum, click on a culture below.
Toggle ItemGreat Basin
The Great Basin cultural area is defined by the distribution of groups of people with similar languages and cultural features. This cultural area includes Utah and Nevada, as well as portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and California. Through the ages tribes such as the Fremonts, Anasazi, Southern Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute lived in this area. However, with the great expansion into the western frontier in the mid-1800s, the federal government attempted to relocate many Native Americans to reservations and assimilate them into Anglo culture and lifestyle. As a result, many aspects of Native American culture were lost.
Nevada Desert: The Western Shoshone lived in the west of the Great Basin, which is now known as Nevada. This area was very dry and hot and there was little rainfall or vegetation.Diverse Utah: The Paiute and Ute tribes lived in Utah. The land in Utah is very different. In the south, there is Red Rock deserts. In the north there are vast mountains and it can get very cold in the winter.Idaho: The southern part of Idaho was inhabited by the northern Shoshone tribe. Here there were marshes and rivers. Many tribes lived along the major river of the area, the Snake River.
Sacajawea is one of the most well-known Native Americans. She came from the Shoshone tribe and helped translate for Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the Mississippi Territory. Without her help Lewis and Clark would not have been able to communicate with the many tribes they encountered on their journey.
Chief Ouray was one of the Ute's greatest leaders. He lead the Ute's in the late 19th Century and worked tirelessly to create peace between his tribe and the American settlers.
Sarah Winnemucca was the first Native American woman to receive a copyright and publish in English. Her autobiography "Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims" is still an important book today.
Chief Washakie was a Shoshone chief who worked hard for peace with the white settlers. He helped his tribe obtain a large reservation at Wind River Wyoming.
Toggle ItemAmerican SouthwestThe American Southwest is a dry, arid region that covers present day Arizona and New Mexico, as well as regions of Utah, Colorado, Texas, California, and Mexico. Today, the area is home to some of the largest cities in the United States, but thousands of years ago, it was populated by ancient inhabitants who also lived in cities. Those peoples were the Anasazi, the Hohokam, the Mogollon, as well as other smaller groups. These inhabitants had vibrant cultures and a fascinating way of life. Their descendants live on as the Hopi, Tohono O’Odham, Zuni, and other Native American tribes still living in the area today.
Southwest Native American Tribes
Anasazi (an-ah-SAW-zee) - The Anasazi (also called the Ancestral Pueblo) lived in the Four Corners area, where they built Pueblo cities and cliff dwellings. While the first settlers of this area arrived in 1200 BC, the Anasazi culture developed around AD 100, and lasted until about AD 1300.
Hohokham (ho-ho-KHAM) - The Hohokam primarily lived in the Gila-Salt basin near present day Phoenix, Arizona. They occupied this region from AD 200 to about AD1400.
Mogollon (mug-ee-OWN) - The Mogollon people lived in the high mountains and cliffs of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, called the Mogollon Rim. They lived there from AD 150 to about AD 1300.
Living in the American Southwest
The Hohokam developed the skill of acid etching before Europeans did. They used acids from the saguaro cactus to etch designs in shells. They got seashells by trading with neighbors to the west. They used these shells to make beautiful jewelry. The Hohokam lived in large communities, each with communal areas. Some communities had ball courts where they played games that had community and religious importance. In the height of their culture, the Anasazi were a large and spread out people. Evidence shows that they traded with people as far south as Central America. The Anasazi gave them turquoise in exchange for items like copper bells and colorful macaws.
Where is Mesoamerica?
Meso-America is a region extending south and east from central Mexico including parts of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In pre-Columbian times it was inhabited by diverse civilizations, including the Mayan and the Olmec.
Ground Yellow Corn
This corn was ground with a mano and metate. One danger of corn ground this way was that flecks of the stone would be ground off and mixed in with the corn. Continuous consumption of this product slowly ground away the teeth of the people who ate it and contributed to various dental problems. Creation stories from Mesoamerica say that the ingredients for human bodies included both yellow and white corn, along with the cacao bean and water. The fox, coyote, parrot and crow brought the corn from The Bitter Water Place and combined it with the other ingredients. The corn was used because of the sweet taste and the thickness of it. People first began to grow corn in Mexico between 7,500 and 12,000 years ago.
This rattle is made from a gourd, a type of squash. Squash was domesticated by Mesoamerican peoples by 5000BC. Other cultures obtained squash from Mesoamerica through trade. It could have been roasted or boiled, and the seeds toasted, fried, or used for oil. When it is dried, its seeds become hard and sound like a rattle when shaken. In big ceremonies or rituals, numerous people from the community would play instruments such as rattles, trumpets, and drums while the other members danced. Many painted murals that have been found depict these processions of musicians playing their instruments at the various events.
In Mesoamerican families, weaving a blanket would involve the whole household. Cotton was only exclusively used by elites and so the rest of the village would use fibers from the agave plants or other flora to weave their blankets. The fibers are spun into threads and dyed to be weaved into a blanket or weaved into cloth to make clothing out of.
Uses: Cloaks, dresses, saddle blankets, shoulder robes or rugs.
The Polynesian Triangle
The Polynesian Triangle is a region of the Pacific Ocean anchored by three island groups: Hawaii, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and New Zealand. The seven main cultures found within the Polynesian Triangle are: Hawaiian, Samoan, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fijian, Tahitian, Tongan, and Marquesas.
Interesting Facts About Polynesian Cultures
Poi is made from the plant stem of the kalo (know commonly as taro plant. The flesh of the plant is a naturally rich purple color. Poi is made by mashing the cooked plant stem until it becomes a thick fluid. Water is added during mashing, and again before eating.
Fire Knife Dance
The Fire Knife was originally composed of a machete wrapped in towels on both ends with a portion of the blade exposed in the middle. Tribal performers of fire knife dancing (or Siva Afi as it is called in Samoa) dance while twirling the knife and doing other acrobatic stunts. The towels are set afire during the dances thus explaining the name. Traditional competitions were hotly contested. Their exhibitionists would almost rather die than seek medical care for injuries incurred while performing. Today, modern competitions are held annually at the Polynesian Cultural Center to name the World Fireknife Dance Champion.
Stories in Skin
Men had extensive tattoos covering their cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead. The tattoos were a sign of status and receiving them was a painful process using a serrated chisel (uhi) and a mallet to cut designs into the flesh which were then filled with soot to give them color.
Battling the High Seas
Canoe building was an art practiced by the men. Canoes were not only a major asset in communication, but were important in all aspects of Fijian society. Canoes were used for gathering food and transporting crops, presentation ceremonies, political uses and instruments of war. Sea battles involving hundreds of canoes were frequent.
Nice to Meet You
It is impolite not to shake hands with every person in a small gathering (fewer than 30 people); however, it is impolite to attempt to shake everyone's hand once a meeting has already started.
If you were to visit a Tongan family in a rural area, you would probably go to a home made of cocounut leaves and timber called fale.
If a Marquesan man could afford the pain and expense, he would be continually tattooing all his life. Women were tattooed with regular-sized tattoos on their arms, legs, and shoulders and tattooed with smaller motifs behind their ears and with vertical lines on their lips.
The daily life of an ancient Egyptian was full of family, food, ritual, work, and play. Archaeological finds and hieroglyphic writings teach us a lot about ancient Egyptians bathing, hygiene, and make-up. We also know that, just like today, the ancient Egyptians loved to play games and spent a good amount of time with their families. Ancient Egyptians valued their families very much. Parents regarded their children as blessings and treasured them. While mothers traditionally raised the children, many wealthy Egyptian families had slaves to help and tutor their children. If a couple had no children, they would pray to the gods to send them children, but adoption was also practiced. Women were highly respected in ancient Egyptian society, with a number of women becoming pharaohs during Egyptian history. Marriages were arranged by parents of the children although some young people chose their own spouse. Peasant girls usually married around the age twelve, and the boys a few years later. Girls of more affluent families married at older ages. While ordinary men normally had one wife, kings generally had several, as well as many concubines.
Language and Writing
The people of ancient Egypt spoke Egyptian, and written records of the language date back to 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known. Writing was of great importance to the ancient Egyptians, and the written records they left behind spell out many details about their culture and society. Writing on the walls of tombs helped the deceased get to the afterlife. Letters and messages between military leaders document the history of battles and wars. Inventories of farmers’ crops and herds record not only their possessions, but the taxes assessed on them as well. Inscriptions on the walls of temples pay homage to gods and goddesses and record instructions for rituals. The Egyptians invented scripts that could be used to record this information. While several different scripts were used over the three-thousand years of ancient Egyptian civilizations, the most famous is hieroglyphic writing.
Toggle ItemOuelessebougou (Mali, West Africa)
Common work in Ouelessebougou includes: farming, raising animals, butchering and selling meat, making soap to sell, hair braiding or henna dying, sewing clothes to sell, and dying fabrics, along with many other modern jobs.
Everyone in Ouelessebougou works to help his or her family. Families and villages will work together to build a house -- first making mud bricks that dry in the sun and then stacking them using mud motar. Girls will often help their mothers with pounding the millet and cooking. All of the water for cooking and cleaning must be drawn from a well and no cooking can be done without firewood. Most villagers cannot afford to buy coal, so many collect or buy firewood and bushes a few miles from their home. Children often help with the chores of collecting water and firewood; they learn to carry these things on their heads at a very young age. Because water is heavy, adults (usually mothers) will often carry the drinking water to their homes. Children will also help by watching their younger brothers and sisters. Young girls help with the cooking and cleaning.
Toggle ItemAncient Greece and Rome
The Mediterranean Sea, a vast body of water, is surrounded by 21 different countries, contains 166 islands, and is home to many different cultures. In Ancient times, two of those cultures were more prominent than the others: Greece and Rome. By using the rich resources of the Mediterranean Sea in all elements of their lives, the Greeks and the Romans were able to create intricate and advanced cultures, elements of which can still be seen in the laws, arts, and cultures of many people today.
The Moche people lived in Northern Peru from 100 to 800 AD. They are named after their capital city, Moche, the center of political and ceremonial events. The civilization had no official government, but they were united by a shared culture. No one knows the cause of their disappearance; theories include earthquake, drought, flooding, or integration into the Incan culture.
The Nazca lived on the Southern coast of Peru from 100 BC to 600 AD. Their civilization was centered around a ceremonial site called Cahuaci. Cahuaci was made of man-made hills with buildings on top; these buildings were often temples, though many of the hills served as burial grounds as well.
The Inca established themselves in Cusco, Peru in the 12th century, and were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors in 1572. Their empire is the biggest in pre-Columbian America and covered much of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. For the most part, the Inca rulers were peaceful in the expansion of the empire. The king convinced regions to join their empire through promises of wealth and power.
To learn more about the Cultures listed above, check out one of our Culture Cases for hands on learning. Culture Cases make great educational resources for the classroom or for presentations. Each case includes artifacts, replicas, books, and a guidebook of background information and suggested activities. For more information, check out the Culture Case tab to the left.