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SMA Sistema Museale di Ateneo
Anthropology and Ethnology

Anthropology and Ethnology

The Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology possesses a very important scientific patrimony through which it is possible to trace the history of research methodologies adopted by anthropologists in the 19th and 20th centuries and to gain knowledge of native cultures. There is an important collection of human remains: mummies, hair specimens, plaster casts, anatomical preparations and skeletal series dating from prehistory to the present, a collection consulted by many Italian and foreign researchers investigating the evolution of the human species and the biological variation among individuals and populations.

The Museum conserves a photographic archive of ca. 26,000 original prints, including a large number of anthropological portraits and many photographs taken during expeditions as well as a series of images dedicated to the study of facial and emotional expressions. The Photographic Archive is flanked by the Documents Archive, containing documents related to the ethnographic collections, manuscripts, correspondence and various papers of Paolo Mantegazza (founder of the Museum) and those who succeeded him as director.

The most spectacular part of the collections is the more than 25,000 ethnographic artefacts deriving from exploratory journeys and scientific missions conducted in many regions of the planet in the late 18th – early 19th century. They consist of all kinds of objects: garments, clothing accessories, jewellery and ornaments, masks, architectural elements, boats, equestrian vestments, idols and amulets, offensive, defensive and hunting weapons, tools for farming, fishing and cooking, decorative items from houses, musical instruments, religious objects of different cults, books, paintings and manuscripts. The ethnographic objects are made from all the materials found in nature and worked by man: wood, bark, leaves and plant fibres both in their natural state and as components of fabrics and woven objects, fruits and seeds, bone, ivory, horn, shells, metals, stone, clay, natural dyes, skin, feathers and hair. The ethnographic collections also include palaeo-ethnological material such as stone, pottery and metallic items. The objects come from all the continents and belong to collections put together in different periods: the oldest are rare and precious relics from the Medici collections dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, including artefacts from Africa and the Americas; the valuable 18th century collection made by James Cook during his voyages in the Pacific includes testaments to the material culture of the peoples of Polynesia and the western coast of Canada; 19th century collections relate to the colonial period while the most recent collections result from research campaigns carried out in the desert of southern Jordan since 1980.

Particularly interesting are the collections assembled in Indonesia by Elio Modigliani, over 2000 objects documenting the culture of the peoples of Sumatra and neighbouring islands accompanied by photographs and journey logs. Also very important are the testaments to the Ainu culture of Hokkaido, Japan, provided to the Museum by the Florentine anthropologist and writer Fosco Maraini, the collection of Thai objects, theatrical costumes and fabrics donated by the painter Galileo Chini, the beautiful handicrafts of North American native peoples that came to the Museum thanks to donations and exchanges with renowned American museums such as the Smithsonian Institution. Prominent among the African ethnographic collections are those made by Carlo Piaggia among the Nilotic peoples of Sudan and by Ernesto Brissoni among the tribes of central Africa, as well as the large collection deriving from the “Eritrea Mission” conducted in 1905-1906, which yielded artefacts of the Amhara and Saho peoples. Because of the quantity and quality of the cultural materials that it conserves and makes available to the public, the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology of Florence is one of the most important of its kind in the world.

Head of the Anthropology and Ethnology Section: Monica Zavattaro

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