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Turn of the Century: 1975–2016

In 1975, after 31 years of enlightened leadership, Jimmy Griffin retired as the director of the Museum. After Griffin’s retirement, it was decided that the directorship would rotate among the curators. Richard Ford was the first to follow Griffin: he served as director of the Museum from 1972 to 1983. 

Also in 1975, a newly created curatorship for North American archaeology was filled by John Speth, who remained in that position until his retirement in 2012.

In 1978, Dean Billy Frye created a curatorship in Latin American archaeology for Joyce Marcus

In 1983, John O’Shea succeeded Chris Peebles as curator for the Great Lakes. Carla Sinopoli succeeded Karl Hutterer as curator for the Asian collections in 1993. Robin A. Beck became assistant curator of North American archaeology in 2010. 

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) became federal law. The Museum hired its first NAGPRA staff member in 2009 and continues to work with tribes throughout the United States. See the Museum’s NAGPRA page.  

After Dr. Ford, other curators served short terms of three to six years as director of the Museum: Jeffrey Parsons, 1983 to 1986; John Speth, 1986 to 1989; Henry Wright, 1989 to 1992; John O’Shea, 1992 to 1997; Robert Whallon, 1997 to 2002; Richard Ford again, 2002 to 2005; Carla Sinopoli, 2005 to 2011; and Joyce Marcus, 2011 to 2016.

In 2013, Raven Garvey joined the Museum as assistant curator of circumpolar archaeology and Brian Stewart became assistant curator of African archaeology. 

The following year, the curators of the Museum of Anthropology voted to rename it the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.

The Museum was about to enter a period of great change.

First up was the inventory, packing, and moving of the Museum’s entire collection of three million artifacts.

The UMMAA collection managers, assisted by graduate students, began planning this move in 2015. For many years, artifacts had been stored in the Ruthven Museums Building and in other locations across campus, often in conditions that were crowded, disorganized, and exposed to varying temperature and humidity. The move would consolidate artifacts from similar regions and move them into storage conditions that were considered state of the art. 

To this purpose, a building south of the main campus, called the Research Museums Center (RMC), was renovated to house the four LSA research museums: UMMAA, Zoology, Paleontology, and the Herbarium. The UMMAA’s new space included climate-controlled storage with collapsible cabinets, new archives, a wet lab, dry storage, office space, a photography studio, and an open laboratory for  students and visiting researchers.

In 2016, after months of planning, that actual move of artifacts began. This move is chronicled in news posts on the Museum’s website and in the annual newsletters.

Several curators retired during this time and became emeriti: Carla Sinopoli, who now directs the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico; Richard Ford; Robert Whallon; John Speth; and Jeffrey Parsons, who passed away March 19, 2021.