Collections from Asia cover a large geographic and cultural area, including the five subregions of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia. More than half of the collections from Asia come from archaeological excavations conducted in the early-to-mid 20th century in the Middle East and Indochina. Large ethnographic collections came to the museum in the late 19th century from China, as well as from Japan when it opened up to foreigners after the Edo period. Later 20th century journeys, photographic expeditions, and acquisitions contribute to significant collections from the Philippines, Siberia, Iran and Iraq, Tibet, and large areas of northern India (Kashmir, Punjab, Assam).
Collections from the region commonly referred to as the Middle East are represented in both the continents of Asia and Africa. Other collections from the Middle Eastern region can also be found at the neighboring Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East.Openwork gilt metal ornamental pin with blue feather inlay, late 19th century Beijing, Gift of Sarah Buchan Jewell, 991-12-60/14981
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Highlights from the Asian Collections
A wide range of archaeological material from Bronze Age sites in Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Indo-China region, collected by Swedish archaeologist Olov Janse during the 1930s Harvard-Yenching Institute ExpeditionCeramic bowls, likely Han-style from Vietnam. On loan from the Harvard‐Yenching Institute, 41-63-60/7997.
Oracle bone fragments used in divination ceremonies in ancient China during the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE)Fragments of "oracle bones" (bone and turtle shell fragments incised with Chinese characters) used in diviniation ceremonies over three thousand years ago in ancient China. Gift of Langdon Warner, 15-44-60/D836.
Paleoanthropological collections, including fossil casts from the Miocene and Pleistocene, as well as archaeological materials and early Homo sapiens and Neandertals skeletal remains from the caves of Mount Carmel in IsraelEarly Iron Age partial ceramic vessel excavated from Ain Shems (Beth Shemesh), circa 1225 BCE-1000 BCE. Gift of the Department of Biblical LIterature, Haverford College, 48-9-60/9323
Extensive Chinese ethnographic collections from a variety of time periods, including those from Canton during the early 19th century China Trade, and women’s belongings from the time of the Boxer Rebellion collected by Sarah Pike CongerEmbroidered silk shoe for women with bound feet, China mid 19th century. Gift of the Boston Athenaeum, 67-9-60/109.
Artifacts from several significant archaeological sites in the Middle East, including the site Tepe Yahya in Iran that was occupied between 6000 BCE through the tenth century, the Upper Paleolithic site of Ksar Akil in Lebanon, and the fourteenth-century site of Nuzi in IraqWest Turkestani Bronze Age style ceramic pedestal bowl excavated from Tepe Hissar in northeastern Iran. Gift of The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 41-1-60/7095
Notable photographic collections including over 2,000 photographs by Frederick Wulsin, as well as those of Marsh Arabs in Iraq and Iran in the 1930s by Henry Field and nineteenth-century Japanese prints by the pioneering photographer Baron Raimond von StillfriedPhotograph of physical anthropologist Dr. Henry Field observing a Shammar Jarbah man as part of his fieldwork comparing physical characteristics of tribes in the upper and lower Tigris-Euphrates region of Iraq. Gift of Henry Field, 53-26-60/15921.224. © The Field Museum of Natural History
Large and diverse collections from Japan, including samurai armor, early Ainu ethnographic materials from a variety of collectors, and collections by Edward S. Morse, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Japanese archaeology”Carved wooden mask from Japan used in Noh dance-drama performances, circa 1780. Museum purchase, 80-21-60/22427.1
Archival papers and photographs from Harvard anthropologists in the 1920s, including Eugene Worman’s work in India and Frederick Wulsin’s expeditions to China and MongoliaPhotograph by Frederick R. Wulsin of the East Gate of Wang Yeh Fu, possibly at the state of Alashan in Inner Mongolia, China, taken 1923-24. Gift of Frederick R. Wulsin, 56-55-60/15435.1
Extensive Siberian collections, including over 800 ethnographic materials purchased from Dresden Museum fur Tierkunde und Volkerkunde in the 1920s and more than 400 photographs of students taken at the Anthropological Laboratory Institute of the Peoples of the North in LeningradPair of women's hide and fur boots from Siberia. Gift of Lewis Farlow, 18-4-60/D1084
Hundreds of ethnographic materials and photographs from collected by Harvard anthropologist Roland B. Dixon during an expedition across Asia from Tibet through India, Assam, Burma to Malaysia and Indonesia in 1913Silver lined, wooden tea bowl from the Kashmir, region of India. Peabody Museum Expedition, 1912-1913, 13-24-60/84686
Extensive collection (over 8,000 ethnographic and photographic materials) from the Philippines, primarily acquired between 1900 and 1930 by anthropologists, colonial administrators, and other collectors such as Henry Otley Beyer, John M. Garvan, William Cameron Forbes, Lewis H. Farlow, and Olov JanseKinahu, animal-shaped carved wooden food or spice bowl from Ifugao, Philippines. Museum Purchase, Huntington Frothingham Wolcott Fund, 08-36-70/74014
Large collections from Indonesia, notably from Java including more than 150 Javanese shadow puppets collected in 1910, as well as archaeological material and casts of early hominid fossils from paleontologist G. H. R. von KoenigswaldWayang Kulit (Indonesian shadow puppet) of the figure Garuda, a bird-like creature used as vehicle for the Hindu god Vishnu. Gift of Charles Pickering Bowditch, 11-49-70/83325