SAILING THE RED SEA: Ancient Egyptian Maritime Explorations

This exhibit features the Ancient Egyptian archaeological site of Mersa/Wadi Gawasis. The site was excavated over several years by an Italian based group from the University of Napoli Oriental Insititute and the posters were gifted to the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology by them in 2013. As you journey amongst the panels, read about Ancient Egyptian red sea traditions and explorations. While you explore the archaeological site, follow the tale of the shipwrecked sailor, a Middle Kingdom story that tells the adventure of a sailor's journey on the Red Sea to the land of Punt. The story of the shipwrecked sailor is one of a series of papyrus that was located at the Imperial Museum of St. Petersburg in the 1940s. The exact origins of the papyrus is unknown, although they do date to the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. 

If you can't make it to the museum, click here to explore the corresponding virtual exhibit.

Created by Elizabeth Peterson.

BEYOND THE MASK: The Fluidity of the West African Experience

Out of the dozens of masks that we house here at the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, these eight stood out to us in their ability to convey something essential about the human experience. And while they all come from the region of West Africa, the lessons that they offer apply to us all, as they embody third gender and anthropomorphic beings and stories in an organic and effortless way. The narratives of these masks offer a look into the fluidity of the human experience, as varied and multi-dimensional as that experience may be. We hope that you leave this exhibit understanding a bit more about human nature, and perhaps even with a broadened definition of what it truly is to be “normal. ”

Created by Jazmin Hundal and Melissa Rollit.


Mastering the Shadows exhibit explores the story of Ramayana and its portrayal using Wayang Shadow puppets. The Ramayana is a story about the battle between good and evil, and originated in India between 500 BCE to 100 BCE. Wayang Kulit is an important cultural tradition in Indonesia, and has been for many generations. The Wayang Kulit shadow puppets in our collection were made between 1870 and 1920, and were donated to the Museum by Dr. Ferdinand Chen and his family in 1996.

Created by Jaclyn McLeod and Janelle Berg



Models of canoes can offer a unique insight into the history and construction of canoes across the Pacific Northwest.  At times, model canoes are the only record of specific watercraft and the methods used in their construction. Canoes were an integral part of life for many Nations on the Pacific Northwest Coast, as they allowed people to take advantage of the rich marine resources available to them. Different canoe designs are found in various territories across the Northwest Coast. This exhibit displays the following designs: the dugout canoe, the northern canoe, the west coast canoe, the baidarka, the birch bark canoe, and the racing canoe.

Created by Jaclyn McLeod, Denee Renouf, Marie Gurr and Sandi McKinney



Possibly the first public showing of Homo naledi. This exhibit displays 3D prints of the reconstructed skull, hand and foot of Homo naledi donated by Dr. Marina Elliot (SFU Archaeology, Alumna & Post-Doc), along with a number of resources related to the discovery and research of the puzzling new finds from Rising Star Cave in South Africa. While we do not yet have dates for the H. naledi assemblage, through comparisons with anatomically modern humans and fossil hominins, you can guess at the evolutionary relationships between these species. Compare the H. naledi skull (centre) with Homo sapiens (left) and Australopithecus africanus (right). 

Created by Dr. Barabara Winter
Note the skull cast is a composite, with the mandible from a larger individual scaled down to fit the smaller cranium of a different individual.


A concern of all museums is conservation. This exhibit focuses on the results of the advanced conservation project by Debbie Castagner. Each of the 17 Bolivian dolls on exhibit were carefully examined and documented in order to determine what needed to be done to consolidate, and conserve these dolls. Can you see the fine netting Debbie placed over the decaying silk? Can you tell the difference between the reconstructed faces and hair and the originals? The results of many hours, focus and careful concentration in the best lighting possible, are now on display.

These dolls were collected between 1905 and 1913 in a Bolivian mining town high in the Andes, and illustrate clothing styles of the colonial period. Our special favourites are the matador and bull (see picture).

Created by Debbie Castagner


Glass can be a misunderstood aspect of historical archaeology. Often noted as junk (which, to be fair, at time of disposal it usually was), archaeologists can still utilize all types of glass such as bottle, jewelry, window, etc., to tell us more about the medicine, beverages, food, and glass-making methods of the past.  This particular exhibit focuses on a selection of historic glass bottles from the collections. They have been in use in Canada since the late 1800s into more modern times. Some may even look familiar to you! If you are interested, make sure to stop by and take a peek at this exhibit.

Created by Kristen McLaughlin


This exhibit displays the evolution of a uniquely human trait: high speed, accurate throwing. Starting 3.5 million years ago, this exhibit highlights the technological innovations our ancestors developed from simple sticks and stones into the wide range of specialized projectiles we see today. While humans were evolving biologically, we were also developing various technologies, like fire and clothing, that improved our ability to adapt to our environment. Among these technologies were ones that allowed us to propel heavy or sharp projectiles to hunt animals for food. In some cases these technologies were also used for warfare. These technologies typically started out as relatively simple forms, but over time new innovations made them more effective by improving their range, accuracy, and potential lethalness.

Created by Gabrielle Jackson and Dennis Sandgathe


For SFU's 50th anniversary in 2015, Tiinesha Begaye and Hilary Pennock created an exhibit of this magnificent Plains beaded costume.  It was purchased from an antique shop in Calgary in 1972 by Dr. Roy Carlson and has never been exhibited in the Museum gallery before.  Hilary and Tiinesha cleaned the costume, repaired the beading, modified a mannequin to conservation standards, mounted the costume on the mannequin and wrote the interpretive text for the large display.  A big project, well done!

Created by Tiinesha Begaye and Hilary Pennock



Teeth, tusks, bones—how do scientists reconstruct the lives and appearance of mammoths from the skeletons left behind in the ground? 'Mammoths of North America' displays real mammoth fossils from the Museum’s collection and explains how each piece of evidence recovered contributes to our knowledge of the individual and species as a whole. It also compares and contrasts the two species of mammoth that lived in North America, the Columbian and Woolly Mammoths. Finally, it looks at whether mammoths could and should be resurrected with modern technologies to walk the Earth once more.

Created by Christie Pollock


The Pacific Northwest region has some of the most studied First Nations cultures in the world. The diverse and rich cultures of this region have captivated both ethnographers and archaeologists since the beginning the disciplines. This exhibit showcases figural artifacts that were recovered from this region. Compare the art style of these ancient artifacts to the contemporary art in the large exhibit case near it (see 'Permanent Exhibits/Cultural Traditions'), or the masks on the south wall. We can see similar artistic traditions practiced over a 3,500 year span, attesting to the antiquity of the Northwest Coast art style.

Created by Duncan McLeod


Bentwood boxes and chests continue to be created by Northwest Coast artists, speaking to the cultural longevity of indigenous peoples of this area. These boxes are made by kerfing single plank of cedar by cutting 3 channels or notches at across the board, steaming and bending it at these channels, then using pegs to attach the ends together at the fourth corner. When the cedar is heated with steam, it becomes pliable. This method results in a water-tight container that can be used for many purposes. Finished boxes are often elaborately carved and painted.

Created by Dr. Barbara Winter



Originally created for use in reprisal raids, these shields represent the ancestors of the Asmat of Indonesia. Believed to be imbued with the spirit of the ancestor they are avenging, the spiritual protection of the shield is considered as important as the physical protection it offers. The symbolism on the shields represent military and virility motifs and  is considered an integral aspect of the shield's power. The shields are topped with an image of the ancestor the shield was created to represent.

Due to traditional headhunting practices being outlawed, the shields are now created as art pieces.

Created by Sarah Fox and Jennifer Halliday



From the earliest days of inscription to modern digital media, writing has allowed for communication across both time and cultures. Many of our insights of ancient cultures come from the texts they leave behind, in all their assorted forms. From religous texts, to medicinal prescriptions, and record keeping, every civilization had their own sytem of writing, and their own unique materials on which they recorded information. This exhibit showcases a collection of a variety of different texts from China, to Indonesia and the Middle East. Do you read one of these languages?  Can you see older language forms in the text?

Created by Duncan McLeod



These paintings were amongst the vast collection of art objects donated in 2007 by Moreno and Dagmar Gabay. While these bark cloth paintings are made in different regions, all highlight the use of natural pigments in designs reflecting landscape on a medium sourced from the local environment.