Into the World: A journey through the photographic collection of the SFU Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology

Into the World is an exhibit that gives a glimpse into the fascinating world of archaeology and ethnology through the extensive photographic collection of our museum. Photography has been part of the archaeological practice since the nineteenth century. Just like archaeological findings, photographs connect us to another time and can bear testimony to a past. Even though photographs must also be viewed and analyzed with a critical eye, they are part of the visual identity of archaeology. Organized by continent, Into the World consists of multiple exhibits that will be exhibited in the museum in the coming months.

Created by Sarah Maya Vercruysse

The Franklin Exploration

Welcome to The Franklin Exploration, a bilingual travelling pop-up exhibit on the archaeology of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.  Developed by Parks Canada and the ROM, it comes to us from the Vancouver Maritime Museum. At the SFU Museum, Burnaby campus, September 2019 to May 2020.

Aksum's Treasures: Reminders of an Ancient Civilization

The ancient town of Aksum, located in Ethiopia, houses hundreds of granite monoliths, several churches, and other monumental structures. This exhibit uses contemporary photographs to tell the stories of these treasures. It discusses when the monuments were created, what their function and meaning used to be, and the heritage value they have today.

Created by Jurian ter Horst

Revisiting Frederick Catherwood's Cities of the Maya

Frederick Catherwood, English architect, illustrator, and adventurer, accompanied John Lloyd Stephens across Central America to explore and document Maya ruins (1839-1840 and 1841-1842). In this exhibit we revisit some of his illustrations and compare them to images from our archives. Note the site changes over time from excavations, reconstruction, and tourism, and see the influence of Catherwood’s ideas and methodologies in modern archaeology.


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.


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



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



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.