Museum of Peoples and Cultures continues longtime BYU archaeology tradition

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The Museum of Peoples and Cultures originated from BYU’s Archaeology Museum, which opened its doors in the 1940s. It has continued to grow and improve over the years.  

Paul Stavast is the director of the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and an associate teaching professor in the department of anthropology. He said his fascination for ancient things is what brought him there.  

“So we do exhibitions, but they’re not our primary purpose. Our primary purpose is to aid faculty and student research,” Stavast said.  

The museum has millions of individual artifacts, Stavast said. BYU has been involved in archaeology since its very beginning. Some of the earliest students did excavations around Provo, recovered artifacts and put them in the museum back in the 1870s.  

“We have a longer legacy than most people would,” Stavast said.  

A potential disaster threatened that long legacy a few months ago. The humidifier in the textiles storage room malfunctioned, Stavast said.

“We only had a couple of items that had some minor damage to them … but if we hadn’t known and if we hadn’t had students who were trained in what to do with collections and familiar with them, it would have been almost a total loss for that entire room,” Stavast said.  

BYU grad student Emily Ankara works at the MPC. She said her job helps her increase empathy and gain perspective on how to learn about and appreciate other cultures. 

“Towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I realized that I was really interested in studying death and burials and just the way that different cultures think about death, the way that they work with it, how they treat the deceased and that kind of thing,” Ankara said. 

BYU art and technology major Janelle Maman works as the exhibit and graphic designer. The project timeline is usually intense, she said. She said she was on a study abroad while most of the research for the science symbols and scripts exhibit was happening.  

“I had to kind of learn how to I had to like, put this together in like a month, which was really intimidating, but I think it came together really well,” Maman said. 

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