Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Archaeology at the Burke Museum

Archaeology is the study of how people lived in the past—from thousands of years ago to recent times—through the objects they left behind. 

The Archaeology Collection is part of the Burke Museum Heritage Department and includes over 1 million artifacts, soil samples, animal and plant remains, and their associated field records.

We care for objects from around the world, but our primary focus is the Pacific Northwest.



At a glance

Archaeology Collections


Million objects in the Archaeology Collection


Of collections owned by other public agencies and Tribes


Linear feet of field documents, maps, photos and media


Search the Collection

Many of the archaeology artifacts and records are available in the Burke Museum Collections Database. New data is added regularly, including non-diagnostic photos for inventory. In order to protect archaeological sites, no specific locations are available.

Archaeology Collection Database

Collection Highlights

The Archaeology Collection contains artifacts, soil samples, animal and plant remains, and their associated field records.

Wetsite artifacts, such as the basketry hat pictured below, are a unique cultural resource. Waterlogged areas, such as wetlands and riverbanks create an anaerobic environment that helps preserve organic objects made from plants, bone and leather. 

The ancient hat was excavated in 1976, along with the remnants of a fish weir and fiber netting. Though it is crushed and damaged, this unusual hat retains enough of its original shape to allow contemporary weavers, such as Karen Reid-Peters, to study and recreate its ancient style. The blackened color is from the polyethylene glycol used to preserve it after removal from the wet site.

Archaeological evidence shows that people have been living in the Seattle area for at least 13,000 years. The Burke Museum cares for several archaeological collections from Seattle and the wider Puget Sound area, which can provide information about early Native American life.

Burke archaeological collections also cover more recent history of non-Native settlement and the growth of Seattle after the 1850’s, as well as collections from Native American settlements such as the Sba'badil site, which help illustrate how Native Americans in the Seattle area lived alongside their new neighbors.

In addition, the Burke holds one of the largest collections of Japanese-American artifacts from archaeological excavations in the world, and these collections help us learn about the early history of Japanese-Americans in Washington, as well as the early lumber milling and coal mining communities in which these immigrants often lived and worked.

Many public agencies and tribes in the Pacific Northwest request that the Burke Museum care for collections from their properties to ensure long-term preservation and access.

Burke Museum Archaeology curates collections for a number of government agencies, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and many others. Some of these collections are stored at the Burke only temporarily while others have been deposited for long-term care. These collections are not owned by the Burke Museum. Research access may be restricted.

Learn more about Curation Services.

A small comparative faunal collection is being created for archaeologists with a focus on domesticated animals and small mammals to help supplement the extensive skeletal collections already available at the Burke Museum.

a man leans over as he pulls an artifact from a storage box

Curation Services

Preserving cultural resources at the
Burke Museum.

Learn More

gloved hands look through small bags filled with artifacts

Archaeology Scholarships

Spending time in the collections to better understand heritage.

Learn More

close up of a peruvian artifact


Returning the ancestors home.

Learn More

looking down into a pit where two women and a man kneel down digging
Photo: Courtesy Peter Lape/Burke Museum
Photo: Courtesy Peter Lape/Burke Museum

Our Research

Burke archaeology collections are used by researchers from around the world to answer questions about human history, lifeways and health, past ecosystems and climate, and to reconnect to traditional knowledge.

Recent projects in our workrooms include studying the materials and weaving patterns of ancient baskets, diet of Seattle’s immigrant communities, sea mammal hunting in the Kuril Islands, river canoe construction in the Green River valley, and histories of prohibition era alcohol consumption in Seattle.

  • Curator of Archaeology Dr. Peter Lape focuses primarily on understanding how people lived on small tropical islands in Island Southeast Asia. He studies pottery, food residues and marine sediments to answer questions about trade, diet history and past climates.
  • Archaeology Collections Manager Laura Phillips is interested in topics that pertain to alternative and collaborative methods for researching and curating archaeological materials in light of the wealth of community knowledge about object care and preservation.

University of Washington Courses

Students can also take classes in the Burke Museum Archaeology Collections, engaging in archaeology, museology, curation, interpretation and independent research.

UW Anthropology

UW Museology

Photo: Peter Lape/Burke Museum
Photo: Peter Lape/Burke Museum

Questions & Answers

We’ve compiled answers to some of the most common questions we receive. Have another question that you need help with? Contact us

The Burke Museum actively encourages research on all of its collections. Interested researchers should contact us to obtain information on available collections, the research process and to schedule an appointment to discuss an individual research plan.

Archaeology regularly offers scholarships to support students, cultural experts and other researchers Archaeology has some research equipment available to borrow. Learn more about Archaeology Collections Scholarships.

All researchers will be required to complete a Research Request Form (PDF) detailing their project and agree to all listed conditions of access. A one-page description of the proposed research must also be submitted along with the form. 


Requests for borrowing objects for museum exhibits are considered on a case-by-case basis. We cannot lend objects to individuals.

For more information, please refer to our Culture Collections Loan Policy (PDF) and contact us.

Our staff is able to answer questions and provide information on a time-available basis. For more details about identification and how to prepare to have something identified, see the Burke Museum Object Identification Request page.

We are actively growing both our object and archival collections. If you wish to make a donation, please contact us.

Yes, the Burke Museum works closely with tribes throughout the U.S., meeting the letter and spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation act (NAGPRA). The Burke also works with other communities and countries to repatriate ancestors and sensitive artifacts. Learn more about Burke Museum Repatriation.

Please review the information on the Copyright & Images page, which includes relevant forms and additional instructions then contact us to request an image.

We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers! Visit our Volunteer page for more information about Burke Museum volunteer opportunities and to view current openings.

Culture Team

Meet the people within the Burke Museum Culture team. 

Our Team

Have a question?

Contact Archaeology

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

Additional Resources

We've compiled several online resources from outside of the Burke Museum that may also be of interest.

Land Acknowledgement

The Burke Museum stands on the lands of the Coast Salish Peoples, whose ancestors have resided here since time immemorial. Many Indigenous peoples thrive in this place — alive and strong.

two women open a collection cabinet with artifacts inside it

Support Archaeology

Your gift makes it possible! We couldn't do what we do without generous donor support for collections care, research and public outreach. 

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum