Human Hair Collections

The Field Museum cares for and stewards a collection of 111 human hair samples taken from Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, likely during the late 19th century. Museum records identify individuals from whom a hair sample was collected by their parental lineage or, if parental lineage is not clearly indicated, by tribal affiliation. No information regarding the individuals' name, sex, age, or geographic location has been found. Many tribes from across the United States and Canada are represented in this collection. Please refer to the Hair Collection Data page for a list of possibly affiliated tribes.

Through ongoing research, the Museum believes these hair samples were collected around the time of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (WCE). While collecting cultural items for the WCE, anthropologists also collected anthropometric data and hair samples from thousands of Indigenous people from the United States and Canada. WCE displays, particularly in the Anthropological Building, promoted ideas of cultural and racial hierarchy through "race science." These collections, which were acquired by the Museum, reflect explicit and implicit racist beliefs common to white society's perspectives of the time, particularly focused on documenting and preserving Indigenous communities who were expected to disappear.

The Field Museum apologizes to the individuals and communities at the focus of these studies for the collection, acquisition, and possession of these hair samples. We reject the beliefs that motivated the racist, colonial practices that disenfranchised and objectified Indigenous people. The Museum is committed to addressing harmful collection practices of the past and to establishing relationships and practices based on accountability, equity, inclusion, and respect.

Repatriating these hair samples is only one step in confronting the Museum's institutional history. We acknowledge the Museum's larger responsibility to return ancestors and cultural items under NAGPRA and the Museum's Repatriation Policy.