Museum History

The Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology at Wayne State University has been a training ground for students and area residents interested in local history and archaeology for generations. Founded in 1958 by Dr. Arnold Pilling, the museum has long been a center for local archaeological research. In 2010, the Museum was re-named the Grosscup Museum of Anthropology in honor of its first Curator of Archaeology, Professor Emeritus Dr. Gordon L. Grosscup. From 1995 to 2016, Dr. Tamara L. Bray was the museum's director, in addition to being Professor of Anthropology. In August 2017 a new position of Director of the Museum of Anthropology & Planetarium was created, and Dr. Megan McCullen took on this role. In August 2022, Dr. Andrew Maske was hired as the Director of the Museum of Anthropology, with Dr. Megan McCullen as Associate Director of the Museum of Anthropology and Director of the Planetarium.

Over the years the Museum of Anthropology has been housed in a variety of campus locations. In 1997, the Museum moved to its current location on the first floor of the Old Main building. Old Main, constructed in 1896, is the oldest academic building on the Wayne State campus. It underwent complete renovation in the mid-1990s and was reopened to the public on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.


Museum Resources

A table in the Museum lab with various ceramic items out

The Museum's collections consist of over half a million archaeological, ethnographic, and contemporary objects. The majority of the Museum's holding pertain to North America, with an emphasis on Michigan, though materials from around the world are housed in the collections. 

Following the establishment of a State Archaeologist's Office, archaeologists across Michigan worked to document the breadth of sites in their regions of the state, to create a set of centralized files to assist other archaeologists in their research.  Dr. Pilling focused his work on the tri-county area around Detroit, leading to a collection of site files and sample collections from across the region which are housed here at the museum.  As construction in Detroit boomed in the 1960s Pilling and his students were involved in documenting and excavating sites downtown.  Additionally, as local avocational archaeologists sought out homes for their regional collections, many of them chose to deposit some of their materials here at Wayne State. 

The Museum's largest collections emphasize local historical and archaeological materials of the greater Detroit region. The majority of these collections have been gathered through archaeological investigation and WSU student field schools over the past 60 years. 

Pilling and Grosscup also recognized the value of having an extensive comparative collection.  With a focus on interpreting artifacts from historical archaeological contexts, the two acquired an extensive collection of ceramics, glass and other objects from vintage stores and estate sales.  Likewise an extensive collection of Detroit brick is also housed in the museum.

Ethnographic collections at the museum are smaller in nature, and more eclectic.  Students, faculty and community members have donated objects they acquired from family or during travels for research or leisure.  These run the gamut from traditional clothing to musical instruments and tourist art.  

Using collections, students learn about standard museum cataloging and proper curation practices. Collections are also available for anthropological research and analysis. There are significant research opportunities available to students interested in working with the museum's collections.


Museum Lab

Students working in the labThe Museum Lab is outfitted with binocular and polarizing microscopes, thin-sectioning equipment and a kiln for ceramic analyses. We also have equipment for 3D scanning and 3D printing, a large-format printer, and a headset and software for developing virtual exhibits. Photography and exhibit construction tools are also available. The lab has an extensive library and comparative material culture collection that students can use for artifact identification.  Our computers have ArcGIS and Past Perfect 5.0 in addition to word processing software. 


Field equipment for archaeological field work, including Munsell charts, screens, shovels and a Trimble receiver, are also housed in the museum. 


Volunteer Don is seen here working to create high contrast images of a printing plate.printing plate image taken with PATT that revealed written inscriptions.PATT (photo artifact turntable) is a device built here at WSU to generate PTMs (polynomial texture maps, HP Labs). PATT takes 40 photographs of an object with the light source coming from 40 different positions to create very high contrast images of details that may otherwise be obscured. 


Left image: printing plate image taken with PATT that revealed written inscriptions.




The diffused-light photography box in the museum's lab

 Diffused-light photography box used to reduce glare when photographing artifacts.








Student standing next to kiln

Kiln used for experimentation on clay types and firing techniques.  








 Thin Sectioning SawThin-sectioning Saw used for taking thin and precise sections of ceramics and clays for compositional analysis using a microscope.







ArcGIS map being created on one of our lab computers

 ArcGIS (Geographic Information Systems) is available on our lab computers. Creation and analysis of spatial data is done using this program.  







 Stereomicroscope used for analysis of archaeological materials.








3-D printer

 Printrbot 3D Printer and NextEngine 3D Scanner used for scanning and printing diagnostic artifacts for analysis, teaching, and comparative research. 

human femur in 1/4th scale made with the 3-D printer




Pictured right is a human femur in 1/4th scale. 





 Anthropology Library

students working in the Anthropology Library

      The anthropology library
The Anthropology library has a substantial four-field collection of books, in addition to books on Michigan history. We also house a variety of various local and trade journals.  For those needing to relax, we also have an extensive collection of anthropologically themed fiction in the director's office.  All of these materials are available to check out with the assistance of a museum staff member.






Manuscript Archives

The museum's archives contain site files, field notes, photographs, maps and other primary documents associated with our archaeological collections and museum, along with early archaeology of southeastern Michigan. 

Aboriginal Research Club: The local archaeological organization in the early 20th century in Detroit was called the Aboriginal Research Club.  Many of the organization's papers, including correspondence, photographs, financials, meeting-attendance registers and copies of the club's newsletter, The Totem Pole, are housed in our Museum.  This collection has not been fully processed.  Additionally, some papers from several of the club's most active members, including Carl Holmquist, are housed in the museum archives.

  Typical Archaeological Site SurveyExcavation Photo in Archives    

  Typical Archaeological Site Survey          Excavation Photo in Archives                    Map of Detroit, 1968



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