When the pandemic shut down public places, the team at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico decided if people couldn’t come to the museum, they’d take the museum to the people. Virtually. The latest edition to the online lineup of features on the Maxwell website is a video called Ancestors, which takes the viewer through the museum and its depiction of early human history, from the first human ancestor to stand on two feet through the first stone tools, to social development and the first art.

Amy Grochowski is the curator of education at the Maxwell Museum.

“I develop and implement educational programs for the museum. Mainly K-12 programs in the form of exhibition tours, traveling trunk programs, family days and a children's summer camp. I train and manage a team of docents who present our programs and I manage a large collection of teaching materials that include artifacts, models, posters, historical photographs and other resources.”

Grochowski and the Maxwell team produced this virtual tour in response to being closed due to the pandemic. Normally the museum would have hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to the exhibition space, many of whom are school children.

“Our exhibit provides an important supplement to their classroom curriculum. The virtual tour provides a ‘field trip’ to keep students engaged while learning at home,” she explained. “Notification of and links to this tour found on our website and YouTube channel were sent to teachers, principals, communications associates, and the like to each public school system in the state.”

In Ancestors, Maxwell Director and Professor of Anthropology Carla M. Sinopoli leads viewers through the Ancestors section of the museum highlighting the beginning of our human ancestry. She introduces the world’s famed Australopithecus Lucy and reveals how she got her name. (Answer at the end of the story.)

Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology Sherry Nelson explains the human skeleton and why humans walk upright and our nearest relatives, chimpanzees walk on all fours. She also explains how hands and tools evolved for power and precision grips, comparing and contrasting chimpanzee’s use of sticks to humans fashioning the first stone tools.

Alex Denning, senior collections manager of Osteology, shows how teeth, jaws, and skulls changed as the diversity of food changed and how the use of fire and stone tools affected eating. Professor of Anthropology Ian Wallace, researcher of human evolution, examines stone tools from their earliest form as they became more complex as the human brain and manual dexterity evolved.

Sinopoli wraps up the presentation looking at the creation of the first human art, social development, and how migration and climate change shaped early human history.

“Behind the scenes sneak peeks of the Maxwell Museum collections and UNM researchers' labs are featured in the film. But my favorite highlights include the footage of wild chimpanzees from the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda,” Grochowski said.

The video was made with the support of the Frank C. Hibben Charitable Trust, which was endowed by the late Dr. Frank C. Hibben, an archaeologist who was a professor of Anthropology and former director of the Maxwell Museum. These funds support graduate education in anthropology and consist of annual awards of varying amounts designed to help advance graduate education, research, and dissertation work.

The Maxwell has continued to work to serve faculty and students across the campus. The team has produced 3D images of skulls from the Osteology Donor Collection for professor of Anthropology Heather Edgar, and virtual content for classes in archaeology, fine arts, and art history.

The museum team has also hosted small groups of students for in-person engagement with collections in the Maxwell classroom in the Hibben Center. And the Maxwell Museum is benefiting from innovative class projects. Students in Maxwell Curator of Exhibitions Devorah Romanek’s Museum Studies Class Exhibition Development and Design are developing virtual exhibitions that feature subsets of the Museum’s collections, while students in doctoral student Beth Norwood’s History of Art I (ARTH 2110) class are writing object labels based on research on archaeological objects from around the world in the Maxwell collections.

Their research adds to the knowledge of the collections and will provide new virtual content for the website. Finally, while physical access to the collections is limited this semester, a small number of graduate students have continued to conduct research and complete internship requirements in the storage areas.

The Maxwell website also includes educational daily highlights, online exhibits, and The Maxwell newsletter.

And good news for holiday shoppers who are doing their shopping online this year. Gift ideas include books, handmade jewelry, pottery, rugs, and fetish carvings, as well as a number of other gift items for all ages, and memberships. There is a 20 percent off sale on many items through Dec. 20.


Lucy got her name from the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team's first day of work on the recovery site. Follow Lucy on the UNM campus on the Maxwell Museum Twitter account.