Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Bettina Arnold

Committee Members

Dawn Scher Thomae, Patricia Richards


Historic Museum Collections, Lake Dwelling, Robenhausen, Smithsonian, Thomas Wilson


This thesis investigates the role of early museum curators and their collecting practices in the construction and transmission of archaeological knowledge. During the late 19th century, artifacts from Swiss lake-dwelling sites, including Robenhausen, a Neolithic and early Bronze Age site located on Lake Pfäffikon in Switzerland, were sold and traded in a "lake-dwelling diaspora" to many collectors and museums in the US and UK (Arnold 2013:877). A collection of Robenhausen material acquired by the Smithsonian Institution's (SI) United States National Museum (USNM) in 1904 is used as a proxy for the collecting practices of the time and serves as a primary source of information regarding the material and social networks that were crucial to the development of archaeology as a discipline in the US (Leckie 2011:iii; Smithsonian Institution 2013).

Amassed in 1883 by former US Consul to Europe and Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology at the USNM Thomas Wilson (1832-1902), the collection was chosen for its well-documented excavation history, well-preserved organic materials and the perspective it provides on early museum collecting and curation practices (Arnold 2013:879). Robenhausen has also been recently reinvestigated more systematically than was possible in the late 19th and 20th centuries, adding to the research relevance of the material from this site in museums worldwide (Altorfer 2000; 2004).

The Wilson SI collection and associated archival material is compared to Robenhausen collections at other contemporary institutions, situating his collecting practices in the general 19th century context of such activity (Díaz-Andreu 2007:3; Gosden and Larson 2007:52-56). Additionally, this thesis contributes to the efforts of scholars currently engaged in virtually reuniting Swiss lake-dwelling collections, ensuring that they may be researched and exhibited in the future (Arnold 2013:888).