The anthropology collection is divided into two sub-collections: archaeology and ethnology. Due to the cultural sensitivity of the material, access to this collection is highly restricted.
The archaeology collection consists of about 15,000 items. Most of the collection consists of objects made by Native Americans from New England and New York, although artifacts from throughout the United States and a several European paleolithic implements are also present.
In his youth, Edward Hitchcock Jr. (son of the Amherst College president and geology professor, Edward Hitchcock Sr.) began collecting local Native American artifacts. This collection later became the foundation of a small museum known as the Gilbert Museum of Indian Relics. After becoming a physician, he donated about 1,000 specimens to Amherst College, and four years later was hired by the College as Professor of Hygiene and Physical Education. The growth of the archaeological collection became a principal focus of "Doc" Hitchcock's attention.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous people made donations of objects or funds to purchase collections. Some of the larger lots include the David Sherwood Kellogg and Silas H. Paine collections, Baum Village site, Ohio material, middens material from the Mt. Desert Island region of Maine, and Shanidar (Neandertal) material from Iraq.
At one time, the ethnology collection was world-wide in scope because of the missionary aim of the College. Alumni working in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands sent back items throughout the 19th century. Today, the collection consists of only a few objects, primarily from the western United States and the Orinoco region of South America.