Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017

Joseph Beal Steere’s Around-the-World Expedition, 1870–1875

Portrait of Steere

Image: Joseph Beal Steere Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, record HS11831

Joseph Beal Steere was not as famous as Charles Darwin and other 19th-century naturalists, but his collecting expedition had important consequences for the University of Michigan. Steere set sail from New York in September 1870. He returned to Ann Arbor in October 1875, having traveled through Brazil, Peru, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the Molucca Islands, Singapore, Suez, Marseilles, and London. His mother’s cousin, Rice Aner Beal, owner of Ann Arbor’s weekly newspaper, sponsored the expedition. In return, the paper published 96 letters in which Steere vividly recounted his travels and travails.

Steere mainly collected biological specimens. He also collected archaeological artifacts and objects made and used by the peoples he encountered. The arrival in Ann Arbor of some 60,000 birds, mollusks, insects, fishes, and ferns, and more than 800 cultural objects, led the University to construct its first dedicated museum building, which opened in 1881. Today, Beal-Steere Expedition materials are divided among the Museum of Zoology, the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, the Herbarium, and the Stearns Musical Instrument Collection.

Selected Objects

Bodhisattva figurine
Cricket basket
Stirrup pot
Chimú-Inka effigy vessel
Applique ornaments
x Bodhisattva figurine
  • Guanyin (bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) figurine
  • Porcelain
  • 19th century AD
  • Xiamen, Fujian Province, China
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • Unknown (Steere field no. 4225)
x Spoon
  • Spoon
  • Wood with shell inlay
  • 19th century AD
  • Hapao, Ifugao, Philippines
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 8280
x Cricket basket
  • Cricket basket
  • Cane
  • 19th century AD
  • Taiwan
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 8603; 8604
x Basket
  • Basket woven around small bowl
  • Cane, stoneware
  • 19th century AD
  • Taiwan
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 8273
x Pot
  • Stirrup pot with monkey effigy
  • Earthenware
  • AD 1100–1470
  • Pacasmayo, Peru
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 6251
x Chimú-Inka effigy vessel
  • Chimú-Inka effigy vessel
  • Earthenware
  • AD 1470–1532
  • Pacasmayo, Peru
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 6303
x Appliqué ornaments
  • Adornos (ceramic appliqué ornaments)
  • Earthenware
  • AD 400–1350
  • Marajó Island, Lower Amazon, Brazil
  • Beal-Steere Collection
  • UMMAA 7442; 7448; 7440