Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Ph.D.

Curator of Anthropology

Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout is spokesperson for the people’s whose former belongings are on display at the museum.

“The real stars behind the objects museums display are the people who made them,” believes Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, who is passionate for modern humans to understand how those who came before us lived—what did they ate and how did they get it, what is the meaning of their name, what is their sense of community and how they do they explain the world around them. “The answers to questions like these provide fascinating insight into what it means to be human.”

To grow this understanding with museum visitors, Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout works with partners from various cultures from around the world to develop educational exhibitions that connect the past to the present.

Organized at the request of the government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia, told the more than 5 million years of Ethiopian history and prehistory and showcased the actual skeletal remains of an early hominid, known as Lucy.

Maya 2012 took advantage of the hype surrounding December 21, 2012, a day erroneously identified as the end of the world, to introduce Maya culture, both past and present. Partners in this exhibition included the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología of Guatemala and the Library of Congress.

Together with associate curator of Amazonia Adam Mekler he co-curated Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia, a traveling exhibition of the world’s finest Amazonian feather art.

Dr. Van Tuerenhout regularly serves as curator of traveling exhibitions that the museum hosts from across the globe such as The Dead Sea Scrolls (2004), Mummy: The Inside Story (2005), Imperial Rome (2007), Secrets of the Silk Road (2010), The Cave Paintings of Lascaux and Magna Carta (2014), La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas (2015) and Pompeii: The Exhibition (2020).

As curator of anthropology, Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout is charged with the care and interpretation of the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, which showcases the Museum’s permanent collection of artifacts from the indigenous cultures of North and South America.

Within the field of anthropology, Van Tuerenhout specializes in archaeology, the study of artifacts that provides insight to the connected individuals and culture. His fieldwork includes excavations of Late Roman ruins in his native Belgium, and Maya ruins in Belize and Guatemala. His book The Aztecs: New Perspectives was published in 2005.

Dr. Van Tuerenhout joined the museum staff as curator of anthropology in 1999. He earned a master’s degree in ancient history and another in art history and archaeology, both from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, as well as a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Tulane University. He speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, French and German.

Interested in careers in anthropology? Click here for a list of useful websites, types of careers in anthropology, and tips prepared by Dr. Van Tuerenhout.


John P. McGoven Hall of the Americas

Morian Hall of Paleontology


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