The mission of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology is to increase knowledge and understanding of the human cultural experience across space and time. The museum serves this mission by collecting, maintaining, researching, and interpreting anthropological materials. The mission statement is based on recognition that material objects, as manifestations of the practical and symbolic lives of human groups, represent a tangible and irreplaceable source of information for the study of human behavior. The museum supports and complements the University's functions of education and research, and, in addition, provides educational opportunities to the public outside of the University community.
The Maxwell Museum was founded in 1932 as the Museum of Anthropology of the University of New Mexico, becoming the first public museum in Albuquerque. In 1972 it was renamed the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in honor of philanthropists Dorothy and Gilbert Maxwell, whose donation of funds made possible a major expansion of the museum that same year. In 1973 the Maxwell Museum was awarded its first accreditation from the American Association of Museums and was re-accredited in 1985, 1997 and 2007. With its associated research institutes — the Office of Contract Archeology and the Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies — the museum represents a comprehensive center for cultural studies and public education.