MOA: NC’s Only Museum Dedicated to the Study of Global Cultures

Explore the first Thanksgiving and Christmas around the world at MOA.


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Image courtesy of Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University

During the month of November, children are taught about the Pilgrims, Wampanoag and their Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The lesson may leave youngsters wanting to know more about Native Americans — particularly those that lived nearby. At the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Winston-Salem, children have the opportunity to do just that.

Established in 1963, MOA at Wake Forest University “creates awareness of global cultures by collecting, protecting, managing, and exhibiting archaeological artifacts, ethnographic objects, and visual arts of past and present peoples, and providing opportunities for intercultural learning.”

The exhibit “How Do They Know?... The Science Of Archaeology In The Yadkin River Valley” should be the first stop in the museum for those interested in Native American history and culture. In this display, Native American artifacts from the Yadkin River Valley — objects such as pipes, pots, beads, projectile points and shell ornaments — are used to demonstrate the methods that archaeologists employ to answer questions about past civilizations.

“One of the more unique objects,” says Assistant Director Sara Cromwell, “is the Cherokee conch shell pendant that has an engraving of Uktena — a mythical snakelike creature — on it.” According to Cromwell, “the shell likely came from the Gulf of Mexico and the pendant was made for a shaman or warrior.” She says children especially like “seeing pots that archaeologists were able to put back together like a puzzle. They also have fun playing with the hands-on pot puzzle, too.”

When asked why it is important to teach children about the first “Carolineans,” Cromwell responds, “North Carolina has the highest American Indian population east of the Mississippi, so it is of vital importance that children learn about Native cultures — both past and present — and understand the impact they have had — and continue to have — on our state.”

In addition to Thanksgiving, boys and girls are likely thinking about Christmas and the toys they hope to receive, too. The exhibit “Childhood: Exploring Youth Culture Around The World” is a perfect compliment to the approaching holiday. The exhibit uses “five categories of objects — clothing, educational tools, dolls, games and toys — to show how the worlds of children vary.”

MOA at WFUThe toy exhibit is quite thought-provoking, as it demonstrates how children in other countries are often required to make their own playthings. A toy car that was made by a West African boy in 1998 is an exquisite example of a child using discarded items — like sandal soles for wheels —to create an object of fun.

“Children really like the toy car,” says Cromwell. “The display includes photographs of a boy building and playing with the car, which creates a connection for the children.”

In 2016, seventh-grade students from the Summit School in Winston-Salem used found items to create a soccer ball. Visitors will enjoy learning what materials the students utilized to make the ball and seeing what the end product looks like.

As children make their way through the exhibit, they will also see other fascinating objects, such as story knives that were used by children in Alaska to draw pictures in the mud or snow. They can also view an elaborate outfit from Mexico, playing cards from Japan, a lunchbox from Senegal, and an opera doll from China.

Cromwell is most intrigued by the Somalia writing boards — called lawh — that are on display in the education section of the exhibit. “They are used by students studying the Qu’ran,” she says, “to take notes and practice their Arabic calligraphy. Younger children trace the characters while older children use ink to write. Because the schools have such limited resources, the wooden boards can be washed and reused. Visitors can see the remains of several layers of ink on the boards in the exhibit.”

After viewing the exhibit and playing with items at the hands-on activity station, boys and girls may be inspired to create a few playthings of their own. They may also leave with a new awareness that children around the world are different, yet similar too.

MOA is located behind WFDD and next to Kentner Stadium on the Wake Forest University Campus. The museum features other exhibits in addition to those mentioned, so give yourself plenty of time to visit. For more information regarding hours of operation, exhibits, workshops or group tours, please visit moa.wfu.edu or call 336-758-5282. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

Tip: Be sure to pick up an “I Spy” or “MOA Times” scavenger hunt at the front desk or download one from the museum’s website. For more information about the scavenger hunts visit the For Parents page on the website. 


Jennifer Bean Bower is an award-winning writer and Tar Heel native. She lives in Winston-Salem with her husband Larry and their pet rabbit Isabelle. To learn more about Bower and her writing projects, please visit her website at JenniferBeanBower.com. Connect with her on Twitter @JenniferBBower.

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About this Blog

Triad Treasures


Jennifer Bower

About This Blog

Award-winning writer and Tar Heel native Jennifer Bean Bower explores family-friendly venues throughout the Triad. As an avid traveler, she is well versed in the plethora of hidden treasures that make family day trips memorable and unique. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Bower is the author of North Carolina Aviatrix Viola Gentry: The Flying Cashier; Animal Adventures in North Carolina; Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem; and Moravians in North Carolina. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with her husband Larry and their pet rabbit Isabelle. To learn more about Bower and her writing projects, please visit her website at www.jenniferbeanbower.com.

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