History of the museum

The MCAH is the successor to the Musée des Antiquités (Museum of Antiquities), which was founded in 1852 and installed at the Académie de Lausanne (Academy of Lausanne), which became the Musée archéologique (Archaeological Museum) (1877) and then the Musée historique (History Museum) (1908). It carries out the conservation of very varied collections, which are a reflection of developments in museum practices over more than 150 years.   

After hesitating about its name for a long time, the MCAH became the Musée cantonal d'archéologie et d'histoire (Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History) in 1955. The designation is unusual. According to tradition, museums are "art museums", sometimes "art and history museums" or "archaeology museums", but rarely "archaeology and history museums". At the MCAH, this distinction is not based on the nature of the collections, nor on the chronology, but about how they entered the museum: objects from archaeological excavations from all periods on one hand and transmission of objects by donations, bequests and acquisitions for the history department.

Archaeology is by far the largest method of acquisition, with an average of 2,000 to 3,000 new inventory numbers every year. Since 1912, when the Swiss Civil Code came into force, products of excavations have been recognized as the exclusive property of cantons. The archaeological collections, from prehistory to today, have increased exponentially since major motorway building works started in the 1960s. The development of preventive archaeology, following the creation of a cantonal archaeology service in 1973, regularly enriches the reserves of the Museum with much material evidence that is collected during excavations.

The history collections, which mostly consist of heritage objects that belong to the Canton of Vaud and that are recorded in the inventory of the MCAH for safekeeping, make up a large collection, with prestigious provenances, such as the Château de Chillon, the Château de Saint-Mayor and Lausanne Cathedral. They are permanently visible on these sites.

In 2019, the collections of coins and medals of the State of Vaud entered the MCAH, after being managed by the Cabinet des médailles (Medal Cabinet), which was created in the 19th century and later renamed the Musée monétaire cantonal in 2003 (Cantonal Monetary Museum). These collections, which are among the largest in Switzerland, are enriched by the statutory deposition of monetary finds on the cantonal territory, together with donations and purchases. Approximately 1,400 coins and medals and 600 printed items enrich the collection every year.