The University of Aberdeen has its origins in King’s College (founded 1495) and Marischal College (founded in 1593). There is a record of a museum in King’s College in 1727, while by 1786 a room had been set aside as a museum in Marischal College.

Photo of Zoology Museum by George Washington MuseumFollowing the fusion of the two colleges in 1860 to form the University of Aberdeen, teaching in King’s College was dominated by arts and divinity while Marischal College housed the teaching of science and medicine. The museum of King’s College was thus re-founded to become the University’s Archaeological Museum, while that in Marischal College displayed natural history specimens.

Following the building of major extensions to Marischal College at the turn of the 20th century, an Anthropological Museum was established by Professor Robert Reid, drawing together the collections of the King’s College Archaeological Museum with material that had been displayed in Marischal College.

The Zoology Museum moved to a new building near King’s College in 1970, after which the Anthropological Museum was enlarged, becoming known as Marischal Museum. These displays of Marischal Museum were redeveloped by the first professional curator, Charles Hunt, including the 1984 Scottish Museum of the Year Award-winning 'About Human Beings: About Being Human', the 'Encyclopaedia of the North-East' and 'Collecting the World'. Marischal Museum was closed to the public in 2008 as part of the redevelopment of much of the building as the corporate headquarters of Aberdeen City Council, with King’s Museum being opened in 2011 in King’s College to host changing displays, with a particular focus on the Human Culture collections that had been on display in Marischal Museum.