The Laboratory of Anthropology began in 1949 under the direction of Alfred W. Bowers. In 1967, the lab was designated by the regents of the university as an official research organization in the College of Letters and Science. It was not until 1981, when the lab became an independent unit within the university.
Much like the lab today, the primary functions were research, to support the teaching of anthropology, and provide services to citizens, industry, and government.
The original lab was located in Phinney Hall on the university campus. The campus lab consisted of work and storage rooms distributed over five floors. Today, the anthropology lab is located on-campus in the Industrial Arts Building at 404 Sweet Avenue.