The museum's foundation in 1885 was initiated by the anthropologist Johannes Ranke, a nephew of Leopold von Ranke. The museum houses the Bavarian state collection of Prehistory, represented by mostly local exhibits of the Paleolithic, the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, the Urnfield culture, the Hallstatt culture, the era of the Celts, the Roman Empire, the Migration Period and the Early Middle Ages. The collection has been structured in a chronological exhibition which is continued by the collection of the Bavarian National Museum. Since 1976 the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection is situated in an adjoining modern building.
The Bavarian State Archaeological Collection keeps several local branches in Bavaria such as the Celtic-Roman Museum Manching.