In the last two weeks, we have had three major Nor’easters here in New England. Fortunately, it has been while students are on break and has not slowed down the creation of new lessons for spring term.
“A man never lies in his garbage heap” – Franz Boas.
Last term I was approached by Emma Frey, faculty in history, to create a single period activity that would introduce her 9th graders to the concept of reading objects as text and use them to tell a story. As Emma and I talked and brainstormed, we decided on an existing lesson that I had created years ago for our Archaeology Explorers and how we could flesh it out so that it better met Emma’s class goals and objectives. The activity is a garbology lesson called Trash Talks!
In the activity students are divided into three groups and are given a bag of clean trash. While working together to sort and identify the trash, each group also compiles a biography of the person(s) who created the trash. They will be asked to make observations and inferences about the trash and what it might reflect about a person, such as their gender, age, activities, etc.
While the trash is “modern” the principles that students use to analyze the trash are the same as the ones that archaeologists use to study cultures of the past.
I am very excited to run this lesson with students and to see how they interpret the trash!
The past five years have been a busy time for museums- most notably in the image department. Following a number of high profile controversies, a lot of people–audiences, and museum professionals alike–asked what role museums play in our society? Here are a couple of recent articles dealing with this subject head on.
Last month saw the release of Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Black Panther. Besides being a fantastic movie, this film offers a unique chance to open dialogues on a large scale about many topics- least of which are museums as mechanisms of colonialism. This article discusses how and why museum professionals especially should look at their roles in this and the effects they have on the audiences we try to reach. The piece ends by laying out suggestions for how museums can move forward incorporating and working towards more diverse and open dialogues between communities.
This article opens with the quote, “history matters because it has contemporary consequences,” and it just gets better from there. Directors Kevin Gover (National Museum of the American Indian) and Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture) participated in a day long symposium titled, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” in which they talked about confronting the historic and continued racist ideologies that are entrenched in contemporary American society and the role of museums. They specifically discuss the example of the concurrent rise of confederate statues and racist mascots.
Chronicling a series of high profile controversies, this article looks at the combination of factors that have led to these, as well as the changes they are bringing to museums and their operation. It also discusses why museums have become ground zero for explosive cultural encounters stating, “We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become the places where these issues get played out.”
This article showcases the role museums have within their respective walls and how they are branching out to have far reaching impacts in classrooms all over the nation. Similar to classes taught at the Peabody by Curator of Education, Lindsay Randall, this article follows the creation and implementation of National Museum of the American Indian’s newest initiative, Native Knowledge 360. NK360 is a “long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculum in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country.” This program works with the inclusion and cooperation of Native communities and educators as well as provides educational materials for teachers.
March is Women’s History Month, so it seemed like the perfect time to write about some of the women who have worked at or been associated with the Peabody. I have been struck during my work here by how male dominated the Peabody was for most of the twentieth century – there is a noticeable absence of women in the archives. Almost all Peabody director and curator positions were held by men, with the exception of Jane C. Wheeler, curator in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, this began to shift, with women beginning to occupy more leadership and professional posts (staff size also grew and new roles developed); eventually Malinda Stafford Blustain would become the Peabody’s first female director in 2001. This shift reflects broader trends in museum staff demographics – today, 60% of museum staff members are female, though leadership positions continue to be dominated by men (see the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, which also highlights the underrepresentation of people of color among museum staff).
Most of the women who worked at the Peabody before the 1990s were administrative assistants. There are traces of them in our archives and in the Phillips Academy handbooks: their names, titles, salaries, and occasionally correspondence or internal documents that they wrote. Theodora George, who received a bachelors’ degree in archaeology from Columbia University, worked at the Peabody from 1968 to 1980 – she is the only administrative assistant for whom I’ve found an obituary, which includes her photograph. I also discovered that her father was of Syrian descent and owned a grocery store in Lawrence for a time. She is acknowledged with helping catalog museum collections and editing the Tehuacán publications. Other administrative assistant names I’ve come across are Florence Cummings, Gladys Dill Salta (later Gladys Jump), Ethel Cohen, Evelyn Willett Drew, Marie Indurre, Marjory McC. Stevens, Ashley Baker, Carole A. Walker, and Elizabeth Steinert.
Two early women pioneers of archaeology and anthropology were briefly associated with the Peabody. Margaret E. Ashley Towle (1902-1985) and Adelaide Kendall Bullen (1908-1987) are both notable for pursuing these interests in a time when those fields (like museums) were very much male dominated. Presumably, their socio-economic status also gave them a certain measure of freedom in doing so. Margaret E. Ashley Ph.D., is listed as the Research Associate in Southeastern Archaeology at the Peabody in 1929 and in 1930 (she actually received her PhD later in her career). Her association with the Peabody came because of Warren Moorehead’s Etowah, Georgia excavations; Emory University asked her to serve as a representative on the dig because some of the collections were destined to come to them. Ashley subsequently came to Andover to further study the ceramics. Her ceramic analysis forms part of the official site publication, the Etowah Papers. Ashley went on to work extensively in South American paleobotany, with a long association at Harvard’s Botanical Museum. To learn more about her, see pages 25-41 in Grit-Tempered, Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States (1999).
Adelaide Kendall Bullen came into the Peabody’s orbit through her husband, Ripley Bullen. Ripley worked as a student assistant at the Peabody while pursuing graduate studies at Harvard in anthropology. Meanwhile Adelaide began undergraduate studies at Radcliffe College in her early thirties, and after receiving her A.B., also pursued graduate studies in anthropology at Harvard. Together they began working on excavations, including the Lucy Foster site, the nineteenth century Andover home site of an emancipated African American woman. They also lived on campus and both of their sons graduated from Phillips Academy: Dana Ripley Bullen II (Class of 1949) and Pierce Kendall Bullen (Class of 1952). In the Peabody’s annual reports from that time, Ripley’s excavation projects in the area are briefly mentioned, but Adelaide’s involvement with them is not acknowledged. She is only mentioned in 1942 as helping select and arrange “material on the Navaho and Iroquois Indians” for an exhibit at the Andover Public Library. After leaving Massachusetts in 1948 Adelaide and Ripley expanded their work to involve avocational archaeologists in Florida and the Caribbean and continued to publish extensively; they maintained connections with their Peabody colleagues and Ripley was an earlier adopter of radiocarbon dating. To learn more about Adelaide, see pages 148-162 in Grit-Tempered, Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States (1999).
A number of women participated in Peabody-sponsored surveys and excavations, sometimes contributing to the project publication as well. These women include Elsie Clews Parsons, Anna O. Shepard and Madeleine Appleton Kidder at the Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico excavations directed by Alfred V. Kidder, 1915-1929; Lucy Raup in the Yukon surveys, co-directed by Fred Johnson and Hugh Raup, of 1944 and 1948; Eva Hunt and Antoinette Nelken-Terner at the Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, excavations directed by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, 1960-1965; and Antoinette Nelken-Terner again in the Ayacucho, Peru, excavations directed by MacNeish, 1969-1975. There may be many that I have missed – if so please name them in the comments below.
The first woman to hold a permanent professional position at the Peabody above the administrative assistant level was Curator Jane C. Wheeler, PhD (1977-1982). (Mary Ellen Conaway worked on new exhibits at the Peabody, 1970-1974, but is not listed among permanent staff.) During her time at the Peabody, Wheeler conducted research in Peru and Bolivia, published extensively, and taught courses to Phillips Academy students as well as conducting a field school at the Andover Town Dump.
One hundred years after the Peabody’s founding, Malinda Stafford Blustain became its first female director. She began here as the Collections Manager (1992-1997), then became Curator (1997-2001), Interim Director (2001-2004) and Director (2004-2012). Blustain helped raise support for the museum and oversaw it through a crisis period in the early 2000s. She refocused efforts on integrating the museum into Phillips Academy’s curriculum, developing collections management programs, and ensuring NAGPRA compliance. These priorities continue to guide the Peabody’s work today.
Other women in the 1990s, such as Leah Rosenmeier, contributed significantly to the Peabody – this post thanks all of these women and pays tribute to their work here.
When I joined the staff of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology in July 2012 there was major project underway. At the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, then Peabody director Malinda Stafford Blustain had organized a symposium on the history of our venerable institution. Presentations were made by archaeologists, as well as Phillips Academy faculty members, administrators, and alumni, and covered everything from the scientific contributions and the ups and downs of the Peabody to personal recollections. The major theme of that symposium was conveyed in its title, “Rising from the Ashes: Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology.” In 2002 financial issues and lack of connections with our parent institution, Phillips Academy, came to a head and resulted in a potential shuttering of the Peabody. That didn’t happen, and the 2011 SAA symposium was a celebration and reflection on what can be described as a very unusual place: an archaeology museum situated at a storied New England prep school.
Malinda had done the Herculean task of procuring drafts of each symposium presentation and recruited Jane Libby, close friend and colleague of former Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, to help with editing. The plan was to edit, design, and print the volume in-house. Linda S. Cordell, Peabody Advisory Committee member and contributor to the volume, had insisted on peer review; reviewers had been identified and were submitting notes to Blustain and Libby. When I joined the team it became clear that there were several challenges. Some of the contributions needed lots of editing, some were very long, there were over 100 photographs planned for inclusion, and, most notably, we possessed no means to warehouse, market, or fulfil orders. In September 2012 Linda Cordell and I discussed the project and I also spoke with Lynn Baca, then editor at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and John Strand, editor for the American Alliance of Museums. We all agreed that the project had lots of merit, but that there were any number of obstacles to overcome. Institutional histories can be tricky to publish, as they often have a limited audience. Our lack of distribution and fulfillment created problems, as did questions of storage. As a part of Phillips Academy, we have no way to set up a bank account or receive payments. It was clear that we needed a publishing partner and that we needed to do some serious editing.
Our own history provided a clue. In the 1920s Alfred V. Kidder established a relationship with the Yale University Press. Yale published Kidder’s An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology in 1924 (and it has remained in print since that time). Other volumes in Kidder’s Southwest project also were published by Yale, including studies of Pecos Pueblo artifacts, pottery, and volumes prepared by Carl Guthe, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Earnest Hooten. Warren Moorehead used the Yale press connection to bring out his volumes on Etowah and sites in Arkansas and neighboring areas. Some of these Yale titles are still in print, while others are hard to find, even on Internet book searches. The “blue book” series, developed in the 1930s by the Peabody’s Doug Byers and Frederick Johnson, suffered from many of the same problems that we were facing with the new volume: lack of distribution, marketing, and fulfillment logistics. Despite producing some significant work, most of the printed “blue books” are still stored here in the Peabody attic. We’ve had the bulk of this series digitized and made available via InternetArchive. Scotty MacNeish avoided these issues by partnering with academic presses at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan, which brought out his five-volume Tehuacan and three-volume Ayacucho studies in the 1960s through 1980s. This was clearly the solution!
By the end of 2012 I hired writer and editor Sharon Magnuson to help work on the project. She continued to work on editing through the end of 2016. We were able to return substantive review comments to authors, along with copy-edited versions created by Sharon. In 2013 I had conversation with the kind folks at Harvard’s Peabody Museum Press, who were publishing David L. Browman and Stephen Williams fabulous Anthropology at Harvard: A Biographical History, 1790-1940. There were some discussions about publishing our volume as a companion piece and I prepared a prospectus. Time and other commitments didn’t allow that relationship to go forward, but conversations with Harvard’s Joan O’Donnell helped me think through some of the challenges. One idea that Sharon Magnuson and I tackled was to make some of the personal reflection chapters into much shorter essays or sidebars. This helped focus these pieces, and significantly shortened our page and image count. Sharon’s great editorial eye also helped identity a few other issues, including one massive bibliography that had one chapter tipping the scales at over 80 pages! We put it on a diet.
By September 2015 I felt that the book was in pretty good shape and I was on the hunt for a publisher. Early efforts were a bit discouraging and I was prepared to revisit in-house publishing. Marshall Cloyd, Phillips Academy Class of 1958 and long-time member of the Peabody Advisory Committee gave me a pep talk and encouraged me to keep trying. Archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History was kind enough to help me brainstorm ideas about presses that might be interested. It was clear that we needed an academic press that was publishing histories of archaeology and anthropology. I ultimately sent out at least twenty inquiries. I got a lot of rejections! I did, however, have interest from presses at the University of New Mexico and the University of Nebraska. Editor Matthew Bokovoy at Nebraska thought the book might fit nicely in their Critical Histories of Anthropology series. I supplied the manuscript and waited for reviewer comments and a decision from Matt and series editors Regna Darnell and Stephen Murray.
On July 5, 2016 we had two sets of review comments and positive feedback from the press. I prepared a response to reader’s comments, which was due August 1, 2016. The folks at Nebraska got it—we had an interesting story to tell, one that was often central to the history of American archaeology, but one that also was little known. It was summer 2016 and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do. The editors and the twenty contributors alike had lots of constructive comments to address. We needed to cut back on the figures—we agreed that fifty-five was the right number—and we needed to find a way to reintegrate those sidebars that we had created into the regular chapter structure. By September 2016 we had an agreement with Nebraska and were working away on a final draft, which we submitted in January 2017.
Despite the joy surrounding the completion of the manuscript, we must remember the people that we lost during this journey. Linda S. Cordell (1943-2013), who wrote about Alfred Kidder’s contributions at Pecos Pueblo and pushed for a peer-reviewed volume, died March 29, 2013. Gene Winter (1927-2014), long-time Peabody volunteer and honorary curator, passed on February 24, 2014. Gene brought his tremendous knowledge of New England archaeology and institutional history to the volume and I am so grateful that I was able to sit with him and work on revisions to his co-authored chapter. Most recently the world of archaeology lost another bright light in Brian Robinson (1953-2016). Brian passed on October 27, 2016. He and I had had many discussions about Maine archaeology and our decision to affiliate and repatriate funerary objects from the Nevin site to the Wabanaki tribes. The last conversation we had was about his chapter and some final notes from the copyeditor. Linda, Gene, and Brian were kind, generous, and knowledgeable people who made time for the Robert S. Peabody Museum, shared our values and vision, and helped to make us better. You will be missed.
Over the course of 2017 we got to know many people at the University of Nebraska Press. We worked closely with copyeditor Sally Antrobus, as well as production editor Joeth Zucco, who both brought a lot to the volume. Heather Stauffer answered lots of questions and helped keep us on track. I was happy for the opportunity to meet editor Matthew Bokovoy in early December 2017 at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington DC and share just how professional, encouraging, and kind he and his entire staff had been during the publication process.
Marla Taylor, Peabody curator of collections, Irene Gates, archivist, and Lesley Shahbazian, staff assistant, all contributed to the volume, helping to find, re-find, and re-re-find photographs, providing proper citations for archival materials, and helping to obtain permissions. Their help is greatly appreciated!
One final person deserves a special mention. Dr. Peter Hetzler, Phillips Academy Class of 1972, and member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees and the Peabody Advisory Committee, provided much-needed support for publication of the volume. Archaeologist Jimmy Griffin once used the term “archaeological angel.” I can think of no better way to describe Peter!
Copies of the published book arrived at my office on March 5, 2018. It’s a beautiful book with some amazing stories. Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology is a testament to what people did here, from Alfred V. Kidder and Warren K. Moorehead to today’s museum professionals, educators, and students. If you’d like a copy they are available on Amazon!
The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!
A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.
The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.
This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.
The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.
If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.
So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!
Archaeologists are known as a creative and frugal bunch, and this is evident in the many ingenious ways that we have found to store artifacts and samples from recovery in the field to processing in the lab to long term storage on the museum shelf. Prior to the plastic bag, soil samples were housed in everything from feed sacks to paper bags. Glass food and condiment jars were a great way to keep charcoal samples, especially if you didn’t have a ready supply of tin foil. Metal, and then plastic, 35mm film canisters were highly prized for retaining tiny objects, like beads (the slightly opaque Fuji film canisters allowed a peek at the contents, unlike the black and gray Kodak canisters).
Nothing, however, is more ubiquitous for storing artifacts than the classic cigar box. These sturdy wood or cardboard boxes with a built-in hinged lid were highly prized by generations of kids for storing marbles, coins, arrowheads, and other treasures. Perhaps it’s not surprising that as adults these boxes remained as the go-to storage solution. The Canadian Museum of History has a great interactive website about cigar boxes that explores the significance, history, art, and general usefulness of these containers. Much has been written too about cigar box guitars, which apparently go back to at least the 1840s through 1860s when cigars were first being stored and marketed in wooden boxes—see, for example, http://cigarboxguitars.com/about/history.
The collections of the Peabody Institute are no exception, and vast numbers of stone points, tools, and pottery fragments were once kept in legions of cigar boxes. Most, if not all, our artifacts have been rehoused in cardboard boxes and now we are working on a massive rehousing and cataloging endeavor that will improve our intellectual and physical control over our collections (museum-speak translated as “we will have a better idea what we have and where it is”). Our current strategic plan, developed in 2014 and 2015 identifies this as one of our most important objectives, and one we plan to accomplish in the next few years.
There are, however, still a small collection of cigar boxes and other biscuit, cereal, and medicine boxes and tins that were once used to house objects and photographs. Handwritten labels, pasted over the decorative and distinctive cigar box art, identify sites and catalog numbers. A small collection of these boxes has been retained.
A recent effort to address a backlog of objects awaiting cataloging turned up a groovy mid-twentieth century shoebox that contained a woven bag, apparently given to the Peabody by Dorothy Byers, widow of former director Douglas Byers (1903-1978). Byers worked at the Peabody from 1933 until his retirement in 1968, and served as director from 1938 through 1968. Zodiac was a brand of Encore Show Corp. and first debuted in the late 1970s and has had a recent revival. The woven bag—unfortunately bearing little information—has been rehoused and is now in storage. The shoe box is in my office.
The Peabody’s cataloging and rehousing project is made possible through a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring, and the generous support of the Oak River Foundation, and Barbara and Les’ 68 Callahan. For information on how you can contribute to this project, please contact Peabody Institute director Ryan Wheeler at email@example.com or 978.749.4490.
Out of all the artifacts that I have worked with over the course of my career, one of my favorite types has always been historic ceramics. There are so many different ceramic types and beautiful decorative patterns that it’s easy to see why ceramics can often become collector’s items. Transferware has always been particularly interesting to me. Maybe it’s because there is such a wide array of images and scenery that can be depicted on this type of ceramic.
One of my previous jobs dealt heavily with colonial and antebellum artifacts, so transfer printed ceramic fragments would come through the lab on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do there was to identify the specific patterns on the fragments as best I could. In order to do that I had many resources, including a Powerpoint with typologies found at the site and access to the Transferware Collectors Club website.
Last week, I decided to inventory a drawer which has historic ceramics in it. I rarely see historic ceramics here, so I figured it would be a good way to keep them fresh in my mind. When it came time to catalog the ceramics, I organized them in my workspace by colors, and then further broke these groups into design patterns.
I had kept the aforementioned Powerpoint on a flash drive in case I ever ran into historic ceramics again. It was open on my computer while I was going through this particular drawer and it proved to be a valuable resource once again. I had a few fragments of transfer printed ceramics in front of me and noticed that even though they were tiny sherds, I was able to see that they contained images of grain, a foot, and a window with some shrubs.
Going through the Powerpoint, I immediately recognized that these match up with a transfer pattern that is known as “Gleaners.” The rim pattern also was a dead giveaway, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see that from a few tiny pieces of ceramic, I could get a vision of what the entire vessel once looked like!
Finding fragments of transfer printed ceramic is always exciting and can be like having pieces of a puzzle that you need to put together. Many antique transfer printing patterns are still used and reproduced to this day. If you have any in your possession, or know anyone else who does, I’d encourage you to look it up online and see what you can learn about something you might have once thought was just a cool decorative piece.
The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.
Since November, I’ve been focused on better organizing and rehousing the Peabody’s photographic collections (a rough extent estimate: 10,000 prints, 35,000 slides, 230 rolls of film, 500 glass plate negatives and 1,500 lantern slides). These consist of excavation, ethnographic and museum object photographs. Some were created during the course of the Peabody’s activities; others were donated to the museum. There are some wonderful images here, many unknown to Peabody staff members even. In keeping with the archives project’s mission to make the Peabody’s archival collections more accessible, contract librarian Mary Beth Clack has begun cataloging photographs in our Past Perfect collections management database. For many photographs, some type of bibliographic record such as a catalog card or an index already exists, so adding a record to the database is a question of transcribing and consistently formatting existing information. Work duty students and I have been scanning photographs so that a digital image can then be attached to the catalog records, which are then easily published online via our Past Perfect web portal. In addition to the benefits of making these publically available, cataloging them in the database makes them infinitely more findable for staff members.
Mary Beth is currently working on the 1944 and 1948 Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition print photographs. These approximately 1,500 images document the archaeological and geobotanical expeditions carried out jointly by the Peabody and Harvard University (and funded by additional sources, including the Wenner-Gren Foundation) in parts of the Shakwak and Dezadeash Valleys, in southwestern Yukon. The photographs, taken by Fred Johnson, Hugh Miller Raup and John H.H. Sticht, are mounted on stiff paper, typically two to a page, with typewritten captions below each image. Many of them, in addition to being important documentation of the expeditions, are very beautiful. Included here a few examples. The first batch of records have just been published online, and more will be added soon: please browse them here.
The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at email@example.com 978 749 4493.
I recently received two requests from history faculty for our class on Westward Expansion. Unfortunately, we recently determined that the majority of the objects used for that class should be further investigated to see if they are potential NAGPRA objects – specifically items of cultural patrimony. Which meant that if I was to fulfill the requests of these teachers I needed to come up with a new activity FAST! I had less than two working weeks to formulate and flesh out what the seventy-minute class would do.
While I was scrolling online for ideas my colleague Samantha Hixson mentioned a Plains dress that we had – thus giving me an “A HA!!!!” moment. I had seen a lesson related to a Plains dress from the National Museum of the American Indian. That got me thinking and served as a foundation for my own lesson.
I decided to use multiple objects from the Peabody Institute’s collection to understand the long standing close connection that Plains tribes had to their surroundings and communities through traditions. Through the lens of one aspect of life – clothing – the impact that Westward Expansion had on tribes will be more clearly defined.
In addition to the dress I also selected a pair of beaded moccasins, one of the muslin pencil drawings (reproduction), a defleshing tool, as well as a bison skin rattle (reproduction). The class begins with students wandering around the room, simply exploring the objects scattered about before working together to dive more deeply into the material culture.
Some of the questions students are asked are basic observational ones: “what material is the dress made from.” Others begin to stretch their understanding of the process of making clothing: “what role did men and boys have in the creation of the dress and shoes.” We also delve into why decorations are important, not only in the culture we are studying, but our own as well.
We then pause as a class to talk about traditions and what they mean to us personally. We talk about the positive influence they have on us and how they bring us closer together as a community (Head of School Day was a favorite tradition that was mentioned. One can tell that the speculation amongst students of when it will be called is going strong!!).
We then discuss how the actions of white settlers and the government destroyed the traditions of Plains tribes and how this affected communities. This was a very emotional part of the class for many students. It is certainly one thing to read about atrocities in the past through the emotional barrier of a textbook – and quite another to “see” it when looking at the clothing that a real person wore. And based on an email I received from one of the faculty asking for more resources for students to further investigate the impact on tribes and how they are dealing with it today, it is a lesson that has already had a lasting impact on the students.
But I do not want to end my post on such a heavy note, so I will tell you about a great way that everyone at the Peabody supports the work of each other. For the first class Samantha sat in on the activity and was VERY helpful. While she did answer some of the student questions – which was very nice and I do not mean to diminish how helpful that was – but more importantly SHE WAS WEARING QUILL EARRINGS!!!!! And in the lesson I mentioned QUILLING!! So I may have made asked her to take them out so that I could show them to students.
She also noticed that I mention elk tooth beads in my lesson and shared with me that students had recently discovered one in our collections! SCORE!!!! Collaboration for the WIN!
A poorly known collection occupying several drawers at the Peabody Institute sheds a little light on the Taíno, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico and neighboring islands who met Christopher Columbus in 1492.
When Columbus landed in Hispaniola the Taíno population was perhaps in the millions and early records estimate that 85 percent of the population had been lost within a few decades. People lived in family groups, with some villages numbering 3,000 people. Native foods like fish, shellfish, birds, lizards, and other small animals augmented agricultural crops of cassava, yams, and other domesticates. A complex and elaborate religion included the worship of spirits called zemis, and like their neighbors in Mesoamerica, the Taíno played a ball game on a rectangular court that they called Batey. Hereditary chiefs and nobles ruled over commoners and slaves. The Taíno, however, soon succumbed to the Spanish conquest, but most of us recognize a handful of loan words in English that can be traced back to the Caribbean, including barbecue (barbacoa) and canoe (canoa).
I got interested in the Taíno in 1999 when as an employee of the Florida State Archaeologist’s Office I conducted an investigation of the Miami Circle site in downtown Miami. Miami is a melting pot of people from Latin America and the Caribbean. Among those I met during my time in Miami were a group of folks from Puerto Rico who considered themselves living members of the Taíno tribe. Like most other archaeologist and anthropologists at that time I had learned that the Taíno were extinct—one of the first victims of European conquest and colonization of the Americas. My new friends shared that they had, however, preserved their language and culture, including many old songs which they were working to pass on to future generations. Over the next few years I met more Taíno people and several tribal members participated in my excavations near Lake Okeechobee in 2000.
Petaloid stone celts from Puerto Rico. Petaloid refers to the shape–resembling the petal of a flower. M. Eugene Verges Collection, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
Pottery adornos–many depicting animals–from Puerto Rico. M. Eugene Verges Collection, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
Faces on two of the zemis, M. Eugene Verges Collection, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
A large stone belt and three zemis or three-pointed stones from Puerto Rico M. Eugene Verges Collections, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
A 2011 Smithsonian.com article by Robert M. Poole recounts his search for modern day Taíno in New York and Puerto Rico with surprising results. Like my friends in Miami, many Puerto Ricans acknowledged indigenous ancestry. Many of my archaeologist friends were still skeptical, suggesting that cultural practices were based on ethnohistoric accounts left by the Spanish and that language was being recreated based on Julian Granberry’s 2005 book Languages of the pre-Columbian Antilles. By the early 2000s there were several Taíno groups that asserted cultural affiliation, including the Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken, who were the folks I knew. DNA analysis by Juan C. Martínez-Cruzado—reported in 2003 and 2006—suggests that the archaeologists and anthropologists got it wrong. Based on an island-wide DNA survey, Martinez-Cruzado found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans have Amerindian mitochondrial DNA, 27 percent have African and 12 percent Caucasian. Martinez-Cruzado’s study also pointed to evidence for cultural survivals into modern times, including traditional fishing practices.
Two views of a three-pointed stone or zemi depicting an owl. M. Eugene Verges Collection, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
So, back to the Peabody collections. Preserved in several drawers are petaloid celts, adornos and sherds from ceramic vessels (many depict animals), three-point stones (also called zemis), and a very heavy stone belt (or yoke) that would have been worn during the ball game. Mela Pons Alegria, in an article in Archaeology magazine, explains that the three-pointed stone zemis “are the oldest and most abundant” form of Taíno art, and evolve from simple triangular carvings to elaborate effigy forms. Flat areas hint that these may have been attached to handles or staffs. We have little catalog information, but it appears that the collection was a gift from Eugene M. Verges. A little poking around on genealogical sites shows that Eugene Marcelin Verges II was born in 1889 in Arroyo, Puerto Rico and was a student at Phillips Academy in 1907—he’s listed in the catalog as being from Wellesley, Mass.—he died in 1970. Verges’ father was engaged in the sugar business and it seems likely that the Peabody collections from Puerto Rico were made by the Verges family and gifted to us in the first part of the twentieth century.