From the Peabody With Love

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, the Peabody would like to highlight some love-related objects from our collection. From heart-shaped designs to meanings of love, we hope these featured artifacts give you that “loving feeling.”

Venus Figurine (59953)

Venus – the goddess of love and beauty – is a common figurine found in museums and archaeological excavations. Venus figurines such as those in the Peabody collection, were used in various ways such as offerings, ritual practices, and as grave goods in burials. For more on these figurines and their history check out this article from Current Anthropology by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

This artifact is a dark green plaster cast reproduction of a Venus figurine. The original figurine was made of crystalline talc and was excavated from the Grimaldi Caves in Italy. The figurine, known as Pulcinella or the Venus of Polichinelle, is dated to the Aurignacian or Upper Paleolithic period (about 40,000 – 10,000 BCE). The cast figurine was acquired by Warren K. Moorehead in 1925 on one of his trips to Europe. The figurine reproduction is a part of the Peabody’s education collection.

Cast reproduction of a Venus figurine from Italy.

Heart Padlock (107/7688)

Heart-shaped locks have their origins in a Scandinavian-style padlock. These locks were made with various metals such as brass, bronze, and cast iron. The two key characteristics of a traditional heart lock were a spring-loaded keyhole cover called a “drop” that would keep dirt and insects out of the lock (not present on this specific artifact) and a metal loop so a chain could be placed through it to prevent the lock from getting lost or stolen. Source: “The History of Padlocks,” Lock Blog. United Locksmith. 2021.

This large metal padlock was excavated by Adelaide and Ripley Bullen in the summer of 1943. The padlock was found in a dump pile southwest of the cellar hole at the Lucy Foster site, the nineteenth century Andover homestead of an emancipated African American woman. Ripley was employed as a student assistant at the Peabody during the 1940s, and Adelaide helped with the library and other tasks; both of their sons graduated from Phillips Academy. You can learn more about Adelaide Kendall Bullen and the Lucy Foster site from the following blogs: Women of the Peabody, Peabody at the Smithsonian, and Lucy Foster’s Ceramic Collection.

These heart-shaped locks remind me of the Pont des Arts, the famous Lock Bridge in Paris, France. I had first visited this bridge in high school on a study-abroad trip where I fell in love with the story of the Love Lock Bridge (no pun intended). The Pont des Arts is right near the Louvre and crosses the Seine River. The tradition is for lovers to attach personalized padlocks to its railing and throw the keys away in the Seine River. While the tradition did not originate in Paris, it is the most famous destination and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2015, the French government began to remove the padlocks (45 tons in total!) from the bridge in order to protect the historical structure. For more on this tradition and the efforts for its removal, visit here.

One large heart-shaped padlock excavated from the Lucy Foster Site in 1943.

Wedding Vessel (2018.5.4)

The hand painted, ceramic vessel is a Jemez wedding vase made by artist Andrea Fragua, from the Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico. The wedding vase plays a significant part in traditional marriage ceremonies. The two spouts represent the separate lives of the to-be married couple. The bridge at the top unites the two spouts. The vase is filled with holy water or herbal infused tea and the couple drinks from their respective side. If the couple manages to drink from the vase together without spilling, they will have a strong relationship. This ceremony is similar to the exchanging of wedding rings. Source: “Pueblo Wedding Vases,” Toh-Atin Gallery. Durango, CO. 2021.

Friend of the Peabody, Dominique Toya, fired a wedding vase in summer 2020. Dominque is an artist and educator from the Pueblo of Jemez. For five years now, the Toya family (Dominque, Maxine, and Mia Toya) have visited Phillips Academy to make traditional Pueblo pottery with PA students through Thayer Zaeder’s ceramic classes. To learn more about these visits check out this blog. To view the live firing of a wedding vase by Dominique Toya check it out here!

Wedding vessel used in marriage ceremonies.

Rehousing a vessel with salt damage

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

In January, the HVAC system in one of our collection storage areas malfunctioned. Repair work required that the system was turned off for several days. During this time, we monitored the objects for any changes. One vessel caught our eye.

Thanks to Marla’s experience with the collection, she noticed that previously documented spalling due to salt efflorescence was likely developing further (see figure). A quick look at older photographs confirmed that the damage had indeed progressed. The vessel was stored on open shelving and an inspection of the area around the object determined that no fragments had fallen completely off. We decided to rehouse the vessel in a box to buffer it against changes in environment during the current or future failure of the HVAC system.

Figure 1. Rehoused vessel in open box

Since I’ve encountered salt efflorescence a few times, I thought I’d add a bit more information. Porous materials, like bone, ceramic and stone, can absorb salt from various sources. Once inside, salts can be dissolved by moisture in the air through a process called deliquescence. Eventually, the water evaporates and the salt recrystallizes. In very porous objects, the salt crystals form on the surface. In objects where the surface is less porous than the underlying body, recrystallized salt can generate massive forces than can spall or pit the surface (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). In worst case scenarios objects can disintegrate.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, salts can enter porous objects through groundwater or seawater in buried or submerged contexts (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). They are a major source of salt in archaeological collections such as ours. In the case of ceramics, food and water stored in objects during their pre-burial use life can also leave salt residues (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2). Salts can be introduced to ceramics during manufacture through additives that modify the clay body and through water (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2, Source: Digital Fire). Even clay itself can be salty. When I lived in Arizona, I can remember hearing a potter discuss that they would check their clay by tasting it to make sure it wasn’t too salty.

After ceramic objects are recovered during excavation, salts can continue to be added in archaeological labs and museums. Hydrochloric acid has been used to remove calcium carbonate, an insoluble salt that adheres to ceramics during burial that impedes analysis. An unintended result of this process creates calcium chloride, a soluble salt, which is absorbed into the ceramic matrix (Source: The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works- Studies in Conservation Page 172, Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 Page 2). I would be highly doubtful of repairs that were done years ago. Without detailed treatment records, who knows what glues were used and what contaminants they might introduce.

Figure 2. Spalling due to efflorescence

Deliquescence and evaporation of soluble salts can be greatly diminished by keeping the storage environment below 60% relative humidity and by reducing humidity and temperature fluctuations (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3). However, there is a continued danger of efflorescence. Display cases and storage shelving made from wood have the potential to release acetic acids. This volatile organic compound has the potential to interact with soluble salts leading to precipitation even in controlled storage environments (Source: ICOM Committee for Conservation Page 640).

There may not be quick or inexpensive solutions to mitigate efflorescence. Our current plans for renovation of Peabody collections spaces call for the replacement of wood drawers and cabinets, but this is expensive. In regards to removing salt from objects, the traditional method is through a desalination wash or soak, wherein the object is immersed in distilled or deionized water until the salt level is reduced. This is a complicated process and shouldn’t be done without involving a conservator. Desalination risks removing important residues and compounds that can reduce the usefulness of the objects for future analysis and weaken the object (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3).

Here at the Peabody we’ve taken steps to remove salt through dry brushing, environmental controls, and monitoring. In the future, we have plans to improve our storage space so that these issues will no longer be a concern.

No Vikings at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology is not known for its Viking collections, or are we?

Vikings shopping in York. Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One object, donated to the Institute by Dr. C.A. Kershaw in the early twentieth century, is repeatedly cited as evidence for Viking visitors to Massachusetts long before the days of the Pilgrims.

The object in question is a copper dagger or knife and is pictured in Frederick Pohl’s 1961 book Atlantic Crossings before Columbus. Barry Fell also discussed the piece in his popular 1976 book America BC: Ancient Settlers in the New World. Both authors contributed extensively to the literature on connections between Europe and the Americas, often featuring Vikings; mainstream archaeology has dubbed Pohl, Fell, and allied writers as pseudoscientists who offer provocative theories, but little concrete or testable evidence.

Copper dagger or knife blade from Merrimacport, Massachusetts in the collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, catalog # 90.5.1.

Regarding the dagger, here is what Pohl has to say:

Arthur Petzold (of Andover, MA) recently called my attention to a heavily-patinated copper “spearhead or knife” found many years ago by Dr. C.A. Kershaw of Merrimacport, Massachusetts, on Indian Flat near his home. A drawing of it showing two large and two small rivet holes for hafting was published by Warren King Moorehead in 1931. Benjamin L. Smith, who wrote “Supplementary Notes” to the Moorehead volume, says he has always been “troubled” by the copper artifact because its unusual form suggests it may not be Indian. Dr. Gad Rausing of Lund, Sweden, thinks that the general outline and size agree quite closely with the very early Bronze Age daggers of Northern Europe—but he has never seen one with two big and two small rivet holes arranged in such a manner, and so he says he “cannot claim to recognize it at all.” It may be, as he suggests, that the four rivet holes were not made at the same time, but that the small ones were added when one of the large ones got broken. A distinguished archaeologist, a specialist in European pre-history, has written me that the copper object is doubtless a dagger and, he believes, a very old one, from the mid-European early Bronze Age, presumably about 1300 B.C. But, he says, “How could it have found its way to Massachusetts, I wonder. Perhaps brought by some collector, and lost. Who can tell?” On the other hand, Dr. William Ritchie, New York State Archaeologist, assures me that prehistoric Indians of the Upper Great Lakes area riveted some of their spear points to the shaft, and so he says of the Merrimacport specimen that it may or may not be prehistoric. Spectrum analysis should determine its place of origin; for North American Indian copper is quite pure, having only slight traces of silver and iron, while European smelted copper contains antimony, bismuth, lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, Sulphur, gold, silver, arsenic and oxygen. In view of the possibility that the Merrimacport artifact may be early European, it is interesting that it was found only thirteen miles from North Salem and near the river used by boats approaching the North Salem site. [Pohl 1961:15-16]

Pohl’s argument is characteristic of many pseudoscientific claims—two competing ideas about an artifact or site are presented as equivalent—in this case, the Merrimacport artifact is offered as potentially Native American and potentially Bronze Age. The Native American origin of the dagger, however, is much more likely, especially as archaeologists like Ritchie noted similarities to copper artifacts from the Great Lakes. The North Salem site that Pohl mentions is now known as America’s Stonehenge and is located in North Salem, New Hampshire.

Barry Fell, building on Pohl’s arguments, illustrates a photograph of the Merrimacport artifact and cites ongoing research (mid-1970s) by James Whittall. Fell says that museums housing these copper artifacts, which he identifies as Celtic, believed they were from the European Bronze Age, but that they had been recently lost (see Fell 1976:127-128). Interestingly, James P. Whittall Jr., who wrote about the copper object in the December 1970 issue of the New England Antiquities Research Association newsletter, compares the piece to a Bronze Age dagger from Spain—a comparison that is echoed by Fell. And, despite that comparison, Whittall remains undecided about the origins and significance of the artifact, saying, “The dagger does not prove cultural contact between Western Europe and New England in the late Bronze Period, but the fact remains that the dagger was found here. This should be kept on record. When and if more evidence is recovered in this area, this singular artifact becomes more important. For the present it rests in a cultural void.” Writing a few years later, Whittall (1975:4) is more decisive, stating that “copper celts in Vermont and rivet copper daggers in Massachusetts are typical examples of middle bronze age European artifacts.”

Moorehead (1931:13), as noted by Pohl, includes an illustration in his Merrimack Archaeological Survey, though does not comment on the artifact other than to describe it as a “copper spearhead or knife,” while Charles S. Willoughby (1936:114-115) includes the piece with other Native American copper objects in his Antiquities of the New England Indians, saying:

The unique specimen figured in g [referring to Figure 59g], is from an old site on the bank of the Merrimack, at Merrimackport, Massachusetts. It is probably a knife, and was lashed to its handle through two perforations near its base, one of which has been torn out. In repairing this damage two more perforations were made just above the others. This is now in the Andover Museum. In all of the above [copper] specimens one side is flat. On the opposite side the blade is beveled from a central strengthening ridge to either edge.

Copper objects from Wisconsin in the collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

So, you might ask, “what’s the harm in all this?” We do know that the Norse settled in Greenland, at least for a while, and that one Norse site has been confirmed in Labrador, so it’s not impossible that other sites or objects could be found. Ken Feder (2020:131), in his great book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries, notes that “a growing number of native sites in Arctic Canada show evidence of widespread, occasional, but sometimes intimate contact for centuries between local people and Norse visitors.” Every year in my fall Human Origins course, we discuss the distinction between science and pseudoscience. We learn that science relies on falsifiability, where proving a hypothesis true is less important than the ability to prove it false. Possibilities and probabilities often fail to meet the falsifiability test—could Vikings have been in Massachusetts and neighboring states? Yes, but those possibilities must be subject to testing. Also, there’s a darker side to these Viking stories, which negate the long land tenure, accomplishments, and technology of Native Americans. As archaeologist William Ritchie reported to Frederick Pohl in the 1960s, Native Americans worked Great Lakes copper into an array of tools and ornaments thousands of years ago, and these objects were transported by travelers and through exchange networks. Before conjuring Celts, Vikings, Irish monks, or other trans-Atlantic European travelers, Native Americans are much more likely to have fashioned artifacts like the Merrimacport dagger.

References Cited

Feder, Kenneth L. 2020. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fell, Barry. 1976. American B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World. New York: Pocket Books.

Moorehead, Warren K. 1931. The Merrimack Archaeological Survey: A Preliminary Paper. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum.

Pohl, Frederick J. 1961. Atlantic Crossings Before Columbus. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Whittall, James P. Jr. 1970. An Unique Dagger. New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA) Newsletter 5(4, Issue #19):77.

___. 1975. Precolumbian Parallels between Mediterranean and New England Archaeology. Occasional Publications of the Epigraphic Society 3(52):1-5.

Willoughby, Charles C. 1935. Antiquities of the New England Indians, with Notes on the Ancient Cultures of the Adjacent Territory. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

C14 Dating the Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

You have probably heard of radio-carbon (C14) dating.  An invaluable tool for contextualizing the past, C14 dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by measuring stable and unstable (radioactive) isotopes of Carbon.  Developed by University of Chicago physical chemist Willard Libby in the 1940s, C14 dating was a game-changer for the field of archaeology. Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960.

Instead of relying solely on relative dating – the basic concept that an object found below another is older than one found closer to the surface – archaeologists gained the ability to specifically identify a year range for organic artifacts.  The Peabody Institute was a contributor to this work through past curator, Frederick Johnson, but that is a story for another blog.

This profile is an example of relative dating – more recent objects are closer to the surface while older material is deeper.

Lately, I have been working to facilitate C14 dating on bone artifacts from Pikimachay Cave in the Ayacucho Valley of Peru at the request of the 2019 Cordell Fellow, Juan Yataco.  Juan is revisiting work done in the Ayacucho Valley by Scotty MacNeish.  Back in the 1970s, MacNeish made some pretty bold assertions about the dates of human occupation in that region.  At the time, the C14 dates from animal bones supported his claims, but other archaeologists doubted whether those bones were associated with human occupation. 

While Juan’s specialty is stone tools, he also wanted to use improved technology to obtain an updated date for Pikimachay Cave.  Unfortunately, the first bone sent for testing failed to yield an appropriate collagen sample and could not be tested.  A second bone is on its way now.  Both bones were modified by humans and will provide a fascinating glimpse of the past.  Fingers are crossed for a better outcome this time around!

Winter Artifacts in the Peabody Collections

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

As children who anxiously wait for the first snowfall each winter season, we find ourselves looking forward with anticipation to a brand new year. The winter months begin to take hold, bringing not only cold weather, snow storms, and shorter days, but also the excitement of snow days, fresh snow landscapes, and winter activities! In the spirit of the winter season, I would like to highlight some winter artifacts in the Peabody’s collection. I included each object’s ID number for you to find in our online collections catalog. As you explore these objects, think about whether you have seen or used anything similar to these objects in your life and during your winter activities. How have some of these objects changed through time? You may be surprised by what you discover!

Snowshoes are a classic winter activity, but also a necessity for survival and travel in Arctic regions. Historians believe snowshoes were created about 4,000-6,000 years ago, however the exact origin and age of snowshoes is unknown. The invention of snowshoes may even be inspired by animals such as the snowshoe hare and the Canadian lynx, whose oversized feet give them the ability to move quickly through the snow. The snowshoes pictured here are made of wood, sinew, rawhide, cloth, and yarn. The tear drop shape makes these snowshoes well suited for distance travel in more open environments, especially in deep snow.

A pair of snow shoes in the ‘Siouan’ style from the Great Lakes Area, 1850-1950. Object #99.35.1

Boots are an essential accessory for winter wear and many who have experienced a snowy climate have owned more than one pair of winter boots. Mukluks are a soft, watertight boot traditionally made of seal or caribou skin. The sole of most mukluks are made of sealskin, which is sewn to tops of caribou skin with sinew thread to produce watertight seams. Mukluks are worn by Arctic native cultures such as the Inuit,Iñupiat, and Yupik. The term “mukluk” is of Yupik origins (from maklak), meaning “bearded seal.” The Mukluks pictured here were made by Inuit seamstress Anna Etegeak, from Unalakleet, Alaska.

A pair of women’s seal Mukluks from Unalakleet, Alaska. Object #99.7.1

Snow knives were designed as a multi-purpose tool between 1800 and 1925 by the Inuit, a cultural group inhabiting Arctic areas of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. These knives were made of ivory, horn, or bone. Snow knives are used for cutting and trimming blocks of snow for building Inuit snow houses known as igloos. Snow knives were also used to cut snow for drinking water.

Bone snow knife with handle wrapped in hide from Kotzebue, Alaska. Object #251/27

The Ulu or “woman’s knife,” was used by Inuit women as an all-purpose tool. Ulu’s could be used to skin an animal, cut food, trim ice blocks for igloos, or to give a haircut. Early Ulu’s were made from flat, thin rock or slate. Handles were made out of wood, ivory, or bone. Later, as whaling became more common in Alaska, the Inuit took advantage of steel to make their Ulu’s sharper and more varied in design. Ulu’s are still made and used today – there is even an Ulu factory in Alaska! This particular Ulu is of a later design from the Nuwuk site, an unincorporated Inuit village known as “Kokmullit.” This site is located in Point Barrow or Nuvuk, a headland on the Arctic coast of Alaska.

Metal Ulu with ivory handle from the Nuwuk site, Alaska. Object #98.15.262

Snow goggles functioned as sun glasses for the Inuit. These were used to protect the eyes against the harsh Arctic sun that would blindingly reflect off a landscape of snow and ice.

Anavik wearing snow goggles made of wood. Photo by Rudolph M. Anderson, May 1916, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Below are some examples of snow goggles within our collection. One is an incomplete pair of snow goggles made from walrus ivory. The eye and nose areas have been carved, but no slits were cut for the eyes. The other is a complete pair of snow goggles made by contemporary indigenous artist, Sandy Maniapik, from Pangnirtung, Nunavut on Baffin Island. These snow goggles were purchased in Vancouver at the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver to be used in our teaching collections where students examine the Peabody’s arctic collections to support their learning about northern societies. Check out more of this lesson here.

Pair of unfinished snow goggles made from walrus ivory: Alaska, 1800 AD. Object #98.25.2
A complete pair of Inuit style snow goggles made of caribou antler with black cordage as a strap. Object #2017.4.2

Inuit men in the western Arctic often wore labrets, also known as lip plugs or lip gauges. Inuit boys and men would pierce below their lips and place a large ivory labret inside the lip where it would rest against the lower teeth. Labrets were removed for long-distance travel in the cold to protect them from frostbite caused by cold conducted through the labret.

Four ivory lip plugs from the Western Inuit. Object #270/18

This form of body modification was designed to make the men look like a walrus, an important animal to the Western Inuit. This form of adornment represented the sense of spirit or “Inua” possessed by every living or natural thing. “Inua” facilitates the transformation of man into animal and animal into man, a common theme in Inuit belief. (Source: Peabody Exhibit Label, 2005, Past Perfect Database.)

A whaling captain wearing a labret. Wales, Alaska circa 1905. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum, B96.9.05

In the mid-1800s, beaver pelts were a unit trade, prized for their water repellant fur and warmth, and material longevity. After being cleaned and stretched (see image below), beaver skins were transformed into beaver pelts. Furs have played a large role in clothing across human history. Beaver pelts were popularly used in the production of outerwear such as coats, hats, garment and shoe lining, and ornamental adornment. Explore a brief history of the beaver trade and beaver pelts here.

Beaver pelt stretched on an oval frame with leather strips. Object #2012.8.40

Carvings of human figures served many purposes in traditional Inuit culture. They could possess curative powers when used by shamans. Sometimes they ‘stood in’ for someone missing an important social or religious event. Fathers also carved figurines for their daughters for play. Dolls for play were armless or had their arms close to their bodies so that their clothing could be easily changed. Both male and female figurines were made and dressed in clothing appropriate to their social group and gender.

Inuit girls would dress their dolls in clothes that they made. This was how many young girls learned to make water and wind proof clothes, a very important skill for survival in Arctic regions.

In some regions, such as the Bering Sea area, girls could not play with figurines inside the house or during winter. It was common belief that the return of geese in spring represented a period in which it was safe to play again and girls were allowed to play with their dolls. If a girl did not wait, she risked causing the geese to fly by without stopping and spring would pass directly into winter. (Source: Peabody Exhibit Label, 2005, Past Perfect Database.)

Female figurine made from ivory: Northwest Alaska, 1778-1896. Object #98.27.1

Animal effigies carved from ivory such as this polar bear may be linked to “hunting magic” or “sympathetic magic” in which effigies were used in rituals to increase the number of animals before a hunt or influence reality. Hunting is one of the oldest and most successful human adaptations, and is necessary for survival in the Arctic. The French priest and archaeologist, Abbe Henri Breuil, is an important figure in the history of cave art interpretation. Breuil believed many Paleolithic cave paintings were evidence of hunting magic. For more on Abbe Henri Breuil and hunting magic click here.

This particular polar bear effigy and style is suggested to be Thule, a culture that migrated throughout Alaska, Canada, and Greenland about 1000 years ago. (Source: Peabody Exhibit Label, 2005, Past Perfect Database.)

Polar bear effigy made from ivory: Northwest Alaska, date unknown. Object #98.27.2

To learn more about the history of these artifacts, check out these sources:

Snowshoes Magazine – From Bear Paws to Beaver Tails: The History of Snowshoes

History of Snowshoes and How They Were Made

Canadian Icons: History of the Mukluk

Traditional Snow Tools and Technologies: Snow Knives by Our Winter World

Ulu Factory, Alaska – History of the Ulu

Smithsonian Magazine: These Snow Goggles Demonstrate Thousands of Years of Indigenous Ingenuity

A Note on Labret Use Around the Bering and Chukchi Seas by Don E. Dumond

A Brief History of the Beaver Trade

Hunting Magic and Abbe Breuil

Technology Meets Creativity at the Peabody

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

This winter I have been exploring and learning a new online platform – PowToon

PowToon is a digital platform that is used to create fully customized videos for a variety of audiences. The videos can be short or long (max 20 min) and can include cartoon elements or real images and video.

My first video is targeted toward new faculty at the school who may not know how they can work with the Peabody. An engaging, fun video – in addition to our course catalogue – will hopefully bring new collaborations and faculty to the Peabody.

I am excited to continue learning this program and producing videos to highlight and augment our educational initiatives and digital programs such as Diggin’ In.

FBI Collection – Origin and Update

Contributed by Marla Taylor and John Bergman-McCool

Every museum is full of stories and story-tellers.  Our recent work in the inventory process has uncovered an old story that always gets my attention (Marla’s).  But, before I begin, I must give credit to Eugene Winter, the Peabody’s late Curator Emeritus, who was a story-teller extraordinaire – I am sharing a shortened version of his memories.  (Another time, I will tell you about the time Gene cooked his lunch in an active volcano or walked on a whale.  The man was full of stories!)

Gene Winter – the best story-teller I knew

In 1986, Gene welcomed a man named George McLaughlin into the Peabody.  McLaughlin claimed to be creating a handbook on archaeology for the local Boy Scouts and was looking to photograph objects in the Peabody’s collection.  As a teacher himself, Gene was happy to encourage this project and made arrangements for McLaughlin to return a couple weeks later to access the collection.

However, McLaughlin instead returned the next day and told the administrative assistant, Betty Steinert, that Gene had authorized him to examine the collection – alone.  Over the next three days, McLaughlin helped himself to an unknown number of objects from the collection.

Less than a week later, Gene received a call from security at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.  A man matching McLaughlin’s description had stolen artifacts from a grad student’s work area and ran out of the museum before he could be caught.  Because McLaughlin had now crossed state lines, the FBI became involved. 

Gene and Betty remembered that McLaughlin had used the Peabody’s phone to call his wife about being late for dinner.  This crucial piece of information allowed the FBI to locate McLaughlin’s home. Fortunately, McLaughlin was arrested soon after these incidents and all materials in his possession were seized. 

Eagle-Tribune article from 1986 recounts George McLaughlin’s theft of artifacts from the Peabody Museum.

In total, McLaughlin victimized six institutions in New England and stole thousands of artifacts valued at over $800,000 in 1986 ($1.9 million in 2020 dollars).  He intermingled the artifacts based on his own system and systematically removed their catalog numbers (often the best clue to their original home).  By so drastically removing the objects from their context, it was a challenge to return the objects to their appropriate homes.

McLaughlin had kept his own version of a ledger identifying the objects and where they came from.  And fortunately, Gene was able to recognize a dozen or so very specific objects from the Peabody’s collection.  The FBI left it up to the victimized institutions to divide the material in McLaughlin’s collection.  The Peabody ended up with nearly 1600 objects from McLaughlin. 

Ultimately, McLaughlin was sentenced to a three year suspended sentence and four years of probation.  He was also fined $10,000 and ordered to pay a small restitution to each institution.

And therein lays the origin of the Peabody’s FBI collection.

Having come across these materials during our inventory and rehousing project it was time for them to be cataloged by myself (John). One challenge confronted us: McLaughlin had removed any identifying numbers applied by the museums and applied stickers with his own numbers. As the objects were cataloged, a careful inspection was made for remnants of original numbers not completely obliterated during the removal process. There were many with tantalizing hints of legible numbers. In the end though, there were just a few objects with numbers clear enough to associate with our museum’s ledger.

A page of McLaughlin’s inventory

The remaining majority of objects needed new numbers. As mentioned above, McLaughlin had organized the objects and transcribed them into a ledger of sorts. His ledger was too general to make a one-to-one comparison with our own museum’s ledger, but it served as the outline of our numbering system. We added our own prefix, indicating that these objects were stolen and returned by the FBI and followed that with the McLaughlin number. In that way the objects will always carry that part of their strange history.

I (Marla again) do want to note that to our knowledge, McLaughlin is not responsible for the missing artifacts from Etowah and Little Egypt discussed in our blog in 2019.

Diggin’ In: Season 2

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

We are tremendously excited to announce the continuation of Diggin’ In: Digital Conversations with Archaeologist. Co-hosted by the Peabody Institute and the Massachusetts Archaeological Society the lecture series brings leading experts and their work directly to our viewers. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Building on the success of the inaugural season of Diggin’ In, which reached over 1000 individuals, Season 2 promises to continue to be especially robust. Outstanding scholars such as Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptist, Dr. Lindsay Montgomery, and Kimberly Smith will cover fascinating topics ranging from Black feminist archaeology, to Comanche rock art, to the artifact patterning of the Victorian practice of picnicking in cemeteries.

Join us on Wednesday January 27, 2021 for the launch of the new season with Joe Bagley, Boston City Archaeologist for his talk Privy to the Past: The History of (and in) Privies. All lectures begin at 1:30 pm. 

If you want to attend one or all of these lectures, please sign up at rspeabody@andover.edu to get on the ZOOM invitation list.

Each episode will be recorded and uploaded to YouTube afterwards.

Home to Cape Cod

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Sometimes it can take years to repatriate ancestors and funerary belongings back to Native American tribes.  And sometimes, it can take just a few weeks. 

On November 9th, the Peabody partnered with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (PMAE) of Harvard University to repatriate ancestors and belongings to representatives of the Wampanoag Confederacy.  From start to finish, this process took about six weeks – a credit to the partnership work with the PMAE and our established relationship with the Wampanaog.

We are always happy to see ancestors return home and have the opportunity to share that with so many wonderful partners.

Representatives of the Wampanoag Confederacy, the Peabody Institute, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard pose for a socially distanced photograph

Reflections on Repatriation

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Most of my time lately has been spent on repatriation work.  This work isn’t something that I can share lots of details about, but it is probably both the most challenging and rewarding part of my job. 

The Peabody has always had a commitment to working with tribes and Indigenous peoples to ensure that ancestors, funerary belongings, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are repatriated in a respectful and timely fashion.  I am fortunate to inherit that past work and a strong institutional reputation for fairness and responsibility.  It is a high standard that I constantly strive to uphold.

In late October, I was able to take part in the 6th Annual Repatriation Conference sponsored by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA).  This conference was a focused on the 30th anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  It was fabulous to learn about the work of other institutions and tribes, share strategies to overcome challenges, hear about success stories, and be inspired by so many other dedicated professionals. 

I was the most impacted by a wonderful presentation on decolonization by the Director of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, ME and the staff of the Museum of Us in San Diego, CA.  The incredible work they have done, and continue to do, to address the inherently colonial nature of a museum interpreting the material culture of minority and Indigenous communities is inspiring.  Listening to their presentation and thinking about the work we do at the Peabody, I was pleased to identify so much overlap.  The thought we have put into the decolonizing process manifests itself in our collections policies, NAGPRA policy, how we approach education, and approach research inquiries.

I take this part of my job very seriously.  My work can’t erase past mistreatment of these ancestors and belongings, or redress colonial wrongs, but I can make progress.  The changes that I am part of will hopefully become the foundation of a stronger reputation for caring, meticulousness, and a progressive attitude toward repatriation.  Decolonization work is anti-racism work.

In mid-November, a colleague and I will be presenting to the NAGPRA Community a Practice (a group of scholars and NAGPRA practitioners from museum and tribes) on the topic of decolonizing collections care.  I am excited to share my ideas with this group and get feedback.

The process of decolonization will probably never end and there will always be more to learn.  I look forward to the challenge!

This artwork was created especially for the 6th Annual Repatriation Conference by George Curtis Levi, who is a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma and is also Southern Arapaho. This ledger art painting depicts how repatriation builds community and strengthens culture. It was painted on an antique mining document from Montana that dates from the 1890s.