In 2017, the Peabody welcomed Dr. Laura Kelvin to examine the William Duncan Strong collection from Labrador. You can learn all about that visit in a previous blog post here.
Recently, Dr. Kelvin reached out for permission to share some of the images she took in a video that is part of a larger project – the Agvituk Digital Archive Project, which is part of the Agvituk Archaeology Project (AAP). The AAP is a community-based archaeology project that was initiated by the Hopedale community through the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government.
Every summer, students are hired (high school, college/university, or upgrading) from Hopedale to help conduct traditional knowledge interviews with community members (and sometimes archaeologists) and help with survey and excavation if needed. The interviews were originally going to focus on specific objects that Dr. Kelvin documented, or those recovered through AAP activities. However, due to the high volume of material, the students have been picking topics inspired by the artifacts and interviewing people about those subjects. This past summer the students chose to discuss sewing.
Short videos are created that blend conversations with community members and images of relevant artifacts and historical photos. The videos can then easily share traditional knowledge with the larger community.
Dr. Kelvin and her students used several artifacts from the Peabody’s collection in the sewing video. You can see it in its entirety here.
My name is Emily and I have been working as the new Inventory Specialist at the Peabody Institute for about a month now. My job is to assist with the current inventory and rehousing project. My day to day work consists of moving artifacts from their old wooden storage drawers into new archival boxes which better preserve the objects.
I grew up in a small town called Andover, New York (I know, how ironic) before moving to Buffalo to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. From there, I spent a year in Florence, Italy doing coursework for my MA in Museum Studies which I completed this past August. During my time in Italy, I learned collections care and management from some of the most famous museums in the world including the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican Museum. This is only my first position working in a museum but I have completed museum internships back home in Buffalo as well as in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I have always been passionate about archaeology and indigenous studies so I am excited to be in a position where I can apply my knowledge of both and continue to learn more. Even though I have only been here a few weeks, I have learned so much already. It is amazing to be able to work with and handle objects every day which are hundreds of years old and come from all over the continent. Objects that I have been studying for the past five years are now a part of my everyday life and it is truly such a rewarding experience.
Overall I am very excited to be in this position and can’t wait to see what else I will learn and do during my time at the Peabody!
We were delighted that Dominique, Maxine, and Mia Toya were able to visit this fall and spend a week making traditional Pueblo pottery with students in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes. By our reckoning, this is the fifth year that the Toyas have visited PA. Each visit brings lots of excitement in Thayer’s classes, as well as raw materials from New Mexico, including hand-dug clay, polishing stones, micaceous slip, and fuel for the open air firing.
Dominique, Maxine, and Mia are talented artists and educators from the Pueblo of Jemez, also known as Walatowa. Dominique is known for her micaceous spiral vessels, Maxine makes beautiful hand painted figurines of owls and town criers, and Mia makes vessels adorned with butterflies on their lids. All of their pieces are made and fired using the traditional techniques of Pueblo pottery making and include their own distinctive innovations. Collectively they have won numerous distinctions and regularly show their pieces at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market and other juried venues. They also are terrific educators with a passion for sharing Pueblo pottery making.
The Peabody and PA have a long history with the Pueblo of Jemez. From 1915 through 1929 the Peabody sponsored Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, one of the ancestral communities of Jemez. In the 1990s Peabody personnel were involved in repatriation of ancestors and funerary objects from Pecos and began the Pecos Pathways program, a forerunner of today’s Learning in the World programs.
We are very fortunate that several donors and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee have helped us acquire some of the Toyas’ stunning pieces and provide underwriting for their visits. We are so grateful for the time that the Toyas have dedicated to working with PA students and faculty!
The Peabody is continuing to undergo its Inventory and Rehousing Project to make way for more sustainable storage in the future. As a result, the Peabody Collections Team is giving away their original wooden drawers as the Peabody no longer has any use for them.
The wooden drawers were a part of the original storage for the Peabody collections, housing over 600,000 artifacts. The wooden storage originated in the early 1930s consisting of bays, shelves, and drawers. Currently, about 30% of the collection has been rehoused from its original storage. This means there are many drawers becoming available and many more to come in the future!
Those who have taken drawers have re-purposed them into various things ranging from tea trays to accent walls! Below are some examples of how our drawers were reused by friends of the Peabody.
Peabody Drawers used for storage
Peabody drawers stained and painted
Jewelry, wall storage and table made from Peabody drawers
If you have re-purposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the early topics covered in the interdisciplinary course Human Origins is science vs. pseudoscience. Students watched a short video by Craig Foster, who talks about his experience attending a Bigfoot research conference. Archaeology has long contended with claims for ancient aliens, lost continents, and cryptids, like Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Abominable Snowman. While seemingly fun and harmless diversions, these things can muddy thinking about what science is and how it is done, and contribute to misperceptions about the accomplishments of indigenous people. The nineteenth century Moundbuilder Myth suggested that the ancient earthen monuments of the Ohio Valley had not been built by the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans, but rather by a mysterious lost race. This was used to justify the United States’s expansion westward, as exhibited in the doctrine called Manifest Destiny. If Native people were not responsible for creating the Ohio Valley monuments it called into question their rightful occupation of this territory and empowered American expansion.
Paranormal and cryptid researchers often use technology and techniques that approximate science. They represent an investigation of the unknown and the possible. During class we discussed perceptions of science and philosopher Karl Poppers’s recognition that falsifiability is the hallmark of scientific investigation. The classic example is Arthur Eddington’s check of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein had noted that it should be possible to observe the gravitational deflection or bending of starlight during as eclipse; if the starlight wasn’t deflected, it meant that his postulates had been proven false. Eddington made a series of photographs during the 1919 eclipse that demonstrated that the Sun did, in fact deflect starlight. Ancient aliens, Bigfoot, and Lost Tribes can never be subject to real scientific investigation like this because the claims can never be tested and proved false.
We revisited Foster’s video and his thoughts on the Bigfoot adherents. Why do people believe these outrageous claims? For one, it has to do with context. If you spend time with other Bigfoot believers it reinforces your own thinking. We also discussed belief as a continuum. Some people don’t believe in cryptids or aliens, but are willing to consider the possibility of ghosts. Foster also notes that we are all susceptible to pseudoscientific claims and that the people who believe are perfectly rational and pleasant individuals who will remain unconvinced by arguments or contradictory evidence.
During class we also examined a cast of a jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki, a very large primate known from around 9 million years ago in parts of Asia; paleontologists believe Gigantopithecus became extinct around 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus is often offered as the real creature behind cryptids like Bigfoot and Yeti. As the claim goes, perhaps the large ape has persisted in remote areas into modern times. Relatively harmless thinking, right? But if we accept claims like this, we are effectively denying Darwin’s theory of evolution. And if we believe that evolution isn’t operating it opens the door for a host of other, more insidious thinking, especially ideas about race.
If you want to learn more about archaeology, science, and pseudoscience please attend our inaugural Peabody Lecture in Archaeology & Education, featuring archaeologist and author Ken Feder. Feder will talk about his newest book, Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and other Strange Sites in North America. Ken will sign copies of the book after his talk. 4-6pm, Saturday, October 19, 2019, Breed Memorial Hall, Tufts University, 51 Winthrop Street, Medford MA. The event is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP: https://events.attend.com/f/1383789424#/reg/0/
Hot off the presses – the Peabody’s annual report for academic year 2018-2019 has just been released! Interacting with nearly 2,000 students (yes, some PA students keep coming back for more) and dozens of researchers, another wonderful year is under our belt.
The Addison Gallery of American Art is across the street from the Peabody at Phillips Academy. While I am happy to gently tease that the Peabody is cooler, the Addison is a pretty amazing institution as well. Founded in 1931, the Addison’s collection of American art is one of the most comprehensive in the world, including more than 20,000 objects spanning the eighteenth century to the present. I strongly recommend that you take the time to check out their awesome collection online.
Several months ago, Gordon Wilkins, the Robert M. Walker Associate Curator of American Art, requested a loan of several objects from the Peabody for an exhibition. We were thrilled to be able to help out and loan ten objects to the Addison for their show A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America. The exhibition considers how the evolution of the European-American understanding of the natural world fundamentally altered the ecology of North America. From the Puritans’ seventeenth century “errand into the wilderness” to the present, the perceived dichotomy between man and nature has defined the European-American experience in the so-called “New World.” A Wildness Distant from Ourselves focuses on the nineteenth century, an era that witnessed both the extreme exploitation of the land and its peoples and the birth of a modern conservation movement.
I have been over there to check it out, and the exhibition looks great! It is wonderful to see the objects from the Peabody seamlessly integrated with other examples of American art to contribute to an important story.
If you are in the Andover area, I strongly recommend taking in the exhibition. And don’t miss the opening reception on Friday, October 4th from 6-8pm.
The end of slavery in Massachusetts rests with the court cases of two enslaved people: Mum Bett and Quok Walker. While both individals are discussed in the Salem State University course that we support during the summer, it is the Quok Walker case that we are most excited to revisit next year.
For the 2019 iteration of the class, Dr. Bethany Jay and I changed the focus of the course to look at the “long” nineteenth century through the lens of African-Americans and archaeology. This decision was made so that the class could better support history educators as they navigate new changes to the Massachusetts Frameworks.
Part of the process of examining the nineteenth century and it’s impact on the experiences of African Americans through events like the Civil War and Reconstruction, is to better understand specific events prior to 1800, and Quok Walker’s legal case is one of the most important.
Most people do not realize that Massachusetts was the first colony to create laws legalizing slavery. The economy of Massachusetts and New England was heavily dependent on West Indian slavery; enslaving native people in New England and importing Africans into the colony was common practice in the 1700s as well. It was not until the American Revolution, when enslaved people began using the colonists’ language demanding freedom from England, that the legality of slavery changed in Massachusetts.
In 1781, Quok Walker ran away from Nathaniel Jennison to a farm owned by Seth and John Caldwell. After Jennison and others captured and beat Walker, he used the legal system to prove his freedom. This is because his original owner had promised to free Walker.
Over the course of the three trials, it was declared that Walker was in fact “a Freeman and not the proper Negro slave” and the state Supreme Court also found that the state’s Constitution was not compatible with the institution of slavery. These decisions, while not codifying the abolishment of slavery into state law, made slavery legally untenable in the state. Thus, Massachusetts, the first state to allow slavery, became the first to legally end it.
With the change in focus for the Salem State University class, we added new partners, including Ellen Berkland, archaeologist for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). While working with Berkland regarding the DCR property Camp Meigs – which is the place outside of Boston where the African American Mass 54th regiment was encamped before fighting in the Civil War – she informed Dr. Jay and I that DCR had a property that was related to the life of Walker and proposed that we might bring our 2020 class to dig at the site.
And to say that Dr. Jay and I were excited would be an understatement! Why? Because that is the land that Quok Walker lived on after he gained his freedom. The idea that we might be able to find objects that are connected to him and could help historians and others better understand his life is an exhilarating opportunity!
This blog represents the twelfth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
In the early 1960s, future Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish undertook several important excavations in the Tehuacán Valley, located in the Mexican state of Puebla. Peabody curator Fred Johnson and Peabody director Doug Byers assisted MacNeish with his project, and provided the institutional support needed for National Science Foundation funding. During the 1970s the data gathered and analyzed by MacNeish was published in a five volume book series which garnered a lot of attention from the archaeological community—these are now available on InternetArchive. While his most prominent contribution to the field involved his research on the evolution of corn, he also provided a great deal of information toward the study of ceramics in the Tehuacán Valley region, particularly when it came to the ceramic figurines that were discovered during his excavations.
In total, MacNeish discovered a total of 74 figurine specimens from the Ajalpan locality of the Tehuacán Valley. While many of these figurines were fragmentary, one was excavated as a nearly whole specimen. This example is made of Ajalpan Coarse red paste and is finished with a thin wash and red pigmented paint which has been applied to some areas. This figurine is quite large, measuring 50 cm tall, 22 cm wide at the shoulders and 9 cm wide at the waist. As with many of the other figurine examples, the Ajalpan Figurine has a large head with an elongated torso and stubby arms and legs. Dubbed the “Dwarf Figurine” by MacNeish because of the figure’s large head and squat torso, these features may be attributed more to style and artistic convention. The large, almond shaped eyes and headdress worn by the figurine led MacNeish to draw comparisons to its resemblance to Egyptian figures.
The presence of the so-called hollow dwarf figurines in the Tehuacán Valley suggested to MacNeish that there were connections between the Late Ajalpan phase of Tehuacán and the San Lorenzo phase of the Olmec area to the east, though it is unclear if contemporary archaeologists would agree. While MacNeish was working in the 1960s it was not uncommon to link interesting or unusual finds to the enigmatic Olmec culture. MacNeish suggested that there were considerable stylistic similarities between the Ajalpan figurines and examples from Olmec sites. He also pointed to the presence at Tehuacán of plain tecomates (a globe shaped vessel with no neck), Ponce Black ceramic sherds, and bowls with thickened rims as evidence of links between the two areas.
Today the Ajalpan Figurine resides in the one remaining exhibit constructed during MacNeish’s tenure at the Peabody.
Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.
First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.
The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.
Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.
The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.
Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.