Homo naledi and 3D printing

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the announcement of Homo naledi’s discovery in 2015, this South African fossil hominin has made an appearance in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught at the Peabody and offered as a senior science elective by Phillips Academy.

Over 100 specimens of Homo naledi have been scanned and made available via Duke University’s MorphoSource website. This represents unprecedented access to the fossils. Typically, we rely on older casts (our plaster casts from Wenner-Gren’s twentieth century casting program have become quite fragile!) or models made from photos and measurements.

Image of Homo naledi hand from Morphosource website.
Reconstruction of Homo naledi hand from MorphoSource website.

Last year in Human Origins Phillips Academy Mkerspace guru Claudia Wessner helped us 3D print Homo naledi’s femur, which includes some unusual features, including a distinct sulcus or furrow on the femoral neck that is not known in other hominins. Students and instructor alike puzzled over the femur, and compared it to other casts and models in the Peabody collection.

This year Ms. Wessner was kind enough to host us again and discuss different types of 3D scanning and printing and help us think how these might be useful in paleoanthropology and physical anthropology.

Image of students and Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner with 3D print of Homo naledi hand.
Human Origins students look on as Claudia Wessner prepares the resin print of Homo naledi’s hand for a bath in alcohol.

Instead of the femur, we chose to do a 3D print of Homo naledi’s hand, also available via the MorphoSource website. We were treated to side by side 3D prints using the Makerspace’s filament and resin printers. While the prints with the filament printer were interesting, the resin print is at a level comparable with a cast or model, in terms of finish and detail. Lee Berger and his colleagues, involved in discovery and study of Homo naledi, have pointed out that the hand is quite similar to that of a modern human, but also has curved bones likely related to tree climbing. Students in Human Origins 2017 got a chance to see Homo naledi’s hand up close and compare with bones of a modern human, noting the similarities and differences.

Image of resin 3D hand print.
Resin 3D hand print.

In the intervening months between the 2016 and 2017 Human Origins classes we’ve learned a lot more about Homo naledi. Lee Berger’s book, Almost Human, was published, adding lots of exciting details to the discovery and quest to date the remains, and perhaps most important, we now understand the dating of the fossils. In May 2017 we learned that Homo naledi dates between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, making them a cousin, rather than great-grandparent of modern humans. It is fascinating to imagine, however, that a hominin that combined aspects of Australopithecines and much more modern features existed around the same time as the earliest anatomically modern humans.

Image with comparison of four hands: from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.
Comparison of hands, from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.

An end of the term assignment, Human Origins in the News, asks students to find recent and relevant news stories and share them with the class. One story—from September 2017—reports on new fossils found at the Rising Star Cave system. Also members of the new genus and species, these fossils may help understand how Homo naledi accessed the cave and if they were being interred there.

Beyond the classroom, Homo naledi inspired some excitement in one of the seniors who took the course in 2016. I was delighted when she wrote to me in May 2017 to report that Lee Berger’s Almost Human book was out–she had pre-ordered on Amazon and her copy had arrived. A few months later she had a chance to hear Dr Berger deliver a lecture on Homo naledi at the Chautauqua Institute in New York.

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes

Hi, my name is Rachel and I was hired in August as the Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I am originally from upstate New York although for part of 2016 and the majority of 2017 I did work primarily in Virginia. For my first blog post I wanted to give a brief overview of my daily activities.

The main goal of the project I was hired to do is to conduct a complete inventory and rehousing of the collections at the Peabody. This is a task that has never been done before. Currently, the majority of the collections are housed in the wooden drawers that were brought into the Peabody in the 1930s. In each drawer, collections objects are housed in tan artifact boxes.

This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.
This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.

Every day I take the objects out of the tan box and record information about them such as what the object is, what its catalog number is, how many there are and their current location. I then record all of this information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, put the objects back into their tan box and put them into the new gray (or blue, depending on who is asked) archival box. Currently I am working on drawers containing collections from Massachusetts.

These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.
These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.

This type of work is something I have done since 2013 when I was a graduate student at SUNY Albany. It is work that I genuinely enjoy doing, which makes getting up in the morning and coming to the Peabody a whole lot easier. It is always amazing to handle various collections. Doing so has helped me to learn so much more than I ever thought I could about material culture from all over the United States. I know working at the Peabody will help push that knowledge even further. It’s such a great experience to be able to work on a collection from Massachusetts one day, then move to a collection from Ohio or Indiana or even the Yukon the next day.

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 rwheeler@andover.eduor 978 749 4493.

History of the Peabody Through a Diorama Lens

This blog represents the tenth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled of the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Samantha Hixson

 

Phillips Academy has had quite a love affair with Stuart Travis. You can see his work all over the campus; At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Paresky Commons, the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Moncrieff Cochran Bird Sanctuary or, more importantly to this discussion, the Peabody. Most people are familiar with Travis’ great mural which flanks the stairwell in our main entrance, but many who come into the building are not aware that one of our two large dioramas was also made by the artist. Pecos Diorama_GTalbotPhoto-L

The Pecos diorama was commissioned by the Peabody to commemorate Alfred Kidder’s famous excavation in New Mexico and to illustrate stratigraphy, a dating technique he used on a large scale, that would form the bedrock of archaeological research. Douglas Byers, the Director at the time, mentioned the diorama in his 1940 annual report, stating,

“in the week before commencement our Southwestern Hall was opened to the public for the first time. This was subsequently closed because Mr. Travis’ model of Pecos was moved upstairs from the basement and remained uncompleted for several months during which time Mr. Travis was taken from this work to assist in the revision of the biology notebook and other projects. It is a pleasure to report that his work is now finished and the model is enclosed by a case designed and built by the School Carpenter Shop” (p4).

Not only does this passage give insight as to just how involved Travis was with the school as a whole, it also touches upon the history of the Peabody itself.

The Peabody has a history of change and evolution. In its 116-years it has gone through four different iterations of its name and the diorama has been around to see all but one through. At the time of the diorama’s creation the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, as it was known at the time, functioned as a traditional “items on display” type facility. The building was filled to the brim with glass exhibit cases full of objects from the collection, often related to research projects conducted by the Peabody staff.

Indeed, up until the Peabody’s recent past it was an exhibit centered museum, but as our director Ryan Wheeler posted we at the Peabody have entered a new phase in our story and are now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, and the diorama is still right by our side.

 

Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Peabody has a new name! The Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, at their November 5, 2017 meeting, approved the Peabody’s new name. We are now known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Part of our proposal for a name change–included below–addresses the history of our institution’s name, issues of identity, and practical concerns:

Throughout the Peabody’s strategic planning work in 2014 and 2015 there was frequent discussion about the need for focused work on branding. These conversations included Museum personnel, members of the Peabody Advisory Committee, and the broader Phillips Academy community. There was general agreement that one issue was the name Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Discussants pointed out that the name “Peabody” often leads to confusion with the other, larger institutions in Salem, Cambridge, and New Haven, and that the term “museum” is misleading.

The topic of branding was revisited during the Peabody Advisory Committee’s 2016 summer retreat and November 2016 meeting and the group proposed a name change.

Department of Archaeology engraved on entablature over door of Peabody building.
“Department of Archaeology” engraved in the granite entablature above the door was part of architect Guy Lowell’s original 1901 building design and reflects Robert S. Peabody’s interest in seeing the institution as an integral part of campus pedagogy.

The topic of a potential name change has been considered in three ways:

1) Historical— Past names for our institution include Department of Archaeology (1901-1938); Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (1938-1995); and Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (1990-present). The most recent name change occurred in the 1990s and was made to reflect the interest in creating an exhibition driven institution like the Addison Gallery of American Art. That program ended in 2002 with a shift to our current focus on teaching and learning.

Image of old Peabody logo, on glass panel, from front door.
The logo from the Peabody’s front doors is based on a shell gorget from the Etowah site in Georgia.

2) Identity—Museum personnel and advisory committee members have discussed whether or not we are a museum. For example, Eugene Dillenberg’s 2011 article in Exhibitionist emphasizes exhibitions as the core defining aspect of a museum, with exhibits as the primary mission and goal of the institution. The Peabody’s current mission is to provide archaeological and anthropological learning opportunities to the students of Phillips Academy, returning to Robert Peabody’s original vision for the institution, which was to introduce students to the emerging disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, to conduct scientific research, and to provide a place for student activities. There also was general agreement that it was important to retain the name “Peabody,” despite the proliferation of Peabody museums in New England. The sense was that we would continue to be called “The Peabody” on campus and in the broader Phillips Academy community.

Other “Peabody Museums” in New England include:

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Image of blue sign for the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on Andover's Main Street.
Blue sign for the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on Andover’s Main Street.

3) Practical—the word “museum” creates considerable confusion as people come here expecting a more typical museum experience. While we are happy to have people come for tours and events (and classes, of course!) we are a pretty disappointing experience to a growing number of casual visitors. As we become more well-known in the area more people have become curious about what is inside the building and come in to find out.

In his gift letter to the Board of Trustees and the Academy administrators in 1901 Robert S. Peabody shared that he did not want to create a museum on campus, but rather to find ways to introduce students to the fields of archaeology and anthropology. We’ve come to recognized the prescience and vision of Peabody’s original idea for our institution. We trust the name change will help avoid confusion and emphasize our commitment to teaching and learning on campus and beyond.

A color photograph of the Peabody's library and a window looking out onto a red-colored tree outside.

Learning about and from the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

I’ve been thinking about archives and recordkeeping in relation to Native American communities since our Collections Assistant Samantha returned from the International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries and Museums, and shared some resources she learned about there. One of these resources was the 2006 Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, a series of recommendations for non-tribal institutions holding Native American archival material. While we don’t really have Native American archival material at the Peabody, our institutional and archaeological records, mostly created by non-Native American individuals, do document excavations of Native American sites and more recently, repatriations.

The Protocols were created by a group of 19 Native American and non-Native American librarians, archivists (including the then President of the Society of American Archivists), museum curators, historians and anthropologists, and address how institutions can be culturally responsive stewards of these materials and provide culturally appropriate services to the communities with which they are affiliated. Essentially, the protocols speak to the fact that Native American archival records (textual, photographic, audio-visual, etc.) should be treated with as much sensitivity as other cultural objects in a museum’s collection, and may require rethinking a non-Native institution’s policies about access, description and control. Consulting with affiliated tribes to let them know these materials exist, inquiring about any access restrictions or changes in the way materials should be preserved, and not artificially extending the life cycle of a documentary record upon request are examples of recommendations in the Protocols. While archival materials do not currently fall under the jurisdiction of NAGPRA, apparently some institutions, in the spirit of the law, have repatriated them.

A fundamental question to ask about archives and current recordkeeping practices in general is what records get kept, and by whom: historically, it’s been a question of control. The Protocols essentially advocate for non-Native institutions to let go of some of the control they have over Native American archival material, even if this might go against the usual policies of their institution. A contemporary example in the news resonates with this practice: the recent Canadian court ruling allowing First Nations people to destroy testimonies of the abuse they endured at boarding schools: read an article about this here. The destruction of these testimonies means that they will not survive in the form of documentary evidence, accessible to the general public, even at a center that is committed to social justice. However, the victims of this abuse now control their stories, rather than, as quoted in the article, the government “which caused or contributed to the horrible harms to those survivors in the first place.”

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Canadian researcher visits to examine Strong collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Dr. Laura Kelvin, a post-doctoral researcher from Memorial University of Newfoundland, visited the Peabody in October.

Dr. Kelvin is contributing to the Avertok Archaeology Project, a subproject of a larger collaboration between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government representing the Inuit of Labrador – Tradition and Transition.  This community-based archaeology program aims:

  • to locate, excavate and learn more about the original Inuit settlement of Avertok which underlies the present Hopedale community, and other nearby sites,
  • communicate findings to the community and use the research to facilitate knowledge transfer between youth and elders in Hopedale
  • to undertake a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Moravian Cemetery in order to identify the locations of all graves, enabling the community to properly mark and care for the cemetery.

During her visit to the Peabody, Dr. Kelvin examined the William Duncan Strong collection.  Strong was part of the Rawson-MacMillian Sub-Arctic Expedition that the Field Museum in Chicago sent to northeastern Labrador in 1927-1928.  In the early 1930s, Warren K. Moorehead (then Director of the Peabody) orchestrated a trade with the Field Museum to acquire approximately 350 artifacts from this expedition.

A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.
A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.

Dr. Kelvin spent a week photographing all of these artifacts – even 3D scanning some! – for inclusion in a developing community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of the Hopedale area.  She will record traditional community knowledge of the artifacts and provide local access to the images through the network.  Follow the project on their facebook page!

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

A Visit to Brookwood School

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Packing up my car with artifacts always signals that I am off on an adventure!

Recently I traveled to Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea to work with the 4th grade classes. The students had recently begun learning about ancient cultures and how historians and scientists study them, particularly when there are no written records – or at least ones that we can read!

To help everyone better understand how archaeology allows us to investigate cultures of the past, I brought our mock excavation site. The faux dig is made up of painted canvas squares and real artifacts. It is based on a real archaeological dig that took place in Andover decades ago at a pre-contact Native American site, approximately 500 years old.

Working in groups, students rotated around each square or “unit” to look at the artifacts and to hypothesize what human activities were taking place. The groups were able to correctly identify which unit was similar to a kitchen, where the house stood, and where pottery was being made – proving that they had become experts in deciphering the clues left behind!

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Curator of Education Lindsay Randall working with students to identify a fire pit and pottery making.

Back in the Peabody archives

I was so pleased to learn this summer that the Oak River Foundation had decided to fund another year of the archives project at the Peabody! This continuation of the project will allow me to focus on the photographic and map collections, excavation records from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project and the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project, among others. I also hope to begin developing sustainable digitization workflows for some of the archival material, help with reference requests, and continue an oral history project about Scotty MacNeish. I am very happy to be back at the Peabody, continuing this work.

This black and white photograph depicts two sons of Hugh Raup, who participated in the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition of 1944.
A photograph from the archives that caught my eye: Karl and David Raup (sons of Hugh Raup) with fish caught in stream. Big Arm, Kluane Lake. 8/21/44. Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition.

Since starting back up here in early September, I have mostly been working on organizing and inventorying internal museum records like loan, exhibition, and NAGPRA records. These records might not have huge interest for outside researchers (and, as is common for institutions, are typically restricted for 25 years after creation for privacy concerns), but are important for staff members in the course of day-to-day collections management and ongoing repatriation efforts. Now that I am more familiar with the museum’s institutional history, I am finding that I can categorize material more quickly – I don’t have to repeat the learning curve of my first year.

On a personal note, I spent most of the summer between Boston (where I live) and western Massachusetts, where my sister and I own what used to be our grandparents’ house. My French, North African-born grandmother met my American grandfather (from a Scottish family who emigrated to the Boston area in the 1920s) during World War II while he was stationed in Algeria. The house is full of photographs, letters, books, and interesting objects documenting their lives – essentially, my family’s archives. I also spent two weeks working at the Phillips Academy Archives and Special Collections, helping Director of Archives and Special Collections Paige Roberts prepare for an upcoming move of the collections associated with the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library renovation. So, I didn’t stray too far from the work I do here, even while I was away.

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 museum’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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Principles of Editing

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

A few weeks ago I began trekking down to Cambridge every Tuesday evening for the class Principles of Editing, offered through Harvard Extension School. I signed up for the class as I was looking for something that would help me to improve and polish our lesson booklets and other educational materials as we share them with the public. Christina Thompson, editor for the Harvard Review, has structured the class to teach lay people how to produce good, clean copy when editing material such as blogs, newsletters, websites, brochures, and other text.

PE2

Christina has a quirky personality one expects in a writer and the other adult students frequently use humor to make points about the homework. My type of people! The camaraderie in the class certainly makes the late nights enjoyable.

I am looking forward to learning more about editing and to see what other rousing debates we will engage in. (Last week was about when to use Em dashes and En dashes. WARNING: they can elicit strong – occasionally violent – emotions in individuals!)

r.ed holding a sherd that will be part of the upcoming exhibit

r.ed in residence: r.ed monde visits the Peabody

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Exhibits and exhibitions are not the focus of the Peabody.  However, once in a while a unique opportunity presents itself.

Visual artist Angela Lorenz (’83, P’14) reached out in early 2017 to suggest a collaboration with the Peabody. Angela’s newest art book, r.ed monde in r.ed engender.ed, explores the world around us through pointy-shapes and r.ed.

After spending decades in a drawer in the artist’s studio, r.ed steps out on a journey of self-identity.  r.ed identifies with pointy-shaped objects and images from around the world – many of which are similar to pieces in the Peabody’s collection.

Angela and I surveyed collection and collaborated to create r.ed in residence: r.ed monde visits the Peabody. This short exhibition will have an opening reception on Saturday, October 21st from 1-4pm.  Angela will discuss r.ed and her work from 1-2pm and be available to talk with visitors. Refreshments will be served and we will have hands-on activities for all ages.

Come by to explore a new way to examine archaeological artifacts through the lens of contemporary art!