On Thursday, February 21 we will be hosting our Family Fun with Archaeology event. This free event will have activities such as building Lego models of ancient ruins, playing Native American musical instruments, making a clay pot, and more.
Since we have run the program a few times, I have been thinking of ways that we might add new activities for kids and adults to do together.
One of the new interactive activities for families is creating a fishing net. Fishing has played a vital role in New England’s history, from the First People to today. Ancient nets were made of various plant fibers and used in a variety of ways to catch fish in rivers.
While talking with Ellen Berkland, archaeologist for the Department of Recreation and Conservation, about an archaeology event at Maudsley State Park in Newburyport, MA that she hosted in October, she mentioned that she had included net making. I was instantly intrigued!
After talking with Ellen and googling “net making,” as well as watching a few YouTube videos, I settled on using the simple overhand knot to make the net. I also decided to use different color strings to help make it easier for people to see what strings they are working with.
Here is my attempt at making a net – I think it looks pretty good for a first time!
If you want to try your hand at this or other crafts, come to the Peabody next month!
The Peabody Institute has been working for some time now to establish full physical and intellectual control over our collection. You can read about our progress here, here, here, and here.
But, physically inventorying the collection is only half the project. The Peabody also needs to document and account for all the artifacts that came into, and left, the collection over the years. Currently, about 56,000 catalog records are present in our database, PastPerfect, versus the nearly 120,000 unique catalog numbers that have been assigned over the years. Original cataloging records at the Institute are largely on paper in two formats – ledger books that document the first phase of collections and individual catalog cards that were in use through the 1980s. Often, a single line of handwritten text or a 3×5 index card contains all the documented information for a specific artifact. That data is invaluable for making objects relevant and accessible to researchers, faculty, students, and in our ongoing repatriation work with Native American tribes.
Recently, I presented this problem to the Board of the Abbot Academy Fund as part of their biannual grant cycle. Focusing on the need to transcribe the hand-written ledger books – 78,094 individual line entries in 14 ledger books. I am thrilled to report that the Abbot Academy Fund has chosen to support our Transcribing the Collection initiative!
The grant funds a temporary project transcriptionist who will type each line of the original accession ledgers from early twentieth century cursive into an Excel document. The project will be complete in the fall of 2019.
Once all this information is recorded, the Peabody will collaborate with PastPerfect to migrate the data into our database. The ultimate goal is to make the collection more accessible to staff, researchers, students and tribes.
I will keep you updated!
The Transcribing the Collection project is made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.
Hi there! My name is John and I am the new Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute. As Inventory Specialist my primary task is to work on the ongoing inventory and rehousing project. The project’s goals are to fully understand the collections that are held at the Institute and move them from their old wooden drawers into archival boxes. Armed with the more precise knowledge of what is in the Peabody, the institute can ensure their continued care and share them with students and the public for years to come.
This position is a dream job for me. It brings together my interest in archaeology, museums and collections care, and who doesn’t love spending time underground!
Before moving to Massachusetts in 2013, I worked for almost a decade as an archaeologist in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. After relocating to New England I enrolled in the MFA program at Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. During my time as a graduate student I found that I kept coming back to archaeology and the history of museum collections as a subject for my artwork.
While I was in graduate school I also pursued a certificate in Museum Studies. I gravitated towards collections care and since graduating I’ve worked in collections at the Fitchburg Art Museum and Historic New England.
In a round-about way I’ve come back to archaeology, though it’s been following me for the past 5 years. During my time here I’ve been inventorying objects from Missouri. There have been some surprising finds, which has been great. You never know what you’re going to find here at the Peabody.
During spring break, March 2019, eighteen Phillips Academy students will accompany Peabody director Ryan Wheeler, instructor in Chinese Congmin Zhao, and Anne Martin-Montgomery, Chinese for Families, on the inaugural Adventures in Ancient China trip. Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World Programs, offered cooperatively by the Tang Institute and the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
Recruiting for the trip commenced in fall 2018, with a deadline for applications on December 1, 2018. Wheeler, Zhao, and Carmen Muñoz-Fernández, Director of Learning in the World, hustled to make decisions and invite students to participate before winter break began. We were impressed by the diversity of the group, with a good mix of male and female students, as well as good representation of each grade, including some intrepid juniors! Students and families were asked to complete the first round of paperwork necessary for the trip, and to check that passports were current.
Once all the initial paperwork was in at the outset of January, we began the process of booking flights and lodging, all necessary for the fairly complex visa applications that would be required of most of our travelers. Along the way we learned a lot about Adobe Acrobat forms and benefited from tips provided by one parent! At this point we have our hotels booked for our stay in Beijing, as well as our airline tickets secured, thanks to assistance from China Highlights and Jody’s Travel. As families complete visa application forms, we’ve asked our student travelers to secure their visa photos. Happily, there are several apps that can help generate the photos in their required format and size (33 mm by 48 mm).
Setting aside the paperwork, bookings, and visa applications for a moment, however, we can reflect on some of the cultural and archaeological wonders that await us in a China. Some of our student travelers have mentioned that they are particularly excited about visiting the Shaolin Monastery, a day trip during our stay in Luoyang. The Shaolin Monastery is the center of Chan Buddhism and is believed to have been founded in the fifth century CE—some 1,500 years ago! Chan Buddhism is believed to be the predecessor of Japanese Zen Buddhism and shares many similarities; Chan Buddhism was also heavily influenced by Taoism, and this is evident in some of the martial arts practiced by the Shaolin monks and at the many Gong Fu (Kung Fu) schools in the area. We will get a chance to visit one of those schools and take a short course in Gong Fu!
Soon it will be time to hand in the completed visa applications, which will then go to a visa service company and the Chinese consulate in New York. We’re also planning for our first gathering with the students—an opportunity to meet fellow travelers, review the itinerary, ask questions about the packing list, and get ready for our trip!
For the past year and a half, I have spent the majority of my time inventorying drawers as part of the Peabody’s Inventory and Reboxing Project. As exciting as that project has been, every once in a while I have needed to take a break from it to recharge my brain. In order to recharge while simultaneously staying productive, I was tasked with photographing and inventorying the ceramic vessel collection that is housed on the second floor of the Peabody. In order to complete this project, I printed out inventory sheets for the ceramic cabinets in Second Floor Storage and went shelf by shelf making sure each vessel was there and photographing it. This was great because I enjoy photography and try to do it often in my spare time. Once the vessels were photographed, I edited them in Photoshop and then uploaded the finished photos to each object’s catalog record in our museum software, PastPerfect. Editing the photos was very enjoyable for me because I was able to expand my Photoshop skills, which were pretty limited before taking on this project.
The original goal was to take one day a week to do these tasks. However, as the inventory project got rolling and certain collections needed to be cataloged faster than others, the ceramic inventory ended up getting slightly pushed aside in order to accommodate more pressing tasks at the Peabody. The main point of this blog post is this: the ceramic inventory has officially been completed!! Each vessel is logged into PastPerfect and has a photograph attached to it. The other exciting bit of information is that all of these vessels (except for NAGPRA sensitive ones) are available to view in our online catalog which can be found HERE. Take a look at the link to see what I have been working on, and feel free to peruse the online collections even further to see what else is housed at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology!
The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology was one of seventeen tribes and other organizations supporting the Association on American Indian Affairs December 6, 2018 statement urging collectors and investors to buy contemporary American Indian art instead of antiquities.
The AAIA statement asks that collectors “interested in American Indian art should … support contemporary American Indian artists and their creations made for the art market” rather than buy American Indian “artifacts” and “antiquities.”
The statement explains the sad truth known to most archaeologists and museum workers, namely that “there is a long history of looting and stealing American Indian burials and important American Indian cultural and sacred patrimony. These items often end up in private collections and ultimately auction houses and institutions all over the world.”
The advent of internet auctions in the mid-1990s made it easy for collectors to connect with sellers, ultimately fueling the demand for American Indian artifacts and antiquities and driving up prices. Internationally the trade in antiquities has been closely linked to funding terrorism, while domestically it is related to the illicit drug trade. A November 3, 2017 blog post by Jason Daley on Smithsonian.com concludes that most international antiquities being sold online are fake or illegal. The same is likely true of artifacts from the United States.
One example is found in Operation Timucua, a multi-year undercover sting conducted by law enforcement agencies in Florida, which culminated in a number of arrests in 2014. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers spent two years infiltrating what they came to know as a crime ring intent on removing ancient American Indian artifacts from public lands and then selling them on the internet, netting nearly $2 million. Thirteen individuals from Florida and Georgia were arrested, considered the main dealers and looters involved in the illicit organization. Massive numbers of antiquities were seized as well, many torn from sacred mounds and riverbeds where they had been placed and remained for thousands of years.
Closer to home, public outcry recently halted the auction of seven objects that originated with Tlingit, Bella Coola, and Nitinat peoples in the Pacific Northwest. The Medford Public Library, in a suburb of Boston, had received the objects in 1880. The objects were being offered in a December 1, 2018 auction run by Skinner in Boston, with sales of $117,000 anticipated and earmarked to fund construction of a new library. Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs asserted that the library needed to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law that requires museums and other publically funded institutions and agencies to consult with tribes regarding sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. Medford Mayor Stephanie M. Burke investigated the auction with input from the town’s attorneys and ultimately agreed that the items should be pulled from the auction.
The AAIA statement concludes by stating that:
Buyers and collectors interested in Tribal antiquities and artifacts should do their own careful due diligence and consideration as to whether Ancestors and burial belongings, and cultural and sacred patrimony are a proper investment. Perceptions on collecting items of Tribal Cultural Heritage are changing quickly, along with laws that seek to protect them. Finally, and as stated above, buyers and collectors should focus their investment on contemporary American Indian artists whose stories and creations are accessible and created to share.
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!
The Peabody Institute holds many collections from across North America. In the early 20th century, institutions often traded objects with one another in order to expand holdings and develop more diverse collections. One of the collections the Peabody received in trade is the William Duncan Strong collection, which consists of objects from Labrador. Strong was a prolific archaeologist and anthropologist who was known for his direct historical approach to studying Indigenous cultures of North and South America.
William Duncan Strong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1899. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he initially studied zoology before switching his focus to Anthropology. While at Berkeley, he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, a well-known American anthropologist who Strong considered a mentor and friend. Strong received his Ph. D. in 1926. His dissertation, titled “An Analysis of Southwestern Society,” was subsequently published in American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. Throughout his career, Strong conducted ethnographic and archaeological studies throughout southern California, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Peru, and Labrador.
The Labrador collection is one of the largest collections housed at the Peabody. It was given to the Peabody by the Field Museum in Chicago in exchange for materials from Pecos Pueblo. The Labrador collection contains many interesting artifacts from the Arctic region. Strong assembled the collection as part of a 1927-28 expedition to the Arctic led by Commander Donald B. MacMillan. MacMillan was known for his arctic cruises, which often included a variety of scientists and observers. Most of Strong’s time was spent in ethnographic research with the Montagnais-Naskapi, but he also found time to excavate several Inuit villages—this is where the Peabody collection originated.
One of the artifacts that I found the most intriguing was what looked like a boat carved out of stone. I asked about what this object was since I had never come across anything like it. I thought perhaps it was some kind of kettle but I was informed that it was actually a lamp called a Kudlik.
These lamps were typically used by people in the Arctic to light and heat their dwellings, to melt snow, and to cook. They were usually made out of soapstone, which was carved into a dish-like object with a shallow perforation in the center. This is where the wick, which was fashioned from cottongrass or moss, would be placed. The surrounding dish was then most commonly filled with seal blubber, although whale blubber was also used in whaling communities. The wick would soak in blubber, which would then allow it to remain lit and provide people with light.
It is always very interesting to see how people in the past used various objects from their environment to create tools that we still use to this day!
No one invited us to the party but we’ve stayed for over nine years. And the desserts keep getting better. Not that what we do would come under the category of party. What should be obvious to readers of this blog is that I am talking about what it is like to volunteer at the Peabody Institute. First of all, who can volunteer? Being a graduate of Phillips Academy helps in passing the rigorous entrance examination but there are exceptions, such as my wife, Susan, whose qualifications, while many, started with marriage. This automatically reduces the interview process (but does not eliminate the background check.) And what do volunteers do?
Some of you might get the wrong impression that all we do is what the staff shy away from. Far from it. There have been plenty of occasions where it was all we could do to pry staff apart from a project to allow us to either dig into the unknown (such as categorizing about one hundred yards of unclassified photos) or finish it off (such as one hundred yards of labels.)
Of course, I am exaggerating. (No point in frightening you.) I have handled (and often read) documents from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; paleolithic artifacts from 10,000 B.C.E; ledgers with tens of thousands of entries. I can picture specific bifaces, sherds and feathers.
What my wife, Susan, and I have been doing has varied considerably over the years as staff have come and gone, priorities have shifted, and time frames have expanded. I like to think that volunteering has allowed the Peabody to think in terms of decades, not centuries. This might come as a surprise until you consider that the Peabody is home to somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000 artifacts.
For quite a number of the past nine years, Susan and Leah (another spectacular volunteer) have been inspecting, vacuuming and protecting textiles from Guatemala. Although the end of the project has been in their sights for the past year, Einstein’s theory of special relativity keeps getting in the way (time slowing, distances shortening…easy stuff.) Eager to try my own hand at a multitude of projects, my time has been slowed as well. Despite Einstein’s slowing of time as we operate at the speed of light, sadly, all of us working as an extended family inside the Peabody’s walls have grown somewhat older (but not by much and not at the same rate.)
Most recently, I had the task of filling out labels to put on a few of the 1,500 drawers containing a variety of artifacts. It was a matter of necessity, not just my dexterity and eye coordination. When I completed that task, it was my honor to look for the “absence” of items. It all started with the discovery that an item had been “mislabeled.” That’s akin to looking through a haystack and saying you didn’t find the needle. And winning means you did not find the needle.
Sometimes I write blogs. I’ll stop here because my limit is 500 words. (Only staff can do more!)
In addition to working on the Inventory Rehousing Project, I survey the artifacts and ethnographic materials held in our flat file storage units. While all artifacts at the Peabody Institute require special attention, the objects stored in our flat file storage need extra TLC, such as pest protection, monitored temperature, and custom storage mounts.
Let’s take a journey through the process! Each drawer in our flat file storage is first emptied for an inventory and inspection of objects. Once emptied, the drawer is vacuumed and relined with clean Volara® foam. Volara® is a closed cell polyethylene foam that has applications in medicine and museums. Objects that are particularly susceptible to movement or damage in storage are measured for custom mounts. Custom cavity mounts provide a rare opportunity to do work outside, to enjoy the weather while carving foam with a hot knife. Next, I assess each item’s condition and photograph it for our database records. Once complete, the artifacts are returned to their newly created foam padding and/or mounts for safe resting. My most recent work includes this small cavity mount for a Thule ivory figurine of a polar bear.
It is important to revisit these objects, not only to make sure all are accounted for, but to bring them up to today’s standards in terms of care and condition. After all, one of the most important goals of collections management is to preserve these objects to the best of our ability for future generations.