Monthly Archives: September 2016

The art of collecting

“Briefly stated, the history of archaeology in the Northeast has been in no way different from the history of archaeology elsewhere: its birth was as relic collecting, for the pure and simple interest of the objects recovered. It was soon recognized that without supporting data such objects were little more than curios, and that even with supporting data as to provenience – all too frequently so vague as to be of little value—they still were closely akin to curiosities and the undertaking little more than antiquarianism.” (Douglas Byers, Peabody Annual Report, 1948)

Since beginning my project at the Peabody, I’ve been intrigued by how American Indian artifacts were collected in the first few decades of the 20th century. At the time, the practice ranged from small-scale hobby collecting to commercial-minded efforts to acquire and sell artifacts for profit, to museums collecting for “scientific study.” The Peabody archives offer a glimpse of how artifact collecting, mostly on a small scale, was conducted, documented and perceived. That distinctions were made between “collectors” and professional archaeologists seems clear, even in the early 1900s. And yet, as the quote from Byers above indicates, relic collecting is part of the story of archaeology in the United States. What role did it play in this story, and what common purposes and/or divides developed between the various actors interested in archaeology and artifacts?

I first noted documentation of avocational artifact collecting in Warren K. Moorehead’s records (1890s-1930s). Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator and subsequent director (1901-1938), was well known to amateur collectors; he wrote publications catered to them, such as Prehistoric Relics (1905), purchased artifacts from them, sold artifacts to them, and included images of collector artifacts in his two-volume The Stone Age of North America (1910) (which he then marketed back towards those same collectors). Collectors wrote him, seeking his expertise, as well as those seeking to sell larger collections. He was criticized by his professional peers for being overly focused on artifacts and not exercising rigorous archaeological science. Years later, in 1973, retired Peabody Curator Fred Johnson wrote in a letter to a graduate student: “Moorehead was very definitely not an archaeologist even in the frame of reference of his times. He has never published an important archaeological book or paper. He was a collector, a confirmed looter of archaeological sites and he had no other purpose in life than to secure by any means, regardless of any kind of ethics, specimens which were the ‘best,’ unique, unusual, etc.”

A small card bearing the following text: "Save your Indian relics. When you find tomahawks, pipes, spear heads, drilled stone or other things, write me. I buy all such relics. W.K. Moorehead, Andover, Mass."
Warren Moorehead’s “Save your Indian relics” card, circa 1900-1920

Despite those accusations, and the appearance he gave at times of being a salesman, Moorehead denounced those who destroyed sites to acquire artifacts, and had advocated for the preservation of archaeological sites in the past. In “Commercial vs. scientific collecting” (1905) he wrote: “.. [commercial collectors] have ransacked the graves, mounds and cliff houses, dragged forth the humble arts of simple aborigines long dead and sold them for a few paltry dollars. The destruction of archaeological testimony wrought by these vandals is something beyond compute” (114). In contrast, he describes the simple joys of avocational collecting: “For the local student who collects for his own pleasure, we should have nothing but commendation, for at some future date his cabinet may be preserved. His expenditures, his trips to favorite localities that he may personally roam over freshly ploughed fields, his hours spent in arranging his cabinet during winter evenings are all labors born of love” (114). He also notes that these small collections are “gradually drifting to the permanent museums,” rejoining collections obtained through professional excavations.

While looking through the photographs of artifacts sent to him, I was struck by the “arrangement of the cabinet,” how collectors artfully arranged their artifacts into patterns or staged them to be photographed. Current Peabody Director Ryan Wheeler told me the practice continues to this day. It’s almost as if the deliberate act of collecting is put on display through these creative arrangements: the hand of the collector in accumulating these collections is manifest.

Black and white photograph of of American Indian artifacts arranged into a pattern
Photograph sent to Warren Moorehead of American Indian artifacts from the collection of Inez A. Hall, Pennsylvania, circa 1900-1910
Black and white photograph of American Indian artifacts arranged to be photographed on a white cloth
Photograph of artifacts sent to Warren Moorehead by F.P. Graves, Missouri, circa 1900-1910

A fuller portrait of one such collector emerges in the Peabody archives. Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, born in 1895, began collecting artifacts as a boy in the early 1900s. He collected over 13,000 artifacts during the course of his lifetime, within a five mile radius of his home in Fall River. He took extensive notes on the circumstances of his finds, ensuring  his collection was well documented. He was a member of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. Below is a photograph of his home, taken in conjunction with an analysis and assessment of his collection carried out by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1982.

This black and white photograph depicts several cabinets in the home of Massachusetts native Roy Athearn, whose 13,000 object collection was significant.
Artifact cabinets from Massachusetts collector Roy Athearn’s 13,000 object collection, circa 1982, photograph by T.C. Fitzgerald

To learn more about avocational and professional archaeology in the United States in the early 20th century, Ryan pointed me to a few books, one of which was Setting the Agenda for American Archaeology : The National Research Council Archaeological Conferences of 1929, 1932 and 1935 (2001). Within the NRC, the Committee on State Archaeological Surveys was founded in 1920 under the Division of Anthropology and Psychology. One problem the committee sought to address was “.. the fact that a nation’s fascination with the past was leading to a rapid destruction of archaeological sites and the commercialization of antiquities.” This had less to do with individual collectors than with state-level museums and historical societies, who carried out excavations with little training or expertise, and “had no guiding voices on how to explore the past without destroying the very record being examined” (x). The committee decided that one solution to this problem might be in reaching out to and educating non-professional archaeologists in standards-based archaeological method, through distribution of instructional literature and organization of seminars on the topic. To really appreciate these efforts, one must read the rest of the book, but a common purpose between disparate actors begins to take shape through the idea that avocational archaeologists could be enlisted in preserving contextual information of sites. How did this play out over the rest of the century? And what was the position of museums during this time, such as the Peabody? What divides continued to exist and what relationships evolved? These are all questions I’m curious to investigate further.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Peabody director leads Human Origins course

Students enrolled in Human Origins (SCIE 470) this fall will come face to face with our distant human ancestors as well as contemporary issues like race and scientific racism that are part and parcel of paleoanthropology’s legacy. Between reading and discussion on a variety of topics, ranging from the so-called “Hobbit” fossil—Homo floresiensis to the debate over multiregionalism, students will do some experimental archaeology, including flint knapping, fire making, and throwing a dart with an atlatl. We also will be visiting “The Nest”—the makerspace at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, where we will be 3D printing casts of the newest fossil discovery from South Africa—Homo naledi and comparing them to traditional plaster casts and resin models of other fossil hominins. Other hands-on projects will include looking for clues to human evolution in the bones of a modern human, bone flute making, and creating our own Mesolithic symbol system, akin to the painted pebbles found in Mas d’Azil cave in the French Pyrenees. Throughout the course students will explore some of the most recent discoveries and newest ideas about human evolution and the scientific discourse and debate that ensue. Students will be challenged to develop their critical thinking skills as we evaluate these new discoveries in light of broader discourse on race and the scientific method.

Image of students in Human Origins make bone flutes with bow drills while their instructor Jerry Hagler looks on.
Biology instructor Jerry Hagler looks on as students in Human Origins make bone flutes using bow drills, spring 2016.

Human Origins is an interdisciplinary science course developed collaboratively by biology instructor Jerry Hagler and personnel at the Peabody Museum and was first taught in 2007. Since then it has been offered most years as a senior elective. The pace of new discoveries—like Svante Pääbo’s work on the introgression of Neanderthal DNA into the modern human genome in 2011—means that the curriculum is constantly shifting, making for an exciting and lively class. Dr. Hagler is on sabbatical this year so Dr. Wheeler–Peabody Museum director–is leading the course.

2016-2017 Education Course Catalog

This summer we have worked on updating our course catalog that we share with the faculty at Andover. All of our programs incorporate the Peabody’s unique artifacts into classes that allow students to explore topics in art,  history, science, foreign languages, math, music, and many other subjects. While we offer many classes that support the goals and objectives of faculty through meaningful and engaging experiences for their students, we are also always have to collaborate to create new learning opportunities.

This year we are working with the History Department to create a week long activity for all History 100 students. It is an artifact rich class which will rely heavily on the expertise and assistance of our Curator of Collections, Marla Taylor.  The in-depth lesson will focus on the interaction and trade roots of the Moche, Maya, Puebloan, and Hopewell cultures. We cannot wait to get started!

To see what other lessons and activities we offer to the different departments at Phillips Academy, please browse our catalog

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Completed shelving

Shelving to the rescue!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As I began working this summer on the reboxing project, it immediately became apparent that the artifacts needed room to grow sooner rather than later.  Moving the objects from the wooden drawers into the boxes revealed just how heavy some of those drawers were – some too heavy to be supported by the new archival boxes.

What I needed was solid temporary shelving to support these materials.  Donnegan Systems, Inc. of Northboro, Massachusetts to the rescue!   Donnegan Systems has been consulting with us periodically to reimagine collections storage once all the artifacts have been boxed.  They saw our need and offered some spare shelving that was taking up space in their warehouse.  Delivered and installed in a single morning, these shelves will facilitate faster progress with the reboxing project.

Reorganizing the archives storage alcove

For the past two weeks, the museum staff (and one volunteer — thank you Quinn Rosefsky!) all pitched in to make the archives storage area neater and more manageable. This physical reorganization had been anticipated and discussed since I began my work here in May. At that time, many materials were still in filing cabinets, with boxes piled on top.

Though most of these cabinets and boxes were labeled, the exact nature of the materials and the period of the museum’s history to which they belonged were not necessarily obvious. Related materials could be spread out among different boxes and cabinets without that intellectual integrity being apparent. If a museum staff member was looking for a specific piece of information in the archives, say when a particular exhibit was on display at the museum, it could be challenging to find it!

As I reached the end of my collections survey, I began to understand which materials belonged together as collections. I boxed up several collections that were in filing cabinets, carefully labeling them as discrete groups of material: the Warren K. Moorehead records (1890s-1930s), the Douglas S. Byers and Frederick Johnson records (1920s-1960s), the Richard S. MacNeish records (1950s-1980s), the Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1959-1960s) and the Coxcatlan Project records (1960s-1970s). Other record groups such as the museum’s Education Department files were physically grouped together, and consolidated into fewer boxes. Empty filing cabinets were removed, new shelving was set up and boxes were arranged deliberately on the shelves.

Panorama of one side of the rearranged archives storages area.
West wall of the rearranged archives storage area.
Panorama of the east wall of the rearranged storage area.
East wall of the rearranged archives storage area.

Records that are still being consulted regularly by museum staff such as accession files and site files were left in filing cabinets. Other material, such as the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project records (1969-1980s), was left in filing cabinets because we don’t have enough shelf space to accommodate more boxes at this time. There are also a few stray boxes that don’t yet have a home. Further tinkering of the space and rehousing of material will likely occur throughout the year. For now, the focus of the archives project will turn to creating inventories for individual collections, so that the material within them is easily findable for museum staff and outside researchers.

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.