Monthly Archives: January 2017

Pottery, Shells, and Maine

This blog represents the fourth 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 for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by: Lindsay Randall

Peabody curator Warren K. Moorehead, beginning in 1915, excavated in the Castine area of Maine in search of sites related to the Red Paint People. Moorehead believed the Red Paint People to be an ancient culture that was distinct from the more recent Algonquian tribes that still live in Maine today. He recognized a number of unusual artifact types found in Red Paint cemeteries and the liberal use of red ochre in burials, hence the name Red Paint. Ideas about the origins and relationships of the Red Paint or Moorehead Burial Tradition (as it is now called) are changing and often still hotly contested by archaeologists and tribes today. The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine presents a timeline of contemporary Wabanaki peoples in Maine, demonstrating continuity of modern American Indians back to the earliest occupation of the state.

Map showing the location of Castine, ME.
Map showing the location of Castine, ME.

While Moorehead’s Castine investigation did not locate Red Paint site, numerous shell heaps were found. One of the most amazing sites to be excavated was located on the property of Professor Edmund Von Mach. Von Mach was an instructor in art and fine arts at Harvard, Wellesley and other schools in the Boston area and published books on painting and art history. He gained some notoriety during and after World War I for encouraging Americans to support the German cause and his book Official Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the War was withdrawn due to inaccuracies by the publisher.

Portrait of Edmund Von Mach
Portrait of Edmund Von Mach

Von Mach’s politics aside, the shell heap was a very impressive monument, measuring approximately 660 feet long and having a depth between 3 and 5 feet. The vast majority of the shells present were quahog clams, quite common to the area.  Given that a total of twenty four hundred artifacts were recovered, combined with the sheer expanse of the heap and its numerous layers, it is believed that the site was a permanent settlement used by tribes about 2,500 years ago.

Image of Whaleback Shell Heap in Maine, similar to the Von Mach Shell Heap
Image of Whaleback Shell Heap in Maine, similar to the Von Mach Shell Heap

Throughout the summer, several hundred people visited the site to see what unique pieces of the past were being unearthed. Some of the most interesting artifacts discovered were fragments of pottery.

Four pottery pieces from the Von Mach Shell Heap collection at the Peabody Museum.
Four pottery pieces from the Von Mach Shell Heap collection at the Peabody Museum.

The pottery is unusual in New England as the soil conditions are very acidic and often deteriorate fragile artifacts. Ceramic specimens are more common in other parts of the country, like the American Southwest.

The only reason that the pottery was not dissolved by the acidic soils surrounding it is that the shells were deposited in the same area. Leaching of calcium carbonate from the shells neutralized the harmful acidic soil. Altering the soil matrix in this manner allows for almost unprecedented preservation of sensitive material.

The pottery helps us to learn about technology and artwork in the community. The introduction and development of ceramics into Maine around 2,700 years ago was very important.  It is during this same period that the populations increased and became more sedentary in permanent villages.

The majority of the pottery pieces in our collections are small and fragile, despite being preserved in the shell heaps.  The ceramic pieces also are decorated with stamped and incised lines.  This method of decoration not only reflects the aesthetics of the time, but may have helped reduce air bubbles prior to firing.

Close-up of one of the incised pottery fragments
Close-up of one of the incised pottery fragments

Interestingly, archaeologists are now investigating the language that we use to describe archaeological sites. In her 2014 PhD dissertation at UMass Amherst Katie Kirakosian looks at the terms used by archaeologists like Warren Moorehead and his contemporaries to describe shell-bearing sites like Von Mach’s and how these terms have influenced our thinking about the sites and the people that made them. Kirakosian concludes that use of terms like “shell midden” to describe these sites (and, by extension, their Native constructors) denies their complexity and can result in a narrow and biased narrative.

For more information see Moorehead’s book: Archaeology of Maine

 

Contractors carrying in drywall

Upgrading the storage environment

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The bulk of the Peabody’s collection is stored in the basement.  It has been challenging over the years to control the temperature and humidity in the basement – an essential factor in maintaining an artifact collection.  A small fluctuation of both temperature and humidity is normal and expected as seasons change.  However, extreme variation lead to damage – bone can become fragile, ceramics can develop weak-points, and even stone tools can become brittle.

For the past four years, I have been tracking the environment throughout Peabody and noticed these strong fluctuations.  By taking readings of the temperature and humidity in all our storage spaces once an hour (through the use of a datalogger), I determined that the influx of outdoor air through these poorly sealed windows is large contributing factor.  There is only one way to fix this.

In collaboration with the Office of Physical Plant on campus, we are implementing a plan to mitigate some of this fluctuation.  Contractors are working to seal the windows in the basement to stop outside air from sneaking into the storage.

This will stabilize the environment and lead to fewer changes in both temperature and humidity.  The first step on the road to environmental control!

Indiana Jones looks at golden idol.

This Week in Links

Contributed by Samantha Hixson

 

This week it seemed there were a lot of great links discussing new and exciting things happening within the world of archaeology.  Here are just a few that we found:

Ancient DNA reveals genetic legacy of pandemics in the Americas

This article talks about the role of diseases in shaping the genetic diversity of contemporary Native American communities.  Historically these effects were documented by written accounts with little to no physical evidence since most European introduced diseases leave no evidence on bone.  Recent breakthroughs in DNA markers, however, have been able to physically prove the evolutionary effects of these pandemics.

Archaeologists discover man whose tongue was replaced by a stone

This article is a great example of how archaeologists are able to create and test hypothesis when attempting to solve puzzles encountered while excavating.

Teeth of Irish famine victims reveal scientific markers for starvation

An interesting article that not only highlights the use of modern science in investigating historic traumas, but a great example of how important cultural context is both historically and in a contemporary lens.

Cask from the past: archaeologists discover 5,000-year-old beer recipe

Not only is this a super cool article talking about the first example of in situ beer making in China, but also a great example of how archaeologists are able to extrapolate larger and further reaching conclusions from a small snap shot of the past.

Culture Areas of North America-the Peabody’s Stuart Travis Mural

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The central staircase of the Peabody includes a mural of American Indian life and history titled “Culture Areas of North America” by Stuart Travis (1868-1942). Travis was an accomplished and prolific American artist, illustrator, and designer who studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. His works—mostly drawings and watercolors—appeared frequently in magazines, books, and advertisements in the early twentieth century. Travis first came to Phillips Academy in 1928 to create the mural “History and Traditions of the School and Vicinity” in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. He continued to work at Phillips Academy, where he painted a total of three murals; he also designed the stone and wood gate that now leads to the Moncrieff Cochran Sanctuary.

Image of the Stuart Travis mural and central staircase.
Stuart Travis Mural at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Photography by Gil Talbot.

The Peabody mural measures 13’11” by 10’2” and reflects ideas about anthropology and archaeology in the 1930s and 1940s. Major elements include the Maya Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal on the left and a totem pole of the Northwest Coast on the right, with a map of cultures areas of North and Middle America occupying a central position, surmounted by six portraits across the top of the mural. Details and insets abound, illustrating artifacts, archaeological sites, ethnographic items, and scenes from Aztec and Maya codices. Illustrations of artifacts are drawn from the British Museum, the Museum of the American Indian (now the National Museum of the American Indian), the American Museum of Natural History, the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, as well as several other prominent institutions.

Major Maya archaeological sites are labeled on the central map, but the majority of the map surface only depicts watersheds and topography, suggesting that Travis may have planned to add even more detail to the mural. The shadow of a thunderbird is painted over the central map, with a note explaining the widespread belief in supernatural birds in the Americas. Other details include an inset illustrating details of the Cahokia, Etowah, and Hopewell sites—likely a nod to long-time Peabody Director Warren K. Moorehead’s work. In all, there are over 30 American Indian artifacts illustrated (some in low relief), ranging from an example of Mi’kmaq writing on birch bark to a Tlingit “raven hat.” Many of these artifacts were probably drawn from contemporary books and articles on archaeology, while some may have been suggested by Museum staff. Detailed notes about the artifacts were likely included so the mural could be used as a teaching tool for visitors.

Travis dated the mural 1938, but continued with additions through 1942. The mural was restored in 1997 by Christy Cunningham-Adams through the generous support of the Abbott Academy Association.

Clerkin, Jill, 2011, Stuart Travis: Artist and Artisan Mismatched with Time. Andover: The Magazine of Phillips Academy 104(3):28-29.

Falk, Peter Hastings (editor), 1985, Who Was Who in American Art. Sound View Press, Madison, CT.

Ruth Benedict and the Purpose of Anthropology

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

A quick Google search reveals that Ruth Benedict still looms large in the minds of contemporary anthropologists. Benedict (1887-1948) is known for many things—she was a favorite student of anthropology icon Franz Boas, she conducted multidisciplinary work across anthropology, psychology, and social science, and was close friend and confidant of Margaret Mead. Mead wrote a marvelous biography of her friend that gives her impressions alongside published and unpublished works by Benedict. Biographies continue to appear, including two dual bios of Mead and Benedict. Benedict wrote and talked about the paradigm shift in our field that she witnessed in the twentieth century as Boasian humanism gave way to scientific approaches. She famously argued that anthropology needed both.

Image of 1995 commemorative US postage stamp featuring Ruth Benedict.
1995 commemorative US postage stamp featuring Ruth Benedict.

Benedict has fared pretty well in the internet age. Blogger Jason Antrosio, writing at Living Anthropologically, pits Benedict against social geographer Jared Diamond, arguing that Benedict did what Diamond does, only better, more eloquently, with at least as much erudition, more personally, and at least seventy-five years before Diamond. Antrosio’s satiric comparison specifically looks at Diamond and Benedict’s take on what traditional societies have to teach the Western world. Likewise, Alex Golub, in his blog Savage Minds, argues that Benedict’s concise prose presages today’s best blog writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of Benedict’s more pithy insights appear on internet sites dedicated to quotation. One of these quotes has gotten a lot of attention recently—here it is:

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences”

Along with a presence on the quotation websites, this quote has made the rounds as an internet meme (framed against a nice photo of Benedict) and, perhaps most famously, was featured in remarks made by President Barack Obama during a press conference with Afghan President Ghani on March 24, 2015. The President referred to his own mother’s training as an anthropologist, as well as Ghani’s background. The remark, however, doesn’t specifically attribute the quote to Benedict. Simon Kuper, writing in The Financial Times, has dubbed Barack Obama the “anthropologist-in-chief” and a number of others have pointed out that President Obama’s interest in anthropology has tracked a growing interest in our discipline.

Ruth Benedict meme from the Web--photo of Benedict with the quote The Purpose of Anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.
One version of the popular Ruth Benedict internet meme.

Specifically too, that quotation has resonated with a lot of people, myself included. I added it to my e-mail signature sometime over the summer—a place that I usually reserve for my contact info alone. I did notice, however, that while the quote appeared on a lot of websites, there was never any specific source cited. Archaeologist Meg Conkey told me recently that she too like the quote, but was unsure of its origins. She asked me if I knew and pointed out a Reddit post about the quote. The Reddit post argues that “Ruth Benedict never said it, not in any of her published writings. It seems to be merely myth. It is never specifically cited, nor does it make historical sense. In her own time, anthropology was a SCIENCE, not a political party.” The post includes a long list of internet memes, blog posts, and other websites that all attributed the quote to Benedict, but with no specific reference to back it up.

The quote aside for a moment, it is pretty clear that Benedict’s work had a strong political element. In many ways, as a cultural relativist, she sought to challenge American exceptionalism with her work. Benedict, along with anthropologist Gene Weltfish, prepared a pamphlet titled “The Races of Mankind” in 1943, intended as a guide for American troops operating overseas. This became an appendix to later editions of her 1940 book Race: Science and Politics, which makes both a humanistic and scientific case for the equality of all races.

Image of a first edition copy of Ruth Benedict's book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.
A first edition copy of Ruth Benedict’s book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

During WWII Benedict prepared an “ethnography at a distance” study of Japanese culture for the U.S. Office of War Information, which appeared in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns  of Japanese Culture. Along with her earlier work, Patterns of Culture, Chrysanthemum remains one of Benedict’s iconic projects. And it may provide a clue about that quote. This is what Benedict writes on page 14 of Chrysanthemum:

“The tough-minded are content that differences should exist. They respect differences. Their goal is a world made safe for differences, where the United States may be American to the hilt without threatening the peace of the world, and France may be France, and Japan may be Japan on the same conditions.”

Anthropologists certainly are a tough-minded lot, even if we get a bit loosey-goosey on our quotations. I suppose this is a consequence of progress, as brainyquotes.com replaces Bartlett’s.

A trip to the bookshelf provides another clue. On page 402 of their textbook Anthropology: The Human Challenge (15th edition) William Haviland and his co-authors include a nice profile of Ruth Benedict. There they say:

As Benedict herself once said, the main purpose of anthropology is “to make the world safe for human differences.”

So, she did say this, or at least something a lot like this. For the precise, we should likely reconsider using those quotes or their exact placement. It’s not surprising, however, that we still have a special place for Benedict in our discipline. Blogger Antrosio makes a nice point that Benedict, however, isn’t perfect, and that she suffers from the same flaws that afflict Jared Diamond:

“This history reveals the major theme missing from both Benedict and Diamond–an anthropology of interconnection. That as Eric Wolf described in Europe and the People Without History. Peoples once called primitive–now perhaps more politely termed tribal or traditional–were part of a co-production with Western colonialism.”

Johannes Fabian, in his 1983 book Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, makes much the same argument. Despite the shortcomings, Benedict has a lot to offer, from ideas about cultural relativism and race, to the direction that anthropology can take in the twenty-first century. As the contemporary scientific paradigm breaks free of its dialectic with humanism, can humanism assert itself in whatever comes next?

Detail of breccia

Jacob’s Cavern

This blog represents the third entry in a blog new 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 for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The unassuming and muddled looking object below is a piece of loosely formed breccia from Jacob’s Cavern in McDonald County, Missouri.

Breccia from Jacob's Cavern
Breccia from Jacob’s Cavern

Breccia is a type of rock that is composed of broken fragments of other rocks that have been cemented together by a fine-grained matrix – this process can take thousands of years. While this piece is not yet solid rock, it is on the way.  In this case, the matrix (or glue) is ash from thousands of fires that sustained life in the cavern for hundreds of years.

Acting on a tip from a local named E.H. Jacobs, Charles Peabody and Warren Moorehead traveled to Jacob’s Cavern in April of 1903 to examine the site.  Upon arrival, they found a large rockshelter of limestone with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, and the floor was covered with a thick layer of fine ash up to 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) deep! This ash is most likely the direct result of untold numbers of small fires in the cavern to keep the occupants warm over the years of use.

Peabody and Moorehead excavated the thick layer of ashes in using a careful grid system and uncovered hundreds of artifacts.  The stone tools were primarily projectile points and blades with relatively few large tools like axes.  They also found a ‘considerable’ number of bone needles and awls.  These small bone tools are essential in daily life to create, maintain, and repair clothing and other basic equipment.  The sheer volume of ash and artifacts in the cavern indicates long-term occupation.

All evidence of human occupation – stone and bone tools, food debris – in the cavern was found in the layer of ashes and intermingled with breccia.  And, most notably, many artifacts are visible within the breccia (see the photo below).  This means that they were created, used, and discarded before the formation of the breccia and were left undisturbed for possibly thousands of years.

Detail of breccia
Detail of breccia with stone tools circled in green and bone fragments circled in yellow.

Peabody and Moorehead brought samples of the breccia and hundreds of collected artifacts back to the Peabody in 1903 while excavations continued by Mr. Jacobs for another couple years.  Published in 1904, the report of their work became the first Bulletin published by the Department of Archaeology.  The entirety of this report can be found here.

The work done by Peabody and Moorehead with Jacob’s Cavern became a foundation for later work at the Peabody.  Explore and excavate a little-known site, bring the materials back to Andover for study, publish about that work, and provide invaluable new research and insight into the field of archaeology.