The collections team remains busy at the Peabody during the summer time, following an already packed school year. Instead of working with PA students, we spend much of our time working to catalog the collections and hosting outside researchers.
The summer has started off strong with one of the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award recipients , John Andrew Campbell. John is documenting artifacts from the period of first contact between Native Americans and European settlers along the maritime region of eastern Canada and northern New England. ”What does that mean?,“ you may ask.
Basically, John is identifying copper, glass beads, and glazed ceramic artifacts that were found intermingled with traditional native tools and artifacts. The first appearance of these ”foreign” materials indicates that contact between the cultures had been made. Their use and modification by tribes is the direct result of trade with the European settlers and can be revealing of those early interactions.
The Peabody is John’s first stop for collections research as he begins to build data for his dissertation work at Memorial University in Newfoundland. He will be visiting for most of June and documenting hundreds of items.
The rest of the summer is chock full of research appointments and we are happy to share our collections to contribute to the field of archaeology!
Drawers pulled for research
Researcher John Andrew Campbell recording details about objects in the Peabody collection
This blog represents the eighth 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!
Excavations at the Etowah Mound site in Georgia have revealed a great deal about the Mississippian culture. Based on the archaeological materials found at the site, it is likely that during its occupation about 1,100 to 500 years ago, it was one of the most significant and influential cities in southeastern North America. A hallmark of the Mississippian culture, is the linkage through economics, politics, and other societal influences of large villages, such as Etowah, with smaller communities that surround it.
Due to its historical prominence, the Etowah Mound site is considered an important archaeological site in the United States.
The site has three large platform mounds in addition to a plaza and smaller mounds. The largest of the mounds towered over the landscape, reaching the height of a six-story building. The mounds were used in a variety of ways: platforms that supported buildings, ceremonial sites, as well as burial locations for elite members of the society.
In 1925 the Trustees of Phillips Academy sponsored the first systematic excavation under the direction of Warren K. Moorehead. This three year investigation occurred during a transitional time in the history of archaeology when excavators were moving away from an antiquarian focus on objects and developing more scientifically rigorous methods. Moorehead’s interest in Etowah may have been a reaction to Alfred V. Kidder’s stratigraphic excavations at Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico, where new ideas about chronology and multidisciplinary work were tested.
Despite new methodologies and practices in archaeological investigations, many excavations were still carried out in ways that would make any archaeologist today cringe. The importance of stratigraphy was still not fully understood or appreciated by all archaeologists, including Moorehead, when the Etowah excavations were being undertaken. Modern attempts to sort out and understand Moorehead’s excavations have proved challenging. In their 1996 book Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast archaeologists Jeffrey Brain and Philip Phillips lament Moorehead’s lack of precision, poor recordkeeping, and disregard for context and stratigraphy. Perhaps it’s best that Moorehead announced in 1930 that he had decided “to abandon further field operations and concentrate on a study of type distributions in the United States during the next six years.”
As we reviewed Moorehead’s photographs of the 1925-1928 excavations at Etowah, we were often incredulous about the images of a tractor bulldozing a mound or workers (dressed in 3 piece suits no less!) hacking away at the side of a large mound. We understand today that a great deal of contextual information was lost using these clumsy techniques.
Tractor being used to excavate mound
Digging into the side of a mound
Workers at Etowah
Although these images affect our sensibilities, it cannot be denied that they are also important. These photographs help to document just how much the field of archaeology has changed and grown in the past 100 years. What started out as a gentlemen’s pastime has transformed into a profession associated with state-of-the art scientific techniques and theories that allow investigation of “hidden histories.” We understand that in another hundred years the images of our pristine and scientifically driven investigations might too cause heartburn in those archaeologists looking back on our work!
The site is now a Georgia state park and is designated as a National Historic Landmark (1964) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1966)
On Monday May 22nd students and teachers from Brookwood School came to the Peabody Museum to kick off their “Steep Week.” During Steep Week, students immerse themselves in an intensive program related to an area of interest, in this case archaeology.
When the students arrived they were very proud to announce that archaeologists “DON’T DIG DINOSAURS!” Clearly their two teachers (one of whom is a trained archaeologist) had worked VERY hard to prep them for their visit to the Peabody, as well as for the rest of the week’s activities.
The students began by learning how to “read” modern trash to make a biography about an individual based solely on the objects that the person had thrown away. The clean trash that the students looked through was mine that I had split into three different bags related to different activities that I do: kayaking and running, cooking, quilting and reading. The group that had the container with an old Doritos bag declared that their person (me!) was a guy who was either “failing at adulting” or “had student loans” – very interesting assumptions they were making!!! They were then shocked to learn that the person who had the Doritos was also the same person who had run a half marathon and made quilts. This allowed us to have a great conversation about assumptions that we make and how that can impact our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The next two activities were mock excavations of a prehistoric site as well as a historic one. Both helped the students prepare for the real archaeological dig that they were going to conduct on their school property later in the week, particularly the historic example, since they had already been looking at old maps of the school’s property to see what they could learn about it before putting a shovel into the ground.
Students looking at a mock excvation unit that has evidence of pottery making
Students working in the “lab” to identify artifacts found from the mock Katherine Nanny Naylor site
The rain mostly held off for the group and we were able to conclude the day with a fierce atlatl competition!
“Our introduction to Archaeology at the Peabody Museum at Phillips Academy, Andover successfully prepared our students to investigate archaeological problems at a high level by concentrating on the conceptual basis of archaeological thought and filtering it through readily understandable, local examples. Our students enjoyed themselves while having their minds opened to a different way of investigatory thought that they relied on heavily to ask questions and achieve understanding.” – Mike Wise, Brookwood teacher
Though the Peabody is small by museum standards we are mighty, especially when it comes to our baskets. With close to 400 baskets, the Peabody collection covers all major geographical regions and tribal communities of North America, and spans over 200 years. Baskets from notable artists like Molly Neptune Parker (Maine) and Clara Darden (Louisiana) help to support and curate these artists’ work, and are examples of continued and evolving traditions within Native communities.
Molly Neptune Parker
One of my first large projects at the Peabody was to completely catalog, inventory, and rehouse this great collection. The purpose of this was twofold:
First, it was important to consolidate our records regarding these baskets. Museums are full of information, and it’s usually in five different places! By gathering what we know, and putting it all in one place, we not only gain better control over this knowledge, but we make it more accessible to museum staff, researchers, and students. The convenience of this newfound accessibility encourages more use in the classroom and more research by professionals, giving these baskets the attention they deserve.
Secondly, by revamping the basket organization and rehousing, we are better able to care for these objects and their specific needs. Although baskets aren’t usually as fragile as most people fear, they still require some TLC. By creating storage mounts that are custom designed to each basket, we are able to provide more support to the object, especially when it is being moved and shifted around during handling. Within our ethnographic storage, space is at a premium, so another byproduct of the rehousing was the space it opened up. We were able to clear seven shelves!
Happy baskets, happy collection staff.
To see previous work done with the baskets by Catherine Hunter, check out these previous blogs!