Kidder’s Pecos Proposal

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

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!

One fascinating document in the Peabody Museum archives is a 15-page, hand-written proposal drafted by Alfred V. Kidder and addressed to the Trustees of Phillips Academy, which outlines his plan for archaeological exploration of Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico.

Kidder’s proposal, dated February 9, 1915, represents a critical moment in the history of the Peabody and the broader history of American archaeology.

At the local level, Kidder’s proposal and ultimate investigation, was the result of a power struggle for the future of the Peabody, then known as the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology. After less than a decade of operation, curator Warren K. Moorehead, and honorary director Charles Peabody, formulated a plan for a serious expansion of the department. Sharing space with a basement grill and student clubs, coupled with burgeoning artifact collections fueled their interest in an expansion. Moorehead also complained that the light and airy rooms left little space to mount exhibitions. He visited other museums, and envisioned a series of grand galleries. Architect Guy Lowell was contracted to revisit his original creation, a relatively modest 15,000 square foot building, and drafted plans that were submitted to Academy principal Alfred B. Stearns and the board. Stearns and the trustees, however, did not see the need for a larger archaeology museum and worked to derail the plan. Hotly opposed by Moorehead, a committee of experts was empaneled and charged with charting a new direction for the young institution. Marla Taylor, in her blog post, details some of the personalities involved and their ultimate recommendations. The focus, it seems, was to be on research, at the expense of teaching. Committee members Roland Dixon, a distinguished Harvard professor, and eminent Phillips Academy alumni Hiram Bingham III, suggested that newly minted PhD Alfred V. Kidder was the perfect person to lead this research. Kidder had already considerable experience in the Southwest, including early work as a Harvard student with Edgar Lee Hewett, doyen of southwestern archaeology.

Image of archaeologists Neil M. Judd, Warren Moorehead, and Alfred Vincent Kidder at the Etowah site near Cartersville, Georgia, March 1927.
Archaeologist Neil M. Judd (left) with Warren Moorehead and Alfred Vincent Kidder (right) at the Etowah site near Cartersville, Georgia, March 1927.

Kidder’s proposal begins with a short description of Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico based on limited previous observations and Spanish descriptions and then moves to considerations of how to select a site for study. On page four he notes that “there are always to points of view: the scientific and the practical.” Regarding the first he provides an overview of Southwestern archaeology, noting the presence in the area of diverse, yet seemingly related cultures, and the need to order these chronologically. Here he makes a comparison to the Old World, noting that, “for example: the succession of the stone and metal ages in Europe,” as well as sequences in Minoan and Egyptian art, had already been worked out (page 6). Kidder goes on to say, “all these great discoveries, which have so profoundly influenced not only anthropological, but also general philosophical thought, have rested for their final proof on stratification.”

Image of Alfred Kidder with beads from Pecos Pueblo.
Alfred Vincent Kidder with beads from Pecos Pueblo, June 8, 1929.

Stratification, of course, is the cornerstone of Kidder’s work in the Southwest. He goes on to mention the general lack of American sites with stratified or stacked layers, and a few recent exceptions, including his own observations in Utah and those of Nels Nelson in Galisteo, New Mexico. Specific to Pecos, Kidder says that this site promises a potentially longer occupation than other candidates in the Southwest; he elaborates in stating, “my reason for thinking so is that the Pecos ridge and its fan-shaped rubbish heads show fragments of seven distinct pottery types, one of which, the Black-and-white, is the oldest style at present recognized in the whole Plateau area (page 8).”

On page 10 Kidder turns to practical considerations. Proximity to the train station in Rowe, New Mexico, stores in the town of Pecos, and Santa Fe amenities are offered as major considerations. Kidder notes the costs of shipping materials in and out of more remote sites (Mesa Verde, $0.50 per hundred pounds to Navajo Mountain at $1.75). Procuring labor was also a consideration. Here Kidder notes that the American Indian residents of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pueblos have experience in excavation and are careful workers. A consideration of possible rates follows.

Kidder spends the remaining pages, 12 through 15, on a plan of work. He notes the need to create a plan of the site and thoroughly inspect it, to begin training men that would become supervisors in subsequent years, and the initial expenditures on storage buildings, camera, and scientific equipment. Kidder also writes about the need to understand the ownership of the land and to enter into an agreement with the owners to avoid any future misunderstandings. The final page is dedicated to a budget for the first year’s work, and totaled $3,000. The figures, which include cost for tools, camera and darkroom supplies, a horse and wagon, expenses, and contingency funds, didn’t include Kidder’s salary.

Image of artist Stuart Travis's Pecos Pueblo diorama, built in 1940.
Diorama of Pecos Pueblo created by artist Stuart Travis, 1940.

Things moved pretty quickly. Kidder was offered a post as field director of the archaeological expedition, his proposed budget approved, and a salary of $2,000 was agreed upon on February 11, 1915. Kidder began his field session a few months later on May 15, and what was first approved as a three-year program was ultimately extended to 1929 when he joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington DC. After returning from the field, arrangements were made for Kidder to have space at Harvard, where we continued a close association for the rest of his career. Douglas Givens, in his excellent 1992 book Alfred Vincent Kidder and the Development of Americanist Archaeology notes that “although Nelson, Kroeber, Spier, and Kidder were each working with stratigraphy about the same time in the Southwest, it was Kidder who combined features of Nelson’s method with Kroeber and Spier’s work into a workable dating approach.” According to Givens, “Kidder was the first southwestern archaeologist to make use of the stratigraphic method on a large scale.” Kidder’s technique allowed him to investigate both chronology and broader cultural changes within the Pecos site.

Image of page 15 from Alfred Kidder's Pecos Pueblo proposal--the budget, which totaled $3,000.
Kidder’s proposed first year budget for the Pecos Project totaled $3,000. It was approved by Phillips Academy within days of being submitted.

Kidder built on the work of his first season at Pecos, ultimately employing a multidisciplinary approach that involved work in ethnography and physical anthropology to inform his archaeological observations. Much of the results of the project were published jointly by the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology and the Yale University Press as the Papers of the Southwestern Expedition, including Kidder’s own 1924 Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology with a Preliminary Account of the Excavation at Pecos, which is still in print. Archaeologist Ben Rouse writes in the introduction to the 1962 edition that this was “the first detailed synthesis of the archaeology of any part of the New World and, as such, set the pattern for much subsequent work in other areas.”

Image of students from Phillips Academy and the Pueblo of Jemez on the Pecos Pathways trip help restore the Spanish church ruins at Pecos National Historical Park.
Students from Phillips Academy and the Pueblo of Jemez on the Pecos Pathways trip help restore the Spanish church ruins at Pecos National Historical Park.

Kidder’s Pecos project cast a long shadow on the Peabody Museum. Kidder’s rigorous program of scientific research was continued by Douglas Byers and Frederick Johnson, museum personnel from the 1930s through the late 1960s. Like Kidder, Byers and Johnson employed a multidisciplinary approach to studies of culture history, often working closely with scientists in other disciplines. Together they developed a Pecos exhibition in conjunction with artist Stuart Travis, including a diorama of the site that is still popular today. They also traded Pecos collections with other institutions, acquiring archaeological and ethnographic specimens from sites in Labrador to Upper Paleolithic France. Archaeologist Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, ultimately director of the Peabody in the 1970s and early 1980s, had known and admired Kidder for some time, and collaborated with Byers and Johnson on major multidisciplinary undertakings in Mexico and Peru. There’s another side to Kidder’s Pecos project as well. Kidder’s excavations targeted those slope deposits described in his research proposal, where he also expected to find human burials. Matthew Liebmann and Christopher Toya note in their foreword to the 2010 volume Pecos Pueblo Revisited: The Biological and Social Context, that Kidder had excavated the remains of 1,922 people during his dig, not to mention an astonishing number of funerary and sacred objects. These people and their belongings were repatriated to the Pueblo of Jemez, descendants of Pecos, in 1999 and reburied at Pecos National Historical Park. Consultation with the Pueblo of Jemez by the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology led to long lasting collaboration, including the Pecos Pathways exchange program for high school students.

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