Monthly Archives: November 2017

Homo naledi and 3D printing

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the announcement of Homo naledi’s discovery in 2015, this South African fossil hominin has made an appearance in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught at the Peabody and offered as a senior science elective by Phillips Academy.

Over 100 specimens of Homo naledi have been scanned and made available via Duke University’s MorphoSource website. This represents unprecedented access to the fossils. Typically, we rely on older casts (our plaster casts from Wenner-Gren’s twentieth century casting program have become quite fragile!) or models made from photos and measurements.

Image of Homo naledi hand from Morphosource website.
Reconstruction of Homo naledi hand from MorphoSource website.

Last year in Human Origins Phillips Academy Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner helped us 3D print Homo naledi’s femur, which includes some unusual features, including a distinct sulcus or furrow on the femoral neck that is not known in other hominins. Students and instructor alike puzzled over the femur, and compared it to other casts and models in the Peabody collection.

This year Ms. Wessner was kind enough to host us again and discuss different types of 3D scanning and printing and help us think how these might be useful in paleoanthropology and physical anthropology.

Image of students and Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner with 3D print of Homo naledi hand.
Human Origins students look on as Claudia Wessner prepares the resin print of Homo naledi’s hand for a bath in alcohol.

Instead of the femur, we chose to do a 3D print of Homo naledi’s hand, also available via the MorphoSource website. We were treated to side by side 3D prints using the Makerspace’s filament and resin printers. While the prints with the filament printer were interesting, the resin print is at a level comparable with a cast or model, in terms of finish and detail. Lee Berger and his colleagues, involved in discovery and study of Homo naledi, have pointed out that the hand is quite similar to that of a modern human, but also has curved bones likely related to tree climbing. Students in Human Origins 2017 got a chance to see Homo naledi’s hand up close and compare with bones of a modern human, noting the similarities and differences.

Image of resin 3D hand print.
Resin 3D hand print.

In the intervening months between the 2016 and 2017 Human Origins classes we’ve learned a lot more about Homo naledi. Lee Berger’s book, Almost Human, was published, adding lots of exciting details to the discovery and quest to date the remains, and perhaps most important, we now understand the dating of the fossils. In May 2017 we learned that Homo naledi dates between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, making them a cousin, rather than great-grandparent of modern humans. It is fascinating to imagine, however, that a hominin that combined aspects of Australopithecines and much more modern features existed around the same time as the earliest anatomically modern humans.

Image with comparison of four hands: from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.
Comparison of hands, from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.

An end of the term assignment, Human Origins in the News, asks students to find recent and relevant news stories and share them with the class. One story—from September 2017—reports on new fossils found at the Rising Star Cave system. Also members of the new genus and species, these fossils may help understand how Homo naledi accessed the cave and if they were being interred there.

Beyond the classroom, Homo naledi inspired some excitement in one of the seniors who took the course in 2016. I was delighted when she wrote to me in May 2017 to report that Lee Berger’s Almost Human book was out–she had pre-ordered on Amazon and her copy had arrived. A few months later she had a chance to hear Dr Berger deliver a lecture on Homo naledi at the Chautauqua Institute in New York.

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Hi, my name is Rachel and I was hired in August as the Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I am originally from upstate New York although for part of 2016 and the majority of 2017 I did work primarily in Virginia. For my first blog post I wanted to give a brief overview of my daily activities.

The main goal of the project I was hired to do is to conduct a complete inventory and rehousing of the collections at the Peabody. This is a task that has never been done before. Currently, the majority of the collections are housed in the wooden drawers that were brought into the Peabody in the 1930s. In each drawer, collections objects are housed in tan artifact boxes.

This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.
This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.

Every day I take the objects out of the tan box and record information about them such as what the object is, what its catalog number is, how many there are and their current location. I then record all of this information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, put the objects back into their tan box and put them into the new gray (or blue, depending on who is asked) archival box. Currently I am working on drawers containing collections from Massachusetts.

These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.
These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.

This type of work is something I have done since 2013 when I was a graduate student at SUNY Albany. It is work that I genuinely enjoy doing, which makes getting up in the morning and coming to the Peabody a whole lot easier. It is always amazing to handle various collections. Doing so has helped me to learn so much more than I ever thought I could about material culture from all over the United States. I know working at the Peabody will help push that knowledge even further. It’s such a great experience to be able to work on a collection from Massachusetts one day, then move to a collection from Ohio or Indiana or even the Yukon the next day.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.

History of the Peabody Through a Diorama Lens

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!

Contributed by Samantha Hixson

 

Phillips Academy has had quite a love affair with Stuart Travis. You can see his work all over the campus; At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Paresky Commons, the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Moncrieff Cochran Bird Sanctuary or, more importantly to this discussion, the Peabody. Most people are familiar with Travis’ great mural which flanks the stairwell in our main entrance, but many who come into the building are not aware that one of our two large dioramas was also made by the artist. Pecos Diorama_GTalbotPhoto-L

The Pecos diorama was commissioned by the Peabody to commemorate Alfred Kidder’s famous excavation in New Mexico and to illustrate stratigraphy, a dating technique he used on a large scale, that would form the bedrock of archaeological research. Douglas Byers, the Director at the time, mentioned the diorama in his 1940 annual report, stating,

“in the week before commencement our Southwestern Hall was opened to the public for the first time. This was subsequently closed because Mr. Travis’ model of Pecos was moved upstairs from the basement and remained uncompleted for several months during which time Mr. Travis was taken from this work to assist in the revision of the biology notebook and other projects. It is a pleasure to report that his work is now finished and the model is enclosed by a case designed and built by the School Carpenter Shop” (p4).

Not only does this passage give insight as to just how involved Travis was with the school as a whole, it also touches upon the history of the Peabody itself.

The Peabody has a history of change and evolution. In its 116-years it has gone through four different iterations of its name and the diorama has been around to see all but one through. At the time of the diorama’s creation the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, as it was known at the time, functioned as a traditional “items on display” type facility. The building was filled to the brim with glass exhibit cases full of objects from the collection, often related to research projects conducted by the Peabody staff.

Indeed, up until the Peabody’s recent past it was an exhibit centered museum, but as our director Ryan Wheeler posted we at the Peabody have entered a new phase in our story and are now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, and the diorama is still right by our side.

 

Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Peabody has a new name! The Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, at their November 5, 2017 meeting, approved the Peabody’s new name. We are now known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Part of our proposal for a name change–included below–addresses the history of our institution’s name, issues of identity, and practical concerns:

Throughout the Peabody’s strategic planning work in 2014 and 2015 there was frequent discussion about the need for focused work on branding. These conversations included Museum personnel, members of the Peabody Advisory Committee, and the broader Phillips Academy community. There was general agreement that one issue was the name Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Discussants pointed out that the name “Peabody” often leads to confusion with the other, larger institutions in Salem, Cambridge, and New Haven, and that the term “museum” is misleading.

The topic of branding was revisited during the Peabody Advisory Committee’s 2016 summer retreat and November 2016 meeting and the group proposed a name change.

Department of Archaeology engraved on entablature over door of Peabody building.
“Department of Archaeology” engraved in the granite entablature above the door was part of architect Guy Lowell’s original 1901 building design and reflects Robert S. Peabody’s interest in seeing the institution as an integral part of campus pedagogy.

The topic of a potential name change has been considered in three ways:

1) Historical— Past names for our institution include Department of Archaeology (1901-1938); Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (1938-1995); and Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (1990-present). The most recent name change occurred in the 1990s and was made to reflect the interest in creating an exhibition driven institution like the Addison Gallery of American Art. That program ended in 2002 with a shift to our current focus on teaching and learning.

Image of old Peabody logo, on glass panel, from front door.
The logo from the Peabody’s front doors is based on a shell gorget from the Etowah site in Georgia.

2) Identity—Museum personnel and advisory committee members have discussed whether or not we are a museum. For example, Eugene Dillenberg’s 2011 article in Exhibitionist emphasizes exhibitions as the core defining aspect of a museum, with exhibits as the primary mission and goal of the institution. The Peabody’s current mission is to provide archaeological and anthropological learning opportunities to the students of Phillips Academy, returning to Robert Peabody’s original vision for the institution, which was to introduce students to the emerging disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, to conduct scientific research, and to provide a place for student activities. There also was general agreement that it was important to retain the name “Peabody,” despite the proliferation of Peabody museums in New England. The sense was that we would continue to be called “The Peabody” on campus and in the broader Phillips Academy community.

Other “Peabody Museums” in New England include:

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Image of blue sign for the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on Andover's Main Street.
Blue sign for the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology on Andover’s Main Street.

3) Practical—the word “museum” creates considerable confusion as people come here expecting a more typical museum experience. While we are happy to have people come for tours and events (and classes, of course!) we are a pretty disappointing experience to a growing number of casual visitors. As we become more well-known in the area more people have become curious about what is inside the building and come in to find out.

In his gift letter to the Board of Trustees and the Academy administrators in 1901 Robert S. Peabody shared that he did not want to create a museum on campus, but rather to find ways to introduce students to the fields of archaeology and anthropology. We’ve come to recognize the prescience and vision of Peabody’s original idea for our institution. We trust the name change will help avoid confusion and emphasize our commitment to teaching and learning on campus and beyond.