This job is awesome, but sometimes the material I work with can get pretty repetitive. I have been working on cataloging a bay full of artifacts from sites throughout Massachusetts. This allowed me to see what had been discovered throughout the state in which I now live. While there were a few ground stone tools, the vast majority of artifacts I cataloged were modified stone and bifaces. Drawer after drawer, box after box was filled to the brim with fragments of stone that had been worked by someone, but never fully formed into a usable tool such as a projectile point or a blade, and while it is still incredible to see these artifacts and be able to hone my skills identifying worked stone, it started getting very redundant.
Luckily for me, when I need a change of pace, I can walk over to another bay and choose drawers from almost anywhere in North America. After cataloging hundreds, if not thousands, of modified stone fragments, I decided to take a break from the Northeast and I moved to a bay containing artifacts from Idaho, Kansas and Iowa. So far these drawers have been amazing! While there are still amorphous fragments of modified stone, the number of finished tools far outweighs them. This particular drawer has many finished projectile points.
Not only are they finished points, some of them are seriously tiny! A couple haven’t been much bigger than my pinky nail, and I have pretty small hands. It is incredible to see how small they are and think about the craftsmanship that must have gone into making such a tiny specimen. The level of precision and the skill that must have been required to craft these projectile points without them breaking must have been tremendous. Getting to see final products such as these has the power to make counting all the other fragments of modified stone worth it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.
During Fall Term I worked with Meg Bednarcik and Nick Zufelt – both Instructors in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science – to create a class that would focus on the computer science concepts of looping and parameters.
We decided to utilize the extensive Guatemalan textile collection at the Peabody, as they are brightly colored and engaging and most have repeating, or looping, motifs. We also liked the idea of incorporating clothing made and worn exclusively by indigenous women into a subject where they are woefully underrepresented.
Eighteen huipils (wee-peels) were pulled for the class, with the images of another twelve scanned. A huipil is a traditional Maya women’s shirt.
The first activity was a matching game to show students how huipils had silent information encoded into them about the wearer’s home community. Each village has its own distinctive design. The students were given twelve cards with images of other huipils in our collection and asked to match them to huipils that were laid out in the room. The following images are from three villages, highlighting how the differences between villages, as well as the variation within a particular village.
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipils from San Mateo
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipils from San Ildefonso
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipils from Almolongo
Then students worked with either Meg or Nick to find designs that had looping designs, or nested loops. Then they worked on creating parameters for the designs they had found.
The third activity was asking students to identify certain motifs that are common in Maya imagery. Some, such as a deer, were more literal then others, such as the feathered water serpent or portals.
And as you learn in the write up bellow by Meg, this class served as the starting point for a term long project the students will be working on:
My AP CS A students ventured to the Peabody Institute to learn of Guatemalan huipils and the stories these women’s clothes tell of personal identity. The students will complete follow-up assignments to program their own design defining their personal identity here at the academy and beyond utilizing programming concepts learned in class such as objects and repetitions. Though many students were shocked to be at the Peabody for a CS class, they left reflecting on the many ways these programming ideas apply to other aspects of our world. I am eager to continue to utilize these resources at our fingertips to allow students the space to ponder their place in our interconnected world beyond PA, and consider the beneficial impact their work as computer scientists can have on others outside of the classroom.
~ Meg Bednarcik, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
This has been one of the most interesting and fun classes for me to develop. I really enjoyed working with and learning about part of our collection that is underutilized. But most of all, I have been thoroughly engrossed by the current action Maya women are taking to ensure that their designs are protected and not appropriated. Based on the information I gleaned from my research, I included a huipil from Santiago Sacatepéquez, which is the only community so far that has been able to give legal protection to their woven intellectual property.
To learn more about huipils and their images, visit Guatemala City’s Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing website.
Below are symbols found in some of the huipils in the Peabody’s collection:
Serpent motif –geometric designs known as “kumatz’in”. “The Kaqchikel term kumatz means snake, or the feathered serpent.
Deer – Deer held particular significance in Maya mythology and the Dance of the Deer, originating from pre-Conquest times, is still performed at festivals today.
The Double Headed Eagle – The double headed eagle in Maya mythology represents the Great God with two faces, one looking to good and the other to evil, or to heaven and earth. Double-headed birds are motifs frequently used for decorating ceremonial garments. The image to the right outlines the shape of the double headed eagle.
Sky bands – represents the path of the sun with the Xs formed in the “empty” space refers to the end of the solstices.
Offering plate / Portal – “portal” or “door” was the Maya name for the entrance into the “other world” (spirit world). The dot in the center represents the door through which an ancestor can travel.
The Star That Proceeds The Sun – This motif has been a part of Mesoamerican cosmology since Olmec times. It can be seen in celestial bands along with the sun, the moon, and particularly Venus. It is also featured in codices, such as the Popol Vuh.
Bird – At the beginning of the rains, and when maize is sowed, they can be seen in large quantities on the rivers and lakes.
Sun – A sun is embroidered around the neckline. If a woman in the village just became a widow, she would wear her huipil without the sun around the neck, because she would have lost her sun
Lightning – Vertical zigzag lines are associated with rain and lightning.
Lion / Jaguar – The animal has been given a mane, indicating European influence. The cougar or American lion has no mane.
This blog represents the eleventh entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
One of the more unusual collections I came across during my survey of the Peabody’s archives last year was a group of notched 5×8-inch cards containing radiocarbon dating information. It took me a while to figure out what these cards were, and as it turns out, both the format and the content have interesting back stories. These “punch cards,” widely used as a form of data storage in the late nineteenth to twentieth century, represent an endeavor to create a data set of known radiocarbon dates from sites around the world and share it with researchers.
Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., punch card – one of tens of thousands at the Peabody
File card cabinets full of the punch cards
Dr. Willard Frank Libby, a chemist who studied radioactivity and worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, invented radiocarbon dating in the 1940s. He recognized its potential for fields such as archaeology and geology (and received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for these efforts). His research quickly came to the attention of Doug Byers and Fred Johnson at the Peabody, who were already using scientific dating techniques such as pollen analysis and dendrochronology. When the American Anthropological Association formed the Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 in 1948, to liaise between the archaeological community and Libby and provide him with archaeological samples on which to test his method, Johnson was appointed its Chairman.
(See the additional resources below for publications on radiocarbon dating authored or edited by Johnson, who became so involved with this subject that in a 1958 letter he wrote, “… now I wish to heaven that I had never heard of radiocarbon”)!
Beginning in 1953, conferences on radiocarbon dating began to be held at the Peabody. In October 1956, the Committee for Distribution of Radiocarbon Dates was established at one such conference. The R.S. Peabody Foundation was listed as the committee’s address. A $1,500 grant by the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 1957 was used to finance a survey sent to 1,500 scientists to gauge interest in radiocarbon dates punch cards. Enough interest was shown that the enterprise moved forward. In 1958, Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., was established, with Johnson as President and Byers as Secretary-Treasurer. Subscriptions were purchased by museums and universities across the world.
The cards were published and sent to subscribers in batches, along with sorting and coding equipment, and index guides. Each card contained information about a sample, such as its geographic location, its material (plant remains, oak, i.e.), where it was processed, its date, a citation if published, and occasionally a narrative description of where it was collected. This information was collected from the approximately forty laboratories carrying out this type of dating. Through the notches on the cards, using the sorter, subscribers could parse out samples having a common trait, like doing a search of records through a computer database with a particular term.
Punch card with sorter
Sorting punch cards with the sorter
Punch cards were inspired by notched papers designed in the eighteenth century for looms, to help automate patterns in weaving. By the late nineteenth century, the idea had been adapted to other uses. Herman Hollerith, working at the United States Census Bureau, applied his Electric Tabulating System invention to census data processing. This game-changing system led to the formation of IBM, and punch cards dominated data processing for most of the twentieth century, and were used with early computers until about a generation ago.
After the launch of Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., in the late 1950s, the production and distribution of the cards are not mentioned as much in the Peabody’s Annual Reports (my main source of information for this post!). A 1973 letter shows that the name had been shortened to Radiocarbon Dates, and that the main address had been moved to Braintree, MA, c/o John Ramsden. That is the last trace of the project that I’ve found here, besides the cards themselves. Fred Johnson donated his radiocarbon dating-related papers to the University of California, Los Angeles, where Willard Libby taught for a substantial amount of his career (and which hold his papers as well). More information about the project exists in those records, which were used by Keith Baich in his 2010 Portland State University master’s thesis, American Scientists, Americanist Archaeology: The Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14, which heavily features Fred Johnson.
Johnson, Frederick, et al. “Radiocarbon Dating: A Report on the Program to Aid in the Development of the Method of Dating.” Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology, no. 8, 1951, pp. 1–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25146610.
Johnson, Frederick. “Radiocarbon Dating and Archeology in North America.” Science, vol. 155, no. 3759, 1967, pp. 165–169. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1721124.
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 email@example.com or 978 749 4493.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush (Phillips Academy Class of 1942) signed into law the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The passage of NAGPRA signaled a major shift in the relationship between Native Americans and museums, requiring that the latter inventory collections and identify human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony and contact the appropriate tribal groups to arrange repatriation. For tribal peoples this represented major human rights legislation.
Former Peabody director James Bradley and repatriation coordinator Leah Rosenmeier embraced the new law and worked diligently through the 1990s and into the early 2000s to identify NAGPRA collections, to determine tribal affiliations, and to ensure timely repatriation. Much of the focus during this time was on human remains and associated funerary objects. Major consultations include those that involved Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo in the early twentieth century, Warren Moorehead’s excavations at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia, and excavations at sites in Maine.
Today the Peabody continues its commitment to working with tribes and indigenous peoples to ensure that ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are repatriated in a respectful and timely fashion. Much work has been done and much remains to be done.
The Peabody supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is committed to the repatriation provisions outlined in that document. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly affirms that indigenous people have a right to repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains.
We look forward to hearing from the representatives of tribes in the United States or indigenous groups abroad to answer questions, to schedule visits to view collections, to receive guidance on care and storage of collections, or to begin the consultation process. We also are happy to discuss NAGPRA and repatriation with staff members from other institutions. Please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493) to begin a conversation today.