Monthly Archives: January 2018

Identifying Patterns!

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Out of all the artifacts that I have worked with over the course of my career, one of my favorite types has always been historic ceramics. There are so many different ceramic types and beautiful decorative patterns that it’s easy to see why ceramics can often become collector’s items. Transferware has always been particularly interesting to me. Maybe it’s because there is such a wide array of images and scenery that can be depicted on this type of ceramic.

One of my previous jobs dealt heavily with colonial and antebellum artifacts, so transfer printed ceramic fragments would come through the lab on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do there was to identify the specific patterns on the fragments as best I could. In order to do that I had many resources, including a Powerpoint with typologies found at the site and access to the Transferware Collectors Club website.

Last week, I decided to inventory a drawer which has historic ceramics in it. I rarely see historic ceramics here, so I figured it would be a good way to keep them fresh in my mind. When it came time to catalog the ceramics, I organized them in my workspace by colors, and then further broke these groups into design patterns.

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Organizing ceramics!

I had kept the aforementioned Powerpoint on a flash drive in case I ever ran into historic ceramics again. It was open on my computer while I was going through this particular drawer and it proved to be a valuable resource once again. I had a few fragments of transfer printed ceramics in front of me and noticed that even though they were tiny sherds, I was able to see that they contained images of grain, a foot, and a window with some shrubs.

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The foot of a gleaner
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Ceramic fragment with a window and shrubs
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Ceramic fragment with gathered wheat

Going through the Powerpoint, I immediately recognized that these match up with a transfer pattern that is known as “Gleaners.” The rim pattern also was a dead giveaway, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see that from a few tiny pieces of ceramic, I could get a vision of what the entire vessel once looked like!

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An entire vessel with the “Gleaners” pattern.

Finding fragments of transfer printed ceramic is always exciting and can be like having pieces of a puzzle that you need to put together. Many antique transfer printing patterns are still used and reproduced to this day. If you have any in your possession, or know anyone else who does, I’d encourage you to look it up online and see what you can learn about something you might have once thought was just a cool decorative piece.

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.

L-25-5. Collecting Primulas on muskeg between beaches west of Mile 1020-21. Near Pine Creek Camp. Alaska Highway. 6/23/44.

Cataloging photographs in our database, and the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition photographs

Contributed by Irene Gates

Since November, I’ve been focused on better organizing and rehousing the Peabody’s photographic collections (a rough extent estimate: 10,000 prints, 35,000 slides, 230 rolls of film, 500 glass plate negatives and 1,500 lantern slides). These consist of excavation, ethnographic and museum object photographs. Some were created during the course of the Peabody’s activities; others were donated to the museum. There are some wonderful images here, many unknown to Peabody staff members even. In keeping with the archives project’s mission to make the Peabody’s archival collections more accessible, contract librarian Mary Beth Clack has begun cataloging photographs in our Past Perfect collections management database. For many photographs, some type of bibliographic record such as a catalog card or an index already exists, so adding a record to the database is a question of transcribing and consistently formatting existing information. Work duty students and I have been scanning photographs so that a digital image can then be attached to the catalog records, which are then easily published online via our Past Perfect web portal. In addition to the benefits of making these publically available, cataloging them in the database makes them infinitely more findable for staff members.

L-28-28. Fairbanks, Alaska. Snapshots of Chena Slough, streets and houses. 7/30/44
L-28-28. Fairbanks, Alaska. Snapshots of Chena Slough, streets and houses. 7/30/44

Mary Beth is currently working on the 1944 and 1948 Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition print photographs. These approximately 1,500 images document the archaeological and geobotanical expeditions carried out jointly by the Peabody and Harvard University (and funded by additional sources, including the Wenner-Gren Foundation) in parts of the Shakwak and Dezadeash Valleys, in southwestern Yukon. The photographs, taken by Fred Johnson, Hugh Miller Raup and John H.H. Sticht, are mounted on stiff paper, typically two to a page, with typewritten captions below each image. Many of them, in addition to being important documentation of the expeditions, are very beautiful. Included here a few examples. The first batch of records have just been published online, and more will be added soon: please browse them here.

Example of an Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition photographs page, with images from 1944.
Example of an Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition photographs page, with images from 1944.
L-25-5. Collecting Primulas on muskeg between beaches west of Mile 1020-21. Near Pine Creek Camp. Alaska Highway. 6/23/44.
L-25-5. Collecting Primulas on muskeg between beaches west of Mile 1020-21. Near Pine Creek Camp. Alaska Highway. 6/23/44.

For more information about the Yukon project, see its publication: Investigation in Southwest Yukon, by Fred Johnson, Hugh Raup and Richard MacNeish, 1964

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 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.eduor 978 749 4493.

A Life in Beads

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

I recently received two requests from history faculty for our class on Westward Expansion. Unfortunately, we recently determined that the majority of the objects used for that class should be further investigated to see if they are potential NAGPRA objects – specifically items of cultural patrimony.  Which meant that if I was to fulfill the requests of these teachers I needed to come up with a new activity FAST! I had less than two working weeks to formulate and flesh out what the seventy-minute class would do.

While I was scrolling online for ideas my colleague Samantha Hixson mentioned a Plains dress that we had – thus giving me an “A HA!!!!” moment.  I had seen a lesson related to a Plains dress from the National Museum of the American Indian. That got me thinking and served as a foundation for my own lesson.

I decided to use multiple objects from the Peabody Institute’s collection to understand the long standing close connection that Plains tribes had to their surroundings and communities through traditions. Through the lens of one aspect of life – clothing – the impact that Westward Expansion had on tribes will be more clearly defined.

In addition to the dress I also selected a pair of beaded moccasins, one of the muslin pencil drawings (reproduction), a defleshing tool, as well as a bison skin rattle (reproduction). The class begins with students wandering around the room, simply exploring the objects scattered about before working together to dive more deeply into the material culture.

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Students look at a reproduction of one of the Sioux pencil drawings in our collection.

Some of the questions students are asked are basic observational ones: “what material is the dress made from.” Others begin to stretch their understanding of the process of making clothing: “what role did men and boys have in the creation of the dress and shoes.” We also delve into why decorations are important, not only in the culture we are studying, but our own as well.

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Students answering questions about the material culture.

We then pause as a class to talk about traditions and what they mean to us personally. We talk about the positive influence they have on us and how they bring us closer together as a community (Head of School Day was a favorite tradition that was mentioned. One can tell that the speculation amongst students of when it will be called is going strong!!).

We then discuss how the actions of white settlers and the government destroyed the traditions of Plains tribes and how this affected communities. This was a very emotional part of the class for many students. It is certainly one thing to read about atrocities in the past through the emotional barrier of a textbook – and quite another to “see” it when looking at the clothing that a real person wore. And based on an email I received from one of the faculty asking for more resources for students to further investigate the impact on tribes and how they are dealing with it today, it is a lesson that has already had a lasting impact on the students.

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Lindsay Randall pointing out details in the clothing.

But I do not want to end my post on such a heavy note, so I will tell you about a great way that everyone at the Peabody supports the work of each other. For the first class Samantha sat in on the activity and was VERY helpful. While she did answer some of the student questions – which was very nice and I do not mean to diminish how helpful that was – but more importantly SHE WAS WEARING QUILL EARRINGS!!!!! And in the lesson I mentioned QUILLING!! So I may have made asked her to take them out so that I could show them to students.

She also noticed that I mention elk tooth beads in my lesson and shared with me that students had recently discovered one in our collections! SCORE!!!! Collaboration for the WIN!

Puerto Rican Artifacts at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

A poorly known collection occupying several drawers at the Peabody Institute sheds a little light on the Taíno, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico and neighboring islands who met Christopher Columbus in 1492.

When Columbus landed in Hispaniola the Taíno population was perhaps in the millions and early records estimate that 85 percent of the population had been lost within a few decades. People lived in family groups, with some villages numbering 3,000 people. Native foods like fish, shellfish, birds, lizards, and other small animals augmented agricultural crops of cassava, yams, and other domesticates. A complex and elaborate religion included the worship of spirits called zemis, and like their neighbors in Mesoamerica, the Taíno played a ball game on a rectangular court that they called Batey. Hereditary chiefs and nobles ruled over commoners and slaves. The Taíno, however, soon succumbed to the Spanish conquest, but most of us recognize a handful of loan words in English that can be traced back to the Caribbean, including barbecue (barbacoa) and canoe (canoa).

Image of Ryan Wheeler at the Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site in barrio Caguana, Utuado, Puerto Rico, 2006. The reconstructed ball court is lined with engraved stone slabs.
Ryan Wheeler at the Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site in barrio Caguana, Utuado, Puerto Rico, 2006. The reconstructed ball court is lined with engraved stone slabs.

I got interested in the Taíno in 1999 when as an employee of the Florida State Archaeologist’s Office I conducted an investigation of the Miami Circle site in downtown Miami. Miami is a melting pot of people from Latin America and the Caribbean. Among those I met during my time in Miami were a group of folks from Puerto Rico who considered themselves living members of the Taíno tribe. Like most other archaeologist and anthropologists at that time I had learned that the Taíno were extinct—one of the first victims of European conquest and colonization of the Americas. My new friends shared that they had, however, preserved their language and culture, including many old songs which they were working to pass on to future generations. Over the next few years I met more Taíno people and several tribal members participated in my excavations near Lake Okeechobee in 2000.

A 2011 Smithsonian.com article by Robert M. Poole recounts his search for modern day Taíno in New York and Puerto Rico with surprising results. Like my friends in Miami, many Puerto Ricans acknowledged indigenous ancestry. Many of my archaeologist friends were still skeptical, suggesting that cultural practices were based on ethnohistoric accounts left by the Spanish and that language was being recreated based on Julian Granberry’s 2005 book Languages of the pre-Columbian Antilles. By the early 2000s there were several Taíno groups that asserted cultural affiliation, including the Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken, who were the folks I knew. DNA analysis by Juan C. Martínez-Cruzado—reported in 2003 and 2006—suggests that the archaeologists and anthropologists got it wrong. Based on an island-wide DNA survey, Martinez-Cruzado found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans have Amerindian mitochondrial DNA, 27 percent have African and 12 percent Caucasian. Martinez-Cruzado’s study also pointed to evidence for cultural survivals into modern times, including traditional fishing practices.

So, back to the Peabody collections. Preserved in several drawers are petaloid celts, adornos and sherds from ceramic vessels (many depict animals), three-point stones (also called zemis), and a very heavy stone belt (or yoke) that would have been worn during the ball game. Mela Pons Alegria, in an article in Archaeology magazine, explains that the three-pointed stone zemis “are the oldest and most abundant” form of Taíno art, and evolve from simple triangular carvings to elaborate effigy forms. Flat areas hint that these may have been attached to handles or staffs. We have little catalog information, but it appears that the collection was a gift from Eugene M. Verges. A little poking around on genealogical sites shows that Eugene Marcelin Verges II was born in 1889 in Arroyo, Puerto Rico and was a student at Phillips Academy in 1907—he’s listed in the catalog as being from Wellesley, Mass.—he died in 1970. Verges’ father was engaged in the sugar business and it seems likely that the Peabody collections from Puerto Rico were made by the Verges family and gifted to us in the first part of the twentieth century.