The William Duncan Strong Collection

This blog represents the twelfth 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!

The Peabody Institute holds many collections from across North America. In the early 20th century, institutions often traded objects with one another in order to expand holdings and develop more diverse collections. One of the collections the Peabody received in trade is the William Duncan Strong collection, which consists of objects from Labrador. Strong was a prolific archaeologist and anthropologist who was known for his direct historical approach to studying Indigenous cultures of North and South America.

William Duncan Strong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1899. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he initially studied zoology before switching his focus to Anthropology. While at Berkeley, he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, a well-known American anthropologist who Strong considered a mentor and friend. Strong received his Ph. D. in 1926. His dissertation, titled “An Analysis of Southwestern Society,” was subsequently published in American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. Throughout his career, Strong conducted ethnographic and archaeological studies throughout southern California, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Peru, and Labrador.

william-duncan-strong-6f5667e9-c454-4b90-82e6-bc08deefff3-resize-750
William Duncan Strong. Photo Source: Alchetron.com/william-duncan-strong

The Labrador collection is one of the largest collections housed at the Peabody. It was given to the Peabody by the Field Museum in Chicago in exchange for materials from Pecos Pueblo. The Labrador collection contains many interesting artifacts from the Arctic region. Strong assembled the collection as part of a 1927-28 expedition to the Arctic led by Commander Donald B. MacMillan. MacMillan was known for his arctic cruises, which often included a variety of scientists and observers. Most of Strong’s time was spent in ethnographic research with the Montagnais-Naskapi, but he also found time to excavate several Inuit villages—this is where the Peabody collection originated.

One of the artifacts that I found the most intriguing was what looked like a boat carved out of stone. I asked about what this object was since I had never come across anything like it.  I thought perhaps it was some kind of kettle but I was informed that it was actually a lamp called a Kudlik.

Lamp
One of the Kudliks present in our collection.

These lamps were typically used by people in the Arctic to light and heat their dwellings, to melt snow, and to cook. They were usually made out of soapstone, which was carved into a dish-like object with a shallow perforation in the center. This is where the wick, which was fashioned from cottongrass or moss, would be placed. The surrounding dish was then most commonly filled with seal blubber, although whale blubber was also used in whaling communities. The wick would soak in blubber, which would then allow it to remain lit and provide people with light.

paleoeskimo lamp burning
A picture of a Kudlik in use. Photo Credit: elfshotgallery.blogspot.com

It is always very interesting to see how people in the past used various objects from their environment to create tools that we still use to this day!

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