Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a museum? The Peabody, like many museums, has a small force of volunteers who dedicate a few hours each week to helping our staff further our work. We are currently looking to expand this group of volunteers.
Our volunteers have assisted us with a huge number of projects. We currently have one volunteer who works with our textile collection. In a museum setting, it is very important to protect artifacts from pests that can occasionally work their way into the building. Our textile artifacts are particularly susceptible to the damage from carpet beetle and clothes moth larvae. An infestation of these pests can completely destroy a textile collection without proper intervention and pest management. In order to stay on top of any potential pest problems, one of our volunteers systematically goes through our textiles and inspects them for evidence of damage, insect excrement, and live specimens. This involves vacuuming the textiles, inspecting them, and putting them through a freezing process designed to kill living pests. Once this two week process is completed, the textiles are removed from the freezer, isolated, and then inspected again for any signs of life. Once we are satisfied that pests are not present, the objects are returned to the collections storage space. Our volunteer has done an excellent job with this, and has made significant process on this project.
Our other current volunteer is a P.A. alumnus who works on a wide variety of projects. One of the most important projects is our complete inventory of the collection. We hope to renovate the Peabody in the next few years and before we do that, we need to have a completed inventory of our collections. This involves inventory of our storage drawers and recording information about collections, including objects present, count, geographic origin, and current storage location. Volunteers can help with this most important project.
In addition to helping out with the inventory, volunteers help out as needed across the Peabody. Other projects include organizing portions of the archives for researchers, pulling out and putting away objects for classes, creating labels for our artifact boxes, and transcribing catalog cards into a digital system. There is never a shortage of work to be done at the Peabody!
If this sounds like an opportunity that you would be interested in, feel free to contact me with for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be glad to speak to anyone about potentially volunteering for us!
This skeleton is from a site near Glorieta, New Mexico – just southeast of Santa Fe – and collected by Alfred Kidder during his work at Pecos Pueblo.
As discussed in a previous blog, The Macaw Factor, the presence of macaws in the southwest is certainly note-worthy. These birds have a natural habitat approximately 1000 miles to the south and were clearly transported to the region as status symbols. They may have been kept for their feathers or displayed as a sign of wealth and connections.
As we continue to move through the collection, who knows what we will find next!
In my last blog I discussed soil analysis and its importance in dating and understanding a site. Another form of analysis used in the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was a process called radiocarbon dating, a technique developed by University of Chicago physicist Willard Libby. Carbon samples were collected during excavation and sent for carbon dating to be used for the Tehuacán Chronology Project.
There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating. Relative dating, in a stratigraphic context, is the idea that objects closer to the surface are more recent in time relative to objects found deeper in the ground. This relates to the law of superposition, which in its plainest form, states soil layers in undisturbed sequences will have the oldest materials at the bottom of the sequence and the newest material closer to the surface. Although this form of dating can work well in certain cases, it does not work for all.
Many sites include soil layers that have been disturbed and this
can happen several ways. Natural disasters, such as floods, can erase top
layers of sites. Rodents can move around layers in a site as they burrow
underground, sometimes moving items from one context to another. Even current
human activity can change the stratigraphy of a site through construction, post
holes, and pits.
This takes us to our second dating technique. Absolute dating
represents the absolute age of a sample before the present. Examples of objects
that can be used to find absolute dates are historical documents and calendars.
However, when working in an archaeological site without documents, it is hard
to determine an absolute date. If a site has organic material present,
radiocarbon dating can be used to determine an absolute date. Radiocarbon
dating is a universal dating technique that is used around the world and can be
used to date materials ranging from about 400 to 50,000 years old. Radiocarbon
dating may even work on very recent materials.
Organisms such as plants and animals all contain radiocarbon (14C). When these organisms die, they stop exchanging
carbon with the environment. When this occurs, they begin to lose amounts of 14C overtime through a process called radioactive decay. The half-life of 14C is about 5,730
years. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of stable and unstable carbon in
a sample to determine its absolute date. As a result, the older the organic
material, the less 14C it has relative to stable versions of the
The carbon samples recovered from the Tehuacán Valley were
collected specifically with this in mind. Many of these samples had labels or
notes stating that some of each sample was sent to labs for radiocarbon
testing. The carbon samples are organic material and their properties of
radiocarbon were used to determine the age of the material, which in turn, helped
date each site.
The following sites are represented in some of the jars of carbon samples I catalogued from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project.
Site Number Site Name Radiocarbon years
Tc 35 El Riego 6800 to 5000 B.C.
Tc 50 Coxcatlan Cave 5000 to 3400 B.C.
Tc 307 Abejas 3400 to 2300 B.C.
Tc 272 Purron Cave 2300 to 1500 B.C.
Ts 204 Ajalpan 1500 to 800 B.C.
These results were published in Volume Four of MacNeish’s Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation and can be found on Page 5. MacNeish and Tehuacán Chronology Project director, Frederick Johnson, selected carbon samples to be sent for testing, which resulted in the determination of 218 radiocarbon dates. Johnson played a prominent role in radiocarbon dating, serving as the chair of the Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 set up by the American Anthropological Association. This project not only produced a chronology for the Tehuacán sequence of excavated sites, but later contributed (along with 400 additional radiocarbon dates) to the chronology for all of Mesoamerica. The dates, however, were made within the first two decades of radiocarbon dating and lack the accuracy and precision now available with newer techniques, especially with the older dates.
To read more about the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project
and the Tehuacán Chronology Project visit Internet
Libby, Willard F. Radiocarbon
Dating, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1955.
MacNeish, Richard S. et al., The Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation.
Vol. 4. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 1972. Print.
In April the University Press of Florida published Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms, my new book, co-edited with Oxford’s Joanna Ostapkowicz. Watery Realms highlights current research on sites and artifacts preserved in anaerobic environments throughout Florida. This blog reproduces some of the book’s first chapter, which recounts the origins of the volume and some of the exciting research presented.
The book grew out of the symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes that we organized at the 81st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in Orlando, Florida, not terribly far from some of the amazing sites being discussed. By coincidence, the icon of the 2016 SAA meeting was the Hontoon/Thursby owl, which was the focus of our conference presentation and recent study. This made the venue doubly relevant in highlighting the importance of Florida wetland archaeology. As the session grew into the Watery Realms book, it expanded to include other contributors and has inspired new collaborations. A generous grant from the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences helped underwrite the symposium and ensure that presenters from graduate programs, government agencies, cultural resource management firms, universities, and museums were able to attend. William Marquardt, a co-presenter on the wetsite resources of the Pineland site with Karen Jo Walker, volunteered to write a chapter for the book on the interesting corpus of wooden anthropomorphic figurines from southern Florida. Rick Schulting, who was involved in the strontium isotope analysis of the Hontoon/Thursby carvings in our study, linked with Julia Duggins over ways to test her ideas about Florida canoes and watersheds, a project that secured a Wenner-Gren Foundation grant. Plans for future collaborations on the anthropomorphic figurines and Key Marco material are also under way. Our discussants Jim Knight and Lee Newsom pointed out many of the ways the presenters could connect their work and explore Florida’s wetsite art.
The idea for the symposium emerged through a rather circuitous route. It began at the SAA’s 78th annual meeting in Hawaii, where I first meet Joanna Ostapkowicz. We were participants in a general session called By Design: Iconography in Social and Cosmological Negotiations, which included an interesting array of papers on everything from Dorset art to Egyptian textiles. Our papers contributed to enlarging the geographical scope to Florida (Wheeler: “Thinking about Animals in Ancient Florida”) and the Caribbean (Ostapkowicz: “The Sculptural Legacy of the Jamaican Taino”). Before and after the session we talked about how many iconographic wood carvings were known from Florida, from Key Marco to Fort Center and everything in between. Joanna suggested that the techniques she had been using with Caribbean wood carvings might have interesting applications in Florida. Many of the Caribbean pieces had traces of pigments and adhesives that were modified over relatively long periods of time. Some of this could be understood with a combination of microscopic examination and AMS dating. She also suggested that it might be possible to use isotopic analysis to understand the origin of a piece and how it could have been moved during its use life. In responding to slides in Ryan’s presentation, Joanna said something that was intriguing, namely that none of the carvings bore much similarity to Caribbean pieces, the potential connections between these geographically close areas remaining a hotly debated topic in some circles of Florida archaeology. We agreed to collaborate and decided that the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings would be a good pilot study. We secured a National Environment Research Council (UK) grant to undertake AMS radiocarbon dating on the four sculptures. The results of that collaboration are explored in Chapter 9 of Watery Realms and in our recent article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. During our field trip to visit the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings, we linked with many colleagues who are doing research on Florida’s wetsites, both collections-based study and reanalysis, and learned of new discoveries. After canvassing people about their work and interest, we decided to organize the SAA symposium.
That is not really the whole story, however, as there was another person in the audience of our symposium who deserves a lot of credit for modern studies of Florida’s wetsites, wooden artifacts, and iconography. Nearly all of the presenters that day mentioned Barbara Purdy, professor emerita of the University of Florida. She led a statewide investigation of dugout canoe finds from the 1970s until her retirement in 1992, maintaining extensive files and documentation on hundreds of canoes. She also led excavations at Hontoon Island in the 1980s to probe the wetsite deposits there, followed by a project at Lake Monroe, where I had my first taste of wetsite archaeology as a graduate student in the 1990s. In fact, I tracked down several canoes with Purdy and fellow grad student Ray McGee in the early 1990s; this work prefigured my involvement in the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site some ten years later. In 1991, Purdy published a compendium of Florida’s wetsites in Art and Archaeology of Florida’s Wetlands, building on her statewide survey of wetsites in 1981. That book was followed by Indian Art of Ancient Florida, a survey of Florida’s American Indian art with photographer and curator Roy Craven. It is most appropriate that the Watery Realms book is dedicated to Barbara Purdy, a pioneer of Florida’s wetsite archaeology and studies of wooden artifacts and carvings. Purdy encouraged an appreciation of canoes as fascinating artifacts in their own right that embody information about past lifeways and deserve care and study. Purdy organized and hosted several international wetsite conferences that resulted in important proceedings on the subject and created a community of scholars dedicated to the documentation and preservations of wetsite artifacts. She has continued to advocate for more recognition for Florida wetsites. Archaeologists still avoid damp and low areas during surveys and seldom think about intentional prospecting for these important sites. That is changing, however, largely due to her work, which introduced many of us as students and professionals to the hidden world of wetsite archaeology.
The rest of Chapter 1 introduces the environment of Florida and gives a brief overview of the other eight chapters, as well as some thoughts about major themes covered in the book and prevalent in wetsite archaeology. Copies are available from Amazon.com and directly from the University of Press of Florida.