Quok Walker

The end of slavery in Massachusetts rests with the court cases of two enslaved people: Mum Bett and Quok Walker. While both individals are discussed in the Salem State University course that we support during the summer, it is the Quok Walker case that we are most excited to revisit next year.

For the 2019 iteration of the class, Dr. Bethany Jay and I changed the focus of the course to look at the “long” nineteenth century through the lens of African-Americans and archaeology. This decision was made so that the class could better support history educators as they navigate new changes to the Massachusetts Frameworks.

Part of the process of examining the nineteenth century and it’s impact on the experiences of African Americans through events like the Civil War and Reconstruction, is to better understand specific events prior to 1800, and Quok Walker’s legal case is one of the most important.

Most people do not realize that Massachusetts was the first colony to create laws legalizing slavery. The economy of Massachusetts and New England was heavily dependent on West Indian slavery; enslaving native people in New England and importing Africans into the colony was common practice in the 1700s as well. It was not until the American Revolution, when enslaved people began using the colonists’ language demanding freedom from England, that the legality of slavery changed in Massachusetts.

In 1781, Quok Walker ran away from Nathaniel Jennison to a farm owned by Seth and John Caldwell. After Jennison and others captured and beat Walker, he used the legal system to prove his freedom. This is because his original owner had promised to free Walker.

Over the course of the three trials, it was declared that Walker was in fact “a Freeman and not the proper Negro slave” and the state Supreme Court also found that the state’s Constitution was not compatible with the institution of slavery. These decisions, while not codifying the abolishment of slavery into state law, made slavery legally untenable in the state. Thus, Massachusetts, the first state to allow slavery, became the first to legally end it.

Cushing
Chief Justice William Cushing who presided over the Walker case as Massachusetts chief justice, before he became a member of the Supreme Court for the newly formed country.  

With the change in focus for the Salem State University class, we added new partners, including Ellen Berkland, archaeologist for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). While working with Berkland regarding the DCR property Camp Meigs – which is the place outside of Boston where the African American Mass 54th regiment was encamped before fighting in the Civil War – she informed Dr. Jay and I that DCR had a property that was related to the life of Walker and proposed that we might bring our 2020 class to dig at the site.

And to say that Dr. Jay and I were excited would be an understatement! Why? Because that is the land that Quok Walker lived on after he gained his freedom. The idea that we might be able to find objects that are connected to him and could help historians and others better understand his life is an exhilarating opportunity!

Walker Barre
Barre, MA has a plaque near the town commons that commemorates Quok Walker.

The Tehuacan Hollow Dwarf Figurine

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!

 

In the early 1960s, future Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish undertook several important excavations in the Tehuacán Valley, located in the Mexican state of Puebla. Peabody curator Fred Johnson and Peabody director Doug Byers assisted MacNeish with his project, and provided the institutional support needed for National Science Foundation funding. During the 1970s the data gathered and analyzed by MacNeish was published in a five volume book series which garnered a lot of attention from the archaeological community—these are now available on InternetArchive. While his most prominent contribution to the field involved his research on the evolution of corn, he also provided a great deal of information toward the study of ceramics in the Tehuacán Valley region, particularly when it came to the ceramic figurines that were discovered during his excavations.

In total, MacNeish discovered a total of 74 figurine specimens from the Ajalpan locality of the Tehuacán Valley. While many of these figurines were fragmentary, one was excavated as a nearly whole specimen. This example is made of Ajalpan Coarse red paste and is finished with a thin wash and red pigmented paint which has been applied to some areas. This figurine is quite large, measuring 50 cm tall, 22 cm wide at the shoulders and 9 cm wide at the waist. As with many of the other figurine examples, the Ajalpan Figurine has a large head with an elongated torso and stubby arms and legs. Dubbed the “Dwarf Figurine” by MacNeish because of the figure’s large head and squat torso, these features may be attributed more to style and artistic convention.  The large, almond shaped eyes and headdress worn by the figurine led MacNeish to draw comparisons to its resemblance to Egyptian figures.

 

figurine
Photos of the Hollow Dwarf Figurine.

The presence of the so-called hollow dwarf figurines in the Tehuacán Valley suggested to MacNeish that there were connections between the Late Ajalpan phase of Tehuacán and the San Lorenzo phase of the Olmec area to the east, though it is unclear if contemporary archaeologists would agree. While MacNeish was working in the 1960s it was not uncommon to link interesting or unusual finds to the enigmatic Olmec culture. MacNeish suggested that there were considerable stylistic similarities between the Ajalpan figurines and examples from Olmec sites. He also pointed to the presence at Tehuacán of plain tecomates (a globe shaped vessel with no neck), Ponce Black ceramic sherds, and bowls with thickened rims as evidence of links between the two areas.

Today the Ajalpan Figurine resides in the one remaining exhibit constructed during MacNeish’s tenure at the Peabody.

Wild Ride No More

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Cups and Coaster
The collections environment before and after rehousing in archival boxes

Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.

Temp and RH graph for John August 2019
Environmental Stats for April

First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.

Layerd Storage
Layered Storage

The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.

 

Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.

Sachet
Silica Gel Sachets

The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.

 

Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.

Busman’s Holiday: The Scottish Crannog Centre

If you’ve ever wondered what museum archaeologists do on vacation, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. As you may have guessed the tropical destinations and theme parks are typically bypassed for museums and archaeological sites. This was true on a recent vacation to Scotland, which featured everything from kitschy shops on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to breathtaking vistas in Glencoe. But, for the archaeologist, the real highlight was a visit to the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay in Perthshire.

Image of thatched pile dwelling reconstruction at Scottish Crannog Centre.
Replica crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre, log boat in the foreground.

So, what’s a “crannog?”  A crannog is an Iron Age pile dwelling, and it turns out that they are quite common in Scotland. At least 347 are recorded in Scotland and more are known in Ireland. Each crannog varies based on local environment and geomorphology, but they are commonly made of wooden timbers set in the lake bed and surmounted by a thatch dwelling. A narrow boardwalk provides a connection to the shore. The crannogs were built and occupied by Iron Age families (and their livestock) some 5,000 years ago. Accumulation of debris under and around the crannogs resulted in artificial islands. Many of these remained in use for a considerable time after the Iron Age, and we even had lunch in a restaurant built on a crannog in Fort William.

Image of dyed materials in a range of colors, all made with Iron Age pigments and processes.
Iron Age dyes replicated at the Scottish Crannog Centre.

The Crannog Centre in Perthshire is a living history museum with an active program of experimental archaeology and hands-on activities for visitors. A highlight is a reconstructed crannog based exactly on archaeological remains located nearby. Construction and repair of the replica crannog, and experiments to recreate ancient foods, tools, and clothes have provided considerable insight into the lives of Iron Age peoples. The interpreters did an outstanding job of explaining what is known and not known about crannogs. We got a sense of what the bustling lake must have been like 5,000 years ago as people tended crops and livestock, created tools and ornaments, cooked and ate their meals, and were entertained by traveling bards. Fragments of a musical instrument, traced to the Iberian Peninsula, provided some clues about connections during the Iron Age. Our guide Jason was a specialist in recreation of Iron Age textiles and shared some of his work in dyeing, spinning, and weaving. We were also treated to a fire-making demonstration, ancient pottery making, and replica log boats.

 

Since the water in Loch Tay was relatively calm that day we were invited to take out one of the modern replica log boats. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a paddle, but I was delighted to learn that a 3,000-year-old log boat had been located adjacent to the reconstructed crannog. We had seen examples of these craft in both the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh. They share a lot with Native American dugout canoes, though the Scottish examples have a plank inset in the stern, creating a distinctive flat transom. And, of course, they are carved with iron tools rather than hollowed by fire.

Image of artifacts, including carved wooded ladles, bowls, and other shapes.
Anaerobic conditions at the crannog preserve wooden artifacts, seeds and nuts, as well as the more typical stone tools found at terrestrial archaeological sites.

So along with Scotland’s castles, sweeping vistas, great food, friendly people, and the occasional bagpiper, we had a real treat at the Crannog Centre. Next time: paddling one of their log boats!