Early Sites

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Richard “Scotty” MacNeish (1918 – 2001) was a preeminent archaeologist of the mid to late twentieth century. Along with roles at the National Museum of Canada, the University of Calgary, and Boston University, Scotty was the fifth director of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology). First associated with the Peabody in the early 1960s, he worked closely with Frederick Johnson and Douglas Byers, who assisted him with the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project, probing caves in central Mexico for the world’s earliest corn. Throughout his career, MacNeish sought the intertwined origins of agriculture and civilization, working in various parts of Mexico, Peru, China, Belize, and North America.

Image of Scotty MacNeish, wearing heavy black framed glasses and a tweed blazer holding a large, crude stone chopper tool and the end of a large sloth leg bone.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish with a stone chopper tool and giant sloth bone fragment from Pikimachay Cave in highland Peru. MacNeish believed the earliest human occupation of the cave dated between 22,200 to 14,700 years ago.

Along with impressive ceramic chronologies and pretty old—if not the oldest—examples of corn, Scotty often also reported evidence of great human antiquity in the Americas. At a site highland Peru MacNeish claimed that the earliest levels had evidence of crude stone tools and Pleistocene megafauna dating to well over 14,000 years ago.

Image of Scotty MacNeish, an older, balding man with wire frame glasses using a jeweler's loupe to examine a point stone tool from Pendejo Cave, New Mexico. Bookshelves are in the background, slightly out of focus.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish in February 1992 examines a stone chopper tool from Pendejo Cave in New Mexico.

At Pendejo Cave on the Fort Bliss military base in New Mexico he claimed even earlier dates, including occupation levels between 25,000 and 31, 000 years ago. This was at a time when Clovis—named for the type site of distinctive fluted spear points dating to around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago—was considered the earliest human occupation of the Americas. Scotty was a strong proponent of the pre-Clovis hypothesis, which now dominates in archaeology.

Image of brown road signs and Bureau of Land Management sign pointing the way to the Calico Hill Early Man Site. The background is the Mojave Desert of California, with low hills in the distance and dirt and desert plants in the foreground.
Signage for the Calico Hill Early Man Site near Yerma, California, May 1979. From a slide recently acquired by Ryan J. Wheeler.

But Scotty MacNeish wasn’t the only twentieth century archaeologist with claims for early sites. In the 1960s California archaeologist Ruth DeEtte Simpson recruited Louis Leakey to aid in investigation of a site on Bureau of Land Management property in the central Mojave Desert. This was the Calico Hill Early Man site, which produced crude chipped stone tools, some possibly dating between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago! As you might imagine, these early dates caused quite a stir and led many archaeologists to reject the Calico Hill site. Some argued about issues with dating, while others posited that the stone tools were really just natural phenomenon. Prior to his death in 1972, the Calico site may have caused a rift between Louis and Mary Leakey. And despite criticism, Simpson continued excavations.

Image of archaeologist Ruth Simpson, an older woman with short gray hair, a yellow plaid shirt, holding a plaque. In the background is an old field vehicle from the 1950s or 1960s.
Archaeologist Ruth “Dee” Simpson receiving an award on the twentieth reunion of the Calico Hill Early Man site excavations, November 1984. From a slide recently acquired by Ryan J. Wheeler.

A conference on the site failed to garner critical support from other archaeologists—many lauded the careful techniques employed, but balked at the early dates (see report by Walter Shuiling 2015). In his 1978 review of early sites in the Journal of Anthropological Research, MacNeish writes, “The most disputed of these is Calico Hills of California with geological estimates ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 years ago.” He goes on to say that, despite doubts about the site and its contents, he believes the tools are “pebble and slab choppers, spokeshave-like tools, large side scraper and plano-convex scraping planes or cores” like those at other early, pre-Clovis sites.

It is probably not surprising, given his support for the site, that Ruth Simpson invited MacNeish to participate in a thirtieth anniversary celebration of the Calico Hill Early Man site. The event, sponsored by the Friends of Calico, the San Bernardino County Museum, and the Bureau of Land Management, was held over two weekends in 1994. MacNeish delivered his talk, Pleistocene Man & Animals in the Pendejo Caves on Saturday, November 5, 1994. MacNeish acquired a set of nice resin casts of the artifacts from Calico Hill at this time, which he gifted to the Peabody. These include the Rock Wren biface—another large chopper-like tool—that has been dated to a more recent era with thermoluminescence dating.

Archaeologist Ruth Simpson, an older woman with short gray hair wearing a khaki field shirt, poses with a friend--an older, unidentified woman with gray curly hair, wearing a floral shirt and blue jacket. Vehicles are parked in the background, and low desert hills of the Mojave are further back with a dark blue sky.
Archaeologist Ruth “Dee” Simpson (left) with a friend at the Calico Hill Early Man site, November 1986.

The Calico Hill Early Man site, however, does have a little company in the contention for earliest possible human habitation in the Americas. A recent paper in Nature reports on the remains of a 130,000 year old mastodon site with some evidence of intentional bone breakage. Interestingly, the Cerutti Mastodon Site is in San Diego, about 186 miles from Calico Hill in the Mojave Desert. Like Calico Hill, most archaeologists have dismissed the San Diego site. Despite the skepticism around the claims for very early sites, archaeologists have continued to push back the earliest dates for humans in the Americas, with some sites dating to between 14,000 and 19,000 years ago.

The Peabody at the SHAs

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

We have had a very busy couple of days this month as the Society for Historical Archaeology held their annual international conference in Boston – and of course the Peabody was in the thick of things!

The Peabody hosted a table at the SHAs Public Archaeology event at the Boston Public Library. Throughout the event there was a steady stream of conference attendees as well as families with children interacting with the fifteen different activity stations.

In addition to the Peabody, the Museum of Science, Massachusetts Archaeological Society, Salem National Historical Park, Indigenous Resource Collaborative, Plimoth Plantation, Archaeological Institute of America, Epoch Preservation, Friends of the Office of State Archaeology, Massachusetts 54th Regiment, Hurstwic, Gray & Pape, Donahue Consulting, Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, and Northeast Museum Services Center presented amazing and engaging hands on activities.

However, I do have to give a particular shout out to Mike Adams from the Museum of Science (and former Peabody intern) for his unique activity that had visitors make their own fishweir before testing it in water with robotic fish. It was super cool – and I really want to steal his idea!

charlie fish
Robotic fish zipping through a fishweir 

For our activity, the Peabody brought a Munsell themed game that asked visitors to put different color hues in order. There was even sets that changed from one color to another if someone was feeling very confident in their color gradient identifying skills. And while archaeologists typically only focus on brownish-yellow (or yellow-brownish?) colors, I figured that we’d expand our color palate for the game to include more visually appealing ones.

munsellphoto
Different sets of colors used in the Munsell sorting game.

In addition to the sorting activity, we had a Munsell bookmark making table. Children and adults got to use stamps and hole punchers of different designs to decorate their paint chip bookmarks. This was a big hit with visitors of all ages.

bookmark
Making a paint chip bookmark

I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Kristina Douglass ’02 who is an archaeologist at Penn State. Her research focuses on human-environment interactions on Madagascar, which I am excited to learn more about. I plan to read this article about radiocarbon dates and the human settlement on Madagascar by Dr. Douglass soon. Our meet up was lovely – but way to short! I look forward to getting to know her better in the future – maybe SHA 2022 in Philadelphia?

Douglass
Dr. Kristina Douglass ’02

In the book room, I had the opportunity to talk with the wonderful people representing Berghahn Books about their work and mine. The generously gave me a copy of their newest book Experiencing Archaeology, which is designed for high school level classes. I cannot wait to dive into the book to explore how the Peabody might utilize their activities!

Book

However, one of the most rewarding moments of the conference was when I got to see Alex Hagler ’16 present their poster, which focused on their work at Strawbery Banke Museum during summer 2018. To learn more about the work Alex conducted at the museum, check out their blog post.

Alex is a senior at Bryn Mawr College and is studying Classical Archaeology. I must say that I am very proud of their achievements and often can be found taking any opportunity to embarrass them by talking about them to anyone and everyone. But that happens when one has known someone since they were in the 6th grade.

Alex
Alex Hagler ’16 presenting at the SHA poster session

Moving the Big Ones

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I have always thought of the Peabody’s collections storage as one of those sliding tile puzzles.  You have to keep shifting pieces that look like they are in the right place in order to end up with the correct completed final image.  Sometimes it seems never ending, but each shift makes the space more organized, cleaner, and more efficient.

A few months ago, I was faced with trying to find space for a couple dozen boxes that we agreed to store temporarily (maybe a year or so).  These objects needed discrete storage in a place that would not be disturbed.  This was a challenge, but one worth tackling.  After some thought, Rachel (Collections Assistant) came up with the idea of moving our large groundstone collection – that storage was discrete and in an area of the room that we rarely needed to interact with.  Perfect.

You may be asking yourself, What is a large groundstone?  Groundstone objects are stone tools that are formed by grinding and pecking away the larger stone into the desired shape.  These can include axe heads, portable petroglyphs, weights, as well as manos and metates.  The largest of these are often the metates, or grinding stones, that were used to prepare wheat and corn flour. Some of them are easily 40+ pounds!

The first task was dismantling the previous storage bays – a fun day with power drills and a sawzall.  Then I created a plan to install new shelving inside the bays that would be sturdy enough to support all the weight we were moving.  The photos may just look like shelves, but I am proud of all the precise measuring, leveling, and cutting with a circular saw and jigsaw that went into this project.  When we installed the shelves, everything fit perfectly.

To move the 183 objects we had to load everything onto trays and wheel them across the storage space – some were much too heavy to carry that distance.  A quick reinventory assigned everything a new storage location and the process was complete.  All told, this move took about a week.

I can’t pretend for a second that I did this project alone – massive thanks and credit to Rachel, Emily, John, and Ryan for their insights, object moving abilities, and skills with power tools!

Oversize storage
Look at those beautiful shelves!

Florida Collections at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

There is a New England tradition of visiting southern climes during the coldest months. At the beginning of the twentieth century, archaeological collections made during these southern expeditions ended up in northern museums. The Peabody has a number of such collections, including objects excavated by Charles Peabody and Warren Moorehead at sites in Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and Maryland.

Antique photo of men and small boat along high river bank shell mound site.
Clarence B. Moore’s image of the shell mound at Hontoon Island, Florida. Excavation of the Precolumbian shell mound on Hontoon Island – Volusia County, Florida. 1893. Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020..

The best-known and most prolific archaeological snowbird, however, is undoubtedly Clarence Bloomfield Moore (1852 – 1936). Moore, from a wealthy Philadelphia family, studied under Frederic Ward Putnam at Harvard. Beginning in the last years of the nineteenth century and carrying through the first two decades of the twentieth century, Moore plied southern rivers during the winter, ultimately excavating hundreds of sites during his career. Only sites not accessible from his steamboat went unexplored. Back in Philadelphia during the summer, he prepared photographs and descriptions of his finds, most of which appeared as large folio volumes in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Drawing of Clarence B. Moore's steamer, The Gopher, a stern wheel steam boat.
Clarence B. Moore’s most famous steamer, The Gopher, as drawn by Philip Ayer Sawyer, 1938 for the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, a project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. State Archives of Florida, S 2382

Moore’s most intensive period of excavation coincided with the establishment of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology (now our Peabody Institute). Moore consigned large lots of his collection to the newly created Peabody, reducing what he perceived to be duplicates and largely undecorated pieces of pottery. The result was an extensive collection of ceramic vessels and other artifacts from sites in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and other Southern and Midwestern states.

White to yellow colored artifacts carved from seashells, including adze or celt shaped tools, plummets, whole gastropod shell tools, and other artifacts carved from the central spire of whelk shells.
Shell artifacts collected by Clarence B. Moore in Florida.

Moore’s legacy looms large in southeastern archaeology. He excavated a large number of sites, often completely leveling them. His publications are equally numerous, but are primarily descriptive. His field methods were those of an antiquarian, focused on recovering impressive objects of stone, shell, and clay—and, in fact, he recovered some of the South’s most iconic artifacts. He was generous with his collections, and deposited artifacts with many institutions, from the Springfield Science Museum in Massachusetts to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. George Gustav Heye ultimately acquired the bulk of Moore’s collections, which and are now curated at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Moore is, however, the person that southeastern archaeologists love to hate—his lack of control, destructive tendencies, and relatively poor record keeping tarnish whatever good he might have done.

Image of small brown and tan ceramic pots, some are globular, while others are gourd-shaped, rectangular, or have multiple compartments.
Small ceramic vessels collected by Clarence B. Moore in Florida. Many of these were not illustrated in his publications, but were studied by archaeologist Gordon R. Willey in the 1940s.

In Florida, Moore was so prolific that archaeologists of the mid-twentieth century studied his collections and worked to identify the locations he had visited. Archaeologist John Mann Goggin was chief among these, and assigned Moore’s sites numbers in the state’s catalog of sites. Goggin and his students often tried to visit the sites, when they could be located. He also visited the museums that housed Moore’s collections, using the objects to assign sites to cultural and temporal divisions. Likewise, Gordon R. Willey—best known for his synthetic works on the archaeology of South America and Mesoamerica—used Moore’s collections to develop culture histories for much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and panhandle, including the late Woodland age Weeden Island culture, and the various local manifestations of Mississippian culture. Willey relied on Moore’s collections at the Peabody for this work. The University of Alabama Press has reprinted all of Moore’s publications including new introductions and comments by knowledgeable scholars, and the publications by Goggin and Willey are available as reprints as well.

Vintage watercolor painting showing a large, old-fashioned wood and glass case with artifacts., especially pottery.
Clarence B. Moore’s collections were displayed prominently in a large glass and wood case in the earliest days of the Peabody.

Moore made several large gifts to the Peabody, with notable collections of pottery, shell, and stone artifacts from sites in the Florida panhandle, the Gulf Coast, on the St. Johns River, and from the Ten Thousand Islands. Several hundred artifacts from at least distinct 88 sites are present in the Peabody collection. A recent reassessment of the Peabody’s Moore collection correlated each site with its contemporary state site number. This project will assist with repatriation and research. Despite earlier assessments of the Peabody’s C. B. Moore collection, few modern scholars know about our holdings. Hopefully, this blog post will help, along with this Excel spreadsheet of Moore sites represented in the Peabody collections: FLorida_Moore_sites_2020