From the Peabody With Love

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, the Peabody would like to highlight some love-related objects from our collection. From heart-shaped designs to meanings of love, we hope these featured artifacts give you that “loving feeling.”

Venus Figurine (59953)

Venus – the goddess of love and beauty – is a common figurine found in museums and archaeological excavations. Venus figurines such as those in the Peabody collection, were used in various ways such as offerings, ritual practices, and as grave goods in burials. For more on these figurines and their history check out this article from Current Anthropology by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

This artifact is a dark green plaster cast reproduction of a Venus figurine. The original figurine was made of crystalline talc and was excavated from the Grimaldi Caves in Italy. The figurine, known as Pulcinella or the Venus of Polichinelle, is dated to the Aurignacian or Upper Paleolithic period (about 40,000 – 10,000 BCE). The cast figurine was acquired by Warren K. Moorehead in 1925 on one of his trips to Europe. The figurine reproduction is a part of the Peabody’s education collection.

Cast reproduction of a Venus figurine from Italy.

Heart Padlock (107/7688)

Heart-shaped locks have their origins in a Scandinavian-style padlock. These locks were made with various metals such as brass, bronze, and cast iron. The two key characteristics of a traditional heart lock were a spring-loaded keyhole cover called a “drop” that would keep dirt and insects out of the lock (not present on this specific artifact) and a metal loop so a chain could be placed through it to prevent the lock from getting lost or stolen. Source: “The History of Padlocks,” Lock Blog. United Locksmith. 2021.

This large metal padlock was excavated by Adelaide and Ripley Bullen in the summer of 1943. The padlock was found in a dump pile southwest of the cellar hole at the Lucy Foster site, the nineteenth century Andover homestead of an emancipated African American woman. Ripley was employed as a student assistant at the Peabody during the 1940s, and Adelaide helped with the library and other tasks; both of their sons graduated from Phillips Academy. You can learn more about Adelaide Kendall Bullen and the Lucy Foster site from the following blogs: Women of the Peabody, Peabody at the Smithsonian, and Lucy Foster’s Ceramic Collection.

These heart-shaped locks remind me of the Pont des Arts, the famous Lock Bridge in Paris, France. I had first visited this bridge in high school on a study-abroad trip where I fell in love with the story of the Love Lock Bridge (no pun intended). The Pont des Arts is right near the Louvre and crosses the Seine River. The tradition is for lovers to attach personalized padlocks to its railing and throw the keys away in the Seine River. While the tradition did not originate in Paris, it is the most famous destination and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2015, the French government began to remove the padlocks (45 tons in total!) from the bridge in order to protect the historical structure. For more on this tradition and the efforts for its removal, visit here.

One large heart-shaped padlock excavated from the Lucy Foster Site in 1943.

Wedding Vessel (2018.5.4)

The hand painted, ceramic vessel is a Jemez wedding vase made by artist Andrea Fragua, from the Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico. The wedding vase plays a significant part in traditional marriage ceremonies. The two spouts represent the separate lives of the to-be married couple. The bridge at the top unites the two spouts. The vase is filled with holy water or herbal infused tea and the couple drinks from their respective side. If the couple manages to drink from the vase together without spilling, they will have a strong relationship. This ceremony is similar to the exchanging of wedding rings. Source: “Pueblo Wedding Vases,” Toh-Atin Gallery. Durango, CO. 2021.

Friend of the Peabody, Dominique Toya, fired a wedding vase in summer 2020. Dominque is an artist and educator from the Pueblo of Jemez. For five years now, the Toya family (Dominque, Maxine, and Mia Toya) have visited Phillips Academy to make traditional Pueblo pottery with PA students through Thayer Zaeder’s ceramic classes. To learn more about these visits check out this blog. To view the live firing of a wedding vase by Dominique Toya check it out here!

Wedding vessel used in marriage ceremonies.

Rehousing a vessel with salt damage

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

In January, the HVAC system in one of our collection storage areas malfunctioned. Repair work required that the system was turned off for several days. During this time, we monitored the objects for any changes. One vessel caught our eye.

Thanks to Marla’s experience with the collection, she noticed that previously documented spalling due to salt efflorescence was likely developing further (see figure). A quick look at older photographs confirmed that the damage had indeed progressed. The vessel was stored on open shelving and an inspection of the area around the object determined that no fragments had fallen completely off. We decided to rehouse the vessel in a box to buffer it against changes in environment during the current or future failure of the HVAC system.

Figure 1. Rehoused vessel in open box

Since I’ve encountered salt efflorescence a few times, I thought I’d add a bit more information. Porous materials, like bone, ceramic and stone, can absorb salt from various sources. Once inside, salts can be dissolved by moisture in the air through a process called deliquescence. Eventually, the water evaporates and the salt recrystallizes. In very porous objects, the salt crystals form on the surface. In objects where the surface is less porous than the underlying body, recrystallized salt can generate massive forces than can spall or pit the surface (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). In worst case scenarios objects can disintegrate.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, salts can enter porous objects through groundwater or seawater in buried or submerged contexts (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). They are a major source of salt in archaeological collections such as ours. In the case of ceramics, food and water stored in objects during their pre-burial use life can also leave salt residues (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2). Salts can be introduced to ceramics during manufacture through additives that modify the clay body and through water (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2, Source: Digital Fire). Even clay itself can be salty. When I lived in Arizona, I can remember hearing a potter discuss that they would check their clay by tasting it to make sure it wasn’t too salty.

After ceramic objects are recovered during excavation, salts can continue to be added in archaeological labs and museums. Hydrochloric acid has been used to remove calcium carbonate, an insoluble salt that adheres to ceramics during burial that impedes analysis. An unintended result of this process creates calcium chloride, a soluble salt, which is absorbed into the ceramic matrix (Source: The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works- Studies in Conservation Page 172, Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 Page 2). I would be highly doubtful of repairs that were done years ago. Without detailed treatment records, who knows what glues were used and what contaminants they might introduce.

Figure 2. Spalling due to efflorescence

Deliquescence and evaporation of soluble salts can be greatly diminished by keeping the storage environment below 60% relative humidity and by reducing humidity and temperature fluctuations (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3). However, there is a continued danger of efflorescence. Display cases and storage shelving made from wood have the potential to release acetic acids. This volatile organic compound has the potential to interact with soluble salts leading to precipitation even in controlled storage environments (Source: ICOM Committee for Conservation Page 640).

There may not be quick or inexpensive solutions to mitigate efflorescence. Our current plans for renovation of Peabody collections spaces call for the replacement of wood drawers and cabinets, but this is expensive. In regards to removing salt from objects, the traditional method is through a desalination wash or soak, wherein the object is immersed in distilled or deionized water until the salt level is reduced. This is a complicated process and shouldn’t be done without involving a conservator. Desalination risks removing important residues and compounds that can reduce the usefulness of the objects for future analysis and weaken the object (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3).

Here at the Peabody we’ve taken steps to remove salt through dry brushing, environmental controls, and monitoring. In the future, we have plans to improve our storage space so that these issues will no longer be a concern.

No Vikings at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology is not known for its Viking collections, or are we?

Vikings shopping in York. Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One object, donated to the Institute by Dr. C.A. Kershaw in the early twentieth century, is repeatedly cited as evidence for Viking visitors to Massachusetts long before the days of the Pilgrims.

The object in question is a copper dagger or knife and is pictured in Frederick Pohl’s 1961 book Atlantic Crossings before Columbus. Barry Fell also discussed the piece in his popular 1976 book America BC: Ancient Settlers in the New World. Both authors contributed extensively to the literature on connections between Europe and the Americas, often featuring Vikings; mainstream archaeology has dubbed Pohl, Fell, and allied writers as pseudoscientists who offer provocative theories, but little concrete or testable evidence.

Copper dagger or knife blade from Merrimacport, Massachusetts in the collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, catalog # 90.5.1.

Regarding the dagger, here is what Pohl has to say:

Arthur Petzold (of Andover, MA) recently called my attention to a heavily-patinated copper “spearhead or knife” found many years ago by Dr. C.A. Kershaw of Merrimacport, Massachusetts, on Indian Flat near his home. A drawing of it showing two large and two small rivet holes for hafting was published by Warren King Moorehead in 1931. Benjamin L. Smith, who wrote “Supplementary Notes” to the Moorehead volume, says he has always been “troubled” by the copper artifact because its unusual form suggests it may not be Indian. Dr. Gad Rausing of Lund, Sweden, thinks that the general outline and size agree quite closely with the very early Bronze Age daggers of Northern Europe—but he has never seen one with two big and two small rivet holes arranged in such a manner, and so he says he “cannot claim to recognize it at all.” It may be, as he suggests, that the four rivet holes were not made at the same time, but that the small ones were added when one of the large ones got broken. A distinguished archaeologist, a specialist in European pre-history, has written me that the copper object is doubtless a dagger and, he believes, a very old one, from the mid-European early Bronze Age, presumably about 1300 B.C. But, he says, “How could it have found its way to Massachusetts, I wonder. Perhaps brought by some collector, and lost. Who can tell?” On the other hand, Dr. William Ritchie, New York State Archaeologist, assures me that prehistoric Indians of the Upper Great Lakes area riveted some of their spear points to the shaft, and so he says of the Merrimacport specimen that it may or may not be prehistoric. Spectrum analysis should determine its place of origin; for North American Indian copper is quite pure, having only slight traces of silver and iron, while European smelted copper contains antimony, bismuth, lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, Sulphur, gold, silver, arsenic and oxygen. In view of the possibility that the Merrimacport artifact may be early European, it is interesting that it was found only thirteen miles from North Salem and near the river used by boats approaching the North Salem site. [Pohl 1961:15-16]

Pohl’s argument is characteristic of many pseudoscientific claims—two competing ideas about an artifact or site are presented as equivalent—in this case, the Merrimacport artifact is offered as potentially Native American and potentially Bronze Age. The Native American origin of the dagger, however, is much more likely, especially as archaeologists like Ritchie noted similarities to copper artifacts from the Great Lakes. The North Salem site that Pohl mentions is now known as America’s Stonehenge and is located in North Salem, New Hampshire.

Barry Fell, building on Pohl’s arguments, illustrates a photograph of the Merrimacport artifact and cites ongoing research (mid-1970s) by James Whittall. Fell says that museums housing these copper artifacts, which he identifies as Celtic, believed they were from the European Bronze Age, but that they had been recently lost (see Fell 1976:127-128). Interestingly, James P. Whittall Jr., who wrote about the copper object in the December 1970 issue of the New England Antiquities Research Association newsletter, compares the piece to a Bronze Age dagger from Spain—a comparison that is echoed by Fell. And, despite that comparison, Whittall remains undecided about the origins and significance of the artifact, saying, “The dagger does not prove cultural contact between Western Europe and New England in the late Bronze Period, but the fact remains that the dagger was found here. This should be kept on record. When and if more evidence is recovered in this area, this singular artifact becomes more important. For the present it rests in a cultural void.” Writing a few years later, Whittall (1975:4) is more decisive, stating that “copper celts in Vermont and rivet copper daggers in Massachusetts are typical examples of middle bronze age European artifacts.”

Moorehead (1931:13), as noted by Pohl, includes an illustration in his Merrimack Archaeological Survey, though does not comment on the artifact other than to describe it as a “copper spearhead or knife,” while Charles S. Willoughby (1936:114-115) includes the piece with other Native American copper objects in his Antiquities of the New England Indians, saying:

The unique specimen figured in g [referring to Figure 59g], is from an old site on the bank of the Merrimack, at Merrimackport, Massachusetts. It is probably a knife, and was lashed to its handle through two perforations near its base, one of which has been torn out. In repairing this damage two more perforations were made just above the others. This is now in the Andover Museum. In all of the above [copper] specimens one side is flat. On the opposite side the blade is beveled from a central strengthening ridge to either edge.

Copper objects from Wisconsin in the collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

So, you might ask, “what’s the harm in all this?” We do know that the Norse settled in Greenland, at least for a while, and that one Norse site has been confirmed in Labrador, so it’s not impossible that other sites or objects could be found. Ken Feder (2020:131), in his great book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries, notes that “a growing number of native sites in Arctic Canada show evidence of widespread, occasional, but sometimes intimate contact for centuries between local people and Norse visitors.” Every year in my fall Human Origins course, we discuss the distinction between science and pseudoscience. We learn that science relies on falsifiability, where proving a hypothesis true is less important than the ability to prove it false. Possibilities and probabilities often fail to meet the falsifiability test—could Vikings have been in Massachusetts and neighboring states? Yes, but those possibilities must be subject to testing. Also, there’s a darker side to these Viking stories, which negate the long land tenure, accomplishments, and technology of Native Americans. As archaeologist William Ritchie reported to Frederick Pohl in the 1960s, Native Americans worked Great Lakes copper into an array of tools and ornaments thousands of years ago, and these objects were transported by travelers and through exchange networks. Before conjuring Celts, Vikings, Irish monks, or other trans-Atlantic European travelers, Native Americans are much more likely to have fashioned artifacts like the Merrimacport dagger.

References Cited

Feder, Kenneth L. 2020. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fell, Barry. 1976. American B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World. New York: Pocket Books.

Moorehead, Warren K. 1931. The Merrimack Archaeological Survey: A Preliminary Paper. Salem, MA: Peabody Museum.

Pohl, Frederick J. 1961. Atlantic Crossings Before Columbus. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Whittall, James P. Jr. 1970. An Unique Dagger. New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA) Newsletter 5(4, Issue #19):77.

___. 1975. Precolumbian Parallels between Mediterranean and New England Archaeology. Occasional Publications of the Epigraphic Society 3(52):1-5.

Willoughby, Charles C. 1935. Antiquities of the New England Indians, with Notes on the Ancient Cultures of the Adjacent Territory. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.