Hello Spring!

Contributed by Emily Hurley

After months of cold temperatures and snow storms I’m sure we’re all looking forward to spring and warmer weather! This year the first day of spring, or the spring equinox, takes place on March 20th. To some, equinoxes mark nothing more than seasons passing by. But to others, they were and still are an important time for celebration.

For many Indigenous cultures around the world, the spring equinox is an important time for not only practical, but also ceremonial purposes. Equinoxes were traditionally used to determine what animals would be available for hunting, when to plant and harvest crops, and they marked periods of migration for nomadic groups.

The equinox is marked differently by Indigenous nations around the world, but because tracking the sun’s movements was essential for survival, some cultures found ways to do so in the form of solar calendars. The Maya calendar is perhaps the most well-known of these but there were many others. The Mayans also created other ways to track the sun. The Pyramid of Kulkulkan (or El Castillo) at the site of Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula, displays a serpent along the staircase during the equinox. Many still flock to the site on the equinox to see the serpent today.

Image showing the descent of Kulkulkan at Chichén Itzá, March 21st 2009. Image courtesy of Bmamlin, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

At the prehistoric site of Cahokia in Illinois, archaeologists in the 1960s discovered pits arranged into five large circles. Fragments of wood inside the pits indicated that sacred red cedar wood had been used as posts. Archaeologists dubbed this area as “Woodhenge” after realizing that some of the posts act as seasonal markers, marking the solstices and equinoxes. On the day of the spring equinox, the post marking this event aligns with Monk’s Mound (the largest Pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas and the residence of the leader of Cahokia), where the sun emerges from behind the mound.

An artist’s conception of Woodhenge at sunrise, circa 1000 CE. Image courtesy of Herb Roe, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The reconstructed Woodhenge at the site of Cahokia, 2010. Image courtesy of Ryan Wheeler.
Ryan Wheeler visiting the reconstructed Woodhenge at the site of Cahokia, 2010. Image courtesy of Ryan Wheeler.

Another example of using the sun to create certain images is found at the site of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. At the top of the Fajada Butte are two spirals etched into the rock which on the equinox, are sliced by a dagger of sunlight, called the “Sun Dagger.” Unfortunately the rocks on the butte have shifted, possibly due to human traffic at the site, and now the sunlit images no longer appear. At other areas of the Chaco Canyon site, interred bird bones have been discovered, and archaeologists believe these were the result of sacrificing scarlet macaws during the equinox. Due to their red and yellow feathers, these birds were associated with the sun and fire, and it is thought that sacrificing them during the equinox was a symbolic way of ending the winter season. This was also a common practice among groups throughout the Southwest and Northern Mexico.

Fajade Butte in 2015. Image courtesy of Rationalobserver, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
A diagram of the sunlit areas that were present during equinoxes and solstices at Fajada Butte. The spring, or vernal equinox, is in the center. Image courtesy of Nationalparks, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the Anishinaabe tradition, spring is celebrated as the beginning of their new year. Known as the Sugar Moon, this was the time when maple sap would start to run from the trees. Maple sap is considered to have important medicinal properties to the Anishinaabe as it balanced the blood.

Spring traditions in many native cultures are inextricably linked to the sun and moon, as the beginning of spring is marked by the equinox. It was a time symbolic of balance, because during the equinox day and night are of equal length. Spring has also historically symbolized rebirth and growth. It is the time when the earth is awakening from its winter slumber, and the life cycle is beginning again. Animals come out of hibernation and plants begin to bloom and grow again. Many traditions that have grown out of the equinox are based around this idea of balance and new beginnings.

Spring was also recognized by many Native American groups as a time to gather together and make decisions about their communities. It was a time to discuss which groups travelled where, what to do about hostile tribes, and where they could find resources. Today, many Indigenous groups still hold spring equinox gatherings and celebrations, which generally include music, dancing, ritual ceremonies, arts and crafts, and a feast of traditional dishes.

While spring traditions may look different to everyone, I think most can agree that it is a time of growth and fresh starts. With the upcoming season we have a lot to look forward to. We get to smell the fresh, clean air after a spring rain and watch flowers start to bloom. And let’s not forget about spring cleaning! Hopefully warmer weather and fun spring activities are right around the corner!

For further reading check out these resources:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/160317-spring-vernal-equinox-astronomy-native-american

http://blog.nativepartnership.org/spring-equinox-in-native-american-cultures/

http://muskratmagazine.com/indigenous-calendars-mark-much-more-than-the-spring-equinox/

dIPPIN’ iN: Quick Conversations with Archaeologists

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Given how wildly successful our Diggin’ In: Digital Lecture series has been, we wanted to expand how our audiences can interact with archaeologists from around the country. 

Our new project – dIPPIN’ IN: Quick Conversations with Archaeologists – highlights the variety of jobs and experiences archaeologists can have by asking each person the same five questions:

  • Describe what kind of archaeology you focus on.
  • How did you get into archaeology?
  • Why should we care about archaeology and history?
  • What is the most exciting thing you ever found?
  • Anything else people should know about archaeology?

It is fascinating to learn about each archaeologist’s career path and what initially hooked them. And, while some answers have been remarkedly similar many are wildly different!

If you want a glimpse into the exciting field of archaeology through the personal lens of an archaeologist, this series is for you.

As we continue to add to the series, you can find the videos here.

And, if you are an archaeologist who wants to participate or if there is someone you want us to interview – let us know!

Warren K. Moorehead and the Peabody Institute

Contributed by Marla Taylor

When thinking about the collections held by the Peabody Institute, I often also think of Warren K. Moorehead.  Regular readers of the blog (I know there are a few of you out there!) are certainly familiar with his name and how tightly he is intertwined with the Peabody.  To recognize Moorehead’s 155th birthday this week, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of his story. 

Warren King Moorehead, 1898

Warren King Moorehead (1866-1939) grew up in Ohio, where he cultivated a lifelong interest in archaeology and Native Americans.  In his early career, he worked as a correspondent for The Illustrated American and served as the first curator of archaeology for the Ohio Archaeological Society (now the Ohio History Connection).  In 1896, he began what would become a personal friendship with Robert S. Peabody, providing him with several Indigenous artifact collections.  When Mr. Peabody chose to donate his collection to Phillips Academy in 1901, he appointed Moorehead as the first curator of the Department of Archaeology.  Moorehead served in that capacity until 1924 when he then assumed the directorship.  He finally retired in 1938, only a year before his passing.

Throughout his career, Moorehead was a prolific writer, excavator, and collector.  His large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations included the Arkansas River Valley, northwest Georgia, the Southwest, and coastal and interior Maine.  His work directly contributed to expanding the Peabody’s collection by approximately 200,000 objects. 

Moorehead and crew doing a survey along the Merrimack River

However, it must be acknowledged that Moorehead’s field and collection techniques are quite shocking by modern archaeological and museum standards.  Early in his career, particularly in Ohio and Georgia, Moorehead would use horse drawn plows to cut into carefully constructed mounds.  Often, his work was destructive yet superficial – he would level or bisect the mounds and collect what was of interest to him with relatively little note taking. 

Moorehead was also a dealer – he regularly facilitated trades between institutions and with private collectors to fund his own work or to “remove duplicates.”  Definitely something that would never be done now.  And, it created lots of headaches.

Paradoxically, Moorehead simultaneously served on the federal Board of Indian Commissioners from 1908-1933.  His work there focused on injustices committed against contemporary Native Americans.  He was present at Wounded Knee shortly before the infamous massacre there on December 29, 1890.  He took testimony to investigate the bribery and redirection of funds in the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.  Moorehead wrote The American Indian in the United States, Period 1850-1914 to share his thoughts on the work of the Board of Indian Commissioners and expose the abuses of power that he saw. 

Source: Ohiohistory.org

It is perplexing to me that Moorehead was able to see the injustices done to contemporary tribes, but continue to be seemingly unaware that the material that he avidly collected and traded was connected to those same people.  I firmly believe that Moorehead is an excellent candidate for a riveting biography.  Anyone out there have the time to write it??

Need Help with NAGPRA?

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law thirty years ago. NAGPRA fundamentally changed the relationship between tribes, archaeologists, and museums, but there are still many challenges. Museums have over 120,000 Native American ancestral remains and some institutions have not yet consulted with tribes.

Image of tribal representatives in the Peabody Institute collection space with Marla Taylor, curator of collections
Marla Taylor (right), Peabody curator of collections, with Nekole Alligood (left) and Susan Bachor, representatives of the Delaware tribes, during a consultation meeting.

At the New England Museum Association annual meeting in November 2020 the Peabody Institute partnered with experts from tribes, museums, and federal agencies to answer questions about and discuss NAGPRA in a relaxed, welcoming, and no pressure workshop format. Seventy museum professionals participated, and we’ve had an opportunity to follow up with many of those folx since the workshop.

Representatives from the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians during a repatriation with members of the Peabody Institute staff. From left to right: Bob Shimek, Kayla Olson, Ryan Wheeler, Merlin Deegan, and Bonnie Sousa.

But don’t fear! If you couldn’t make the November workshop, we are still available to help you, wherever you are in the process. NAGPRA might seem a little daunting at first, so if you would like to chat with Peabody Institute personnel, or get some specific advice on how to move forward, we are here to support you. Contact Peabody Institute director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu to set up a time to talk.

NAGPRA Resources

NAGPRA Community of Practice: Hosted by the University of Denver, this is a great space to ask questions and connect with others engaged in repatriation. Consider joining one of the Zoom calls that happen twice a month: https://liberalarts.du.edu/anthropology-museum/nagpra/community-practice

National NAGPRA Website: This is the National Park Service’s newly redesigned website with everything you need to get started, including links to the NAGPRA law and rule, databases, templates, and advice on how to get started: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nagpra/index.htm

NAGPRA Data Visualization: Curious about how NAGPRA has been implemented in your area or across the country? Check out Melanie O’Brien’s NAGPRA Data Visualization on Tableau: https://public.tableau.com/profile/melanie.obrien#!/vizhome/NAGPRA-Totals/1_Reported