The Shadow of Scotty MacNeish

Contributed by Marla Taylor

This month marks the 103rd birthday of Richard “Scotty” MacNeish (1918-2001) – past Director of the Peabody Institute, unconfirmed winner of the 1938 Golden Glove award (a regional amateur boxing title), member of the National Academy of Sciences, and all-around remarkable 20th century archaeologist.  When starting to pull this post together, I found this quote describing MacNeish and could not resist including it here:

A strange, bifurcated goatee decorates his chin, and there is a shimmering reddishness about his hair and face. He has spent, literally, more than 20 years in the field — longer than any other archaeologist. He has published more than 400 books and articles. Despite two heart bypass operations, he retains the pounding mental metabolism of a furious shrew. (“Bones to Pick Archaeology” by Richard O’Mara in the Baltimore Sun, May 16, 1996)

Ok, in my first draft of this blog, I listed information about MacNeish’s professional positions and tried to summarize his career.  That turned into something far too long and meandering to share.  So, instead, I will point you to the wonderful short biography from the Peabody Institute archival catalog records and the much more in-depth biographical memoir from the National Academy of Sciences.  I will use this space to highlight his impact at the Peabody Institute and my daily work.

Throughout his career, MacNeish sought the intertwined origins of agriculture and civilization.  He excavated in North America, Peru, Mexico (Tamaulipas, Tehuacán, Coxcatlan, and Palo Blanco), Belize, and China while searching for the early domestication of corn and rice.  Because of this particular interest, the Peabody Institute is home to a number of plant remains and botanical specimens.  Some of these tiny early maize cobs are an important part of a much larger story on the origin of modern corn.  I have a love/hate relationship with these specimen.  They are so fascinating but also so delicate – I want to share them, but decades of storage without climate control have left them brittle.  Gentle handling is required for sure!

MacNeish was also particularly interested in excavating sites that would push back the archaeological framework for understanding when people arrived in the New World.  I think it appealed to his pugnacious disposition to tell everyone else that they were wrong.  His work is proving relevant as Indigenous scholars push to rewrite the archaeological understanding of the Americas.  I love this aspect of MacNeish’s work and hope that more people will come to utilize these collections.

MacNeish kept EVERYTHING from his research and excavations – a double-edged sword for collections management.  This applies less to the object collections (MacNeish was not always allowed to retain the artifacts he excavated in foreign countries) but very much applies to his archivesHis archives include everything from thank you cards to financial records to drafts of publications to excavation images.  With over 100 boxes of archival material, I am confident that I can find the documentation that anyone is looking for – but I am regularly daunted by volume of material.

If all of that wasn’t enough, MacNeish continues to influence how the Peabody Institute’s collection grows.  We recently received archival gifts from his associates Jane Libby and Dr. James Neely documenting their work with MacNeish and beyond.  Once these collections are processed, I will be happy to share the relevant finding aids. Well, I haven’t even mentioned MacNeish’s reputation as a passionately supportive teacher – or what his archives reveal about his feelings toward those who disagreed with him – or his reputation as a flirt.  Alas, we must draw a line somewhere in this conversation.  Clearly there is so much to say about Scotty MacNeish!   I wish I had been fortunate enough to meet him before he passed, but I am fortunate enough to work in his shadow at the Peabody.

Behind the Photograph: Unpacking the Peabody Collection

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Throughout history we have used images to tell a story and to document a period or memory in time. Today our society continues to find ways to connect and communicate through social media and digital platforms, using images to share their lives and stories more than ever.

The Peabody collection contains more than 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and documents. The Peabody’s photograph collection, specifically, is extensive and contains many interesting, yet untold stories. To bring these stories and photographs to light, we would like to share them with YOU, fellow readers, in our new blog series, Behind the Photograph.

Our inspiration for this new series of blogs was a photograph of Warren K. Moorehead and the Fort Ancient excavation in Ohio. You can view this story here! To kick off the Behind the Photograph blog series, we’d like to share a second photograph from the Peabody collections.

Students unpack Robert S. Peabody’s collections in the school gymnasium, circa 1901. Lantern slide, from the photographic collections, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology

This photograph is a lantern slide from the Peabody’s photographic collections. The photograph depicts Phillips Academy students in 1901 unpacking Robert S. Peabody’s donated collections in the school’s old gymnasium. The old gymnasium was located in the Brick Academy – the gym incarnation of Bulfinch Hall. At the time, a new gym (Borden Gymnasium) and the Archaeology Department (later known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology) were in the process of being designed and built on the Phillips Academy campus. In June 1896, fire had gutted the gym leaving the brick walls intact. Although the building was re-roofed, it went largely unused until the Peabody collection was sorted and stored there in 1901.

Earlier in this same year, the Archaeology Department was founded on March 21st at a Trustees meeting held in Boston. An endowment and collection were given from an anonymous donor, now known to be Robert S. Peabody. The school chose Principal Bancroft of the Academy, Professor Warren K. Moorehead, and Dr. Charles Peabody (founder’s son) as the officers of the Archaeology Department. Warren K. Moorehead served as the curator and chief executive officer of the department, while Charles Peabody served as honorary director. For more information on the founding of the Peabody Institute, check out this article from the Phillips Academy student newspaper, the Phillipian.

As the development and construction of the Archaeology Department building was underway, archaeology classes and the Archaeology Department’s collections were held in the old gymnasium. An article from the Phillipian states that Dr. Peabody and Professor Moorehead wished to unpack certain specimens and students would not attend lectures for some weeks. Instead, students met in the old gym to unpack Robert S. Peabody’s founding collection and begin preliminary sorting of the artifacts before they were relocated to the completed Archaeology Building several years later. The 1901 article states that “students found the laboratory work unique and interesting.”

If you look closely in the image, you will see a man standing in the background to the left of the long work table. It certainly looks like Warren K. Moorehead overseeing the sorting and work of the students. Also in the image are the very wooden drawers that are still located at the Peabody today!

In an effort to maintain the sustainability and integrity of the Peabody’s collections, the Peabody collection team is working to rehouse all artifacts from these wooden drawers to acid free collection boxes to better preserve and protect the collection materials. It is our hope in the future to provide proper storage space and conditions that match the preservation needs of our collections.

As more and more wooden drawers are emptied through our inventory and rehousing project, we no longer have use for them. As a result of this, we recently began giving away these wooden drawers to those who may find ways to repurpose them through various DIY projects. You can check out these projects here, here, and here!

If you are interested in having your very own historic drawer, you can contact me at elavoie@andover.edu to schedule a safe and socially distanced pickup. (Who knows… you may even get one of the drawers that were originally in this photograph!)

This image marks a significant time in the Peabody’s history, representing the introduction of archaeology to PA students and the birth of the Peabody Institute and its collections. To learn more about archaeology at Phillips Academy check out Peabody Director, Dr. Ryan Wheeler’s blog and article, Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School.