Behind the Photograph: Traveler in Tweed

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Pipe in mouth and axe in hand, a man in a tweed suit stands in front of a 1940s Dodge “Woody” station wagon brimming with suitcases and archaeological gear. The crates on the ground by his feet are labeled, “F. JOHNSON, PEABODY FNDN, ANDOVER, MASS.” Who is this man and where could he be traveling to?

The year is 1948 and this traveler in tweed is Frederick Johnson, curator of the Peabody (known as the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology at the time) from 1936-1968.

Fred Johnson with expedition gear in front of the Peabody, 1948.

Frederick Johnson (1904-1994) joined the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology as Curator in 1936. He held this position until 1968, serving one year as Director before retiring in 1969. During his time at the Peabody, Johnson initiated an archaeological excavation program for students at Phillips Academy. He also organized the Committee for the Recovery of Archaeological Remains (1945-1968) and chaired the American Anthropological Association’s Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 (1948-1968.)

Johnson is recognized for contributing to the development of an interdisciplinary approach to archaeology, using scientists from various fields to study archaeological problems together. The Boylston Street Fish Weir project (1939) in Boston, MA as well as the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition (1944 and 1948) were two examples of this method.

The image of Fred Johnson above was taken before his trip to the Yukon Territory for the last year of the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition. This five-month field project combined archaeological and geobotanical research in the unknown northwestern interior of North America and was carried out jointly by the Peabody and Harvard University (funded by additional sources, including the Wenner-Gren Foundation.)

The journey began from North Dakota to Burwash Landing, Yukon with research in parts of the Shakwak and Dezadeash Valleys in southwestern Yukon. The project leaders were Fred Johnson and Professor Hugh Raup, botanist and Director of the Harvard Forest in Harvard, MA. Two Harvard graduate students served as assistants in the botanical and archaeological research, Bill Drury and Dr. Elmer Harp, Jr.

Harp was a recent Harvard graduate and Curator of Anthropology for the Dartmouth College Museum in Hanover, NH. He documented the trip through field notes and his own photographs. Below is one of Harp’s photographs taken at the beginning of their trip. Do you notice anything similar between these two images? That is the same station wagon in each photograph and yes, that is Fred Johnson with his pipe again! Harp and Drury were tasked with driving the expedition’s station wagon from Boston to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory – standard labor assigned to graduate students in the field.

Bill Drury, Fred Johnson, and Elmer Harp at the start of the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition, May 4, 1948. Photograph by Dr. Elmer Harp, Jr., Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.

According to Harp’s recordings from the expedition, Johnson and Raup conducted several projects in the early years of the Yukon project (1943-1944) exploring for evidence of the first appearance of humans in the New World. The 1948 project was to search for archaeological sites along the eastern borders of the Rocky Mountains via the Alcan Highway. This was the first time the highway was opened to civilian traffic since the beginning of WWII. The Andover-Harvard expeditions went on to represent the first systematic explorations of Yukon’s prehistoric past.

Further Readings and Resources

For more information on the Yukon project, see its publication: Investigations in Southwest Yukon, by Fred Johnson, Hugh Raup, and Richard MacNeish, 1964

Explore Elmer Harp, Jr.’s field notes on the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition: North to the Yukon Territory via the Alcan Highway in 1948: Field Notes of The Andover-Harvard Expedition.

For more information on the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition photographs by Fred Johnson check out our blog: Cataloging photographs in our database, and the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition photographs

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