Conference Season

Contributed by Marla Taylor

October/November is conference season!  I was an active participant in multiple conferences over the past couple months and really enjoyed connecting with colleagues after the worst of COVID.

First, I attended the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) 8th Annual Repatriation Conference in New Buffalo, Michigan.  The conference “brings together Native Nations, museums, artists, spiritual leaders, academics, lawyers, federal and state agencies, international institutions, collectors and others to work together to reactivate relationships with the past to create a world where diverse Native cultures and values are lived, protected and respected.”

It was a fantastic experience.  The Repatriation Conference is a space where I greeted so many colleagues with hugs and made new and important connections.  The speakers shared meaningful perspectives and insights and I am proud to be a part of that community.  Oh, and the sunrise ceremony by the host Pokagon Band of Potawatomi was an invigorating way to start the day!

The second conference (only one week later!) was the 2022 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums hosted by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) in Temecula, California.  I love ATALM as an experience.  I learn so much from those sessions and surrounding myself with innovate professionals, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who work so hard to prioritize Indigenous voices and perspectives.  A couple of shout-outs to my favorite presentations – Traditional plant-based methods for pest control and Your Neighborhood Museum.

At both the Repatriation Conference and ATALM, I was a presenter and shared the work that colleagues and I have done to create the Indigenous Collections Care (ICC) Working Group and Guide.  The ICC is a group of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous museum professionals and academics, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, collections staff, and NAGPRA coordinators who are working to create a Guide as a reference tool for people who interact regularly with Native American collections.  The Guide will offer scalable considerations and templates for implementation, advocacy, and creation of policies and procedures for all areas of collections stewardship.  This project has been a major focus of mine over the past couple years and I am proud to share our work with the broader community.

The third and final conference in my marathon was the New England Museum Association 2022 Annual Conference.  Now, I was admittedly a little exhausted after traveling from New Hampshire to Michigan to New Hampshire to California and back home to New Hampshire so I only attended NEMA for a day to be a speaker.  This session was slightly different and focused on demystifying decolonization/Indigenizing museum collections stewardship.  I was joined by colleagues from the Boston Children’s Museum and The Trustees of the Reservation for this conversation.  We received positive feedback from everyone and I hope it inspired someone to take a step forward in this work.

While I really did love the opportunity to connect with other professionals, I am happy to be done with conferences for the year!  And I have to admit, I am already planning my schedule for 2023…

New Box Test Results

Submitted by John Bergman-McCool

The Peabody is preparing for exciting building improvements in our collections area that will begin in April of 2023. They will include new storage furniture and an HVAC system that will control temperature and humidity. In advance of the project, we initiated a few tests to see how the environment inside our collections boxes would respond to moving around our building.

In a previous test, we sought to understand how silica gel might help mitigate fluctuating temperature and relative humidity (RH). Environmental monitors were placed in two boxes containing collections; one with a sachet containing silica gel and one without. The values were compared against a monitor that was measuring the ambient temp and RH in our collections area. The initial results of those tests are summarized in a previous blog. The silica gel appeared to bring down RH inside the box. However, once the silica gel had fully adsorbed humidity, the boxes themselves also seemed to buffer against shifting RH levels.

Silica efficacy test in boxes that contain collections. ‘Silica’ and ‘Without Silica’ boxes don’t exhibit the wide ranging RH and show a small decrease in temperature compared to the basement environment they are stored in. As we later learned, the RH is influenced by the collections inside the boxes.

During the new test, monitors were placed inside two empty boxes. One box was located on the first floor and a second box was moved in and out of our HVAC controlled storage area on a weekly basis. The data from inside the box was compared to environmental monitors logging ambient temperature and RH in the test areas. The results were enlightening and clear within the first month. Unlike the boxes containing collections, the empty boxes very closely mirror the temperature and RH of the spaces in which they are placed.

Empty box test from first floor. Test Box temperature and RH compared against first-floor monitors F1-1, F1-2, F1-3. RH and temperature in test box closely mirrors conditions outside box.
Empty box test from the second floor. Test box moved into and out of HVAC controlled storage. Test unit temperature and RH compared against test units inside (F2-6) and outside (F2-4) HVAC storage. RH in test box closely mirrors conditions outside box.

The conclusion from our previous test that the boxes were buffering the collections within from environmental changes was incorrect. The box environment was buffered by the collections inside.

Organic collection items- including bone, wood, and botanical remains- can absorb and release moisture in the air. In our collection area the ratio of air to collection items is high. Collections may influence temperature and RH in the storage area, but it might be negligible.  Inside the boxes that ratio is reversed; they hold more collections for a relatively small amount of air, which results in a microclimate. The box microclimate is influenced by the ability of collections to absorb moisture.

We now know that boxes don’t offer magical RH buffering abilities, but the empty box test did show us that they accomplish some buffering.

Looking closely at the box test that moved in and out of our HVAC storage in April 2022 shows that while temperature very quickly falls in sync with the new environment, RH may take as long as 24 hours to sync with the new conditions.

Empty Box test on second floor from April 2022. Analysis completed for highlighted areas included in tables below. Temp and RH peaks analyzed while outside HVAC storage numbered.

In addition, the test box environment has fewer peaks and valleys for RH (local maximums and local minimums), lower maximum increases and decreases in RH and temperature, and lower average increases and decreases in RH and temperature. Strangely, the test box had more temperature fluctuations while in HVAC storage. Some of the findings are included in the tables below.

While it was surprising to learn that our collections boxes don’t flatten large swings in RH and temperature, it is comforting to know that they are mitigating some of the fluctuations- not to mention protecting from other agents of deterioration like dust and light.

Analysis of Box environment against the environment outside of storage in April 2022. Outside of the HVAC storage the conditions inside the box and outside the box were similar enough to compare local maximums and minimums. Some local max. and min. values were small and have been included in larger trends in increasing and decreasing values referred to as ‘peaks’ in the following table.
Analysis of Box environment against the environment inside HVAC storage from April 2022. The local maximums and minimums did not match up for a 1:1 comparison. Maximum and average values were compared.

A New Photo of Margaret Ashley Towle

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Several years ago as we organized the Peabody Institute’s extensive photographic collection, we came across a group of black-and-white prints that had not been flattened. These images relate to Warren Moorehead’s 1920’s era excavation of the Etowah mound group in Georgia. Any attempt to unroll the images would produce a tear and threatened to damage the prints. We did some research on techniques that might help these older prints relax a little, to no avail. Help was nearby, however, in the form of the Northeast Document Conservation Center or NEDCC, one of the leading paper and media conservation organizations in the country. We’ve used them before to digitize oversized maps and to scan black-and-white negatives.

The images were returned to us after conservation recently, and we also received high resolution digital versions. Most of the photos show items from the Etowah site, but one picture was of Margaret Ashley Towle, one of the pioneering female archaeologists of the southeastern United States. The image is marked on the reverse as “Etowah Ga 1928 Miss Ashley” and has our recent catalog number 2020.3.283. It is a wonderful complement to Frank Schnell Jr’s 1999 chapter “Margaret E. Ashley: Georgia’s First Professional Archaeologist,” which appeared in Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States. She was also featured, sans photo, in Irene Gates’s Women of the Peabody blog in 2018.

Image of Margaret Ashley as a smiling young woman wearing a cloche hat and light-colored trench coat with collar turned up. She has several scarves loosely around her neck. Hazy, out of focus image of Warren Moorehead in the background.
Image of Margaret Ashley at the Etowah site, 1928. In the right background is a slightly out of focus image of archaeologist Warren Moorehead. The image has been cropped to exclude several cultural items from the site. Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology 2020.3.283.

Margaret Ashley was already well-versed in archaeology and was a skilled outdoorswoman when she worked with Warren Moorehead at the Etowah site, and went on to assist with his projects in Maine and to continue her own research in the Southeast. She also contributed to Moorehead’s Etowah Papers publication and published on her technique for illustrating pottery. According to Frank Schnell’s chapter in Grit-Tempered, Ashley married Moorehead’s main field assistant Gerald Towle in 1930. Unfortunately, Ashley’s marriage coincided with a significant hiatus to her training and research. We do know that after Towle’s death, Ashley completed her Ph.D. at Columbia with her dissertation later appearing as The Ethnobotany of Pre-Columbian Peru, number 30 of the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology (1961). Colleagues working in the Andes report that Ashley’s publication remains a significant resource. Ashley spent several decades as an unpaid research associate at the Harvard Botanical Museum where she worked with botanist Paul Mangelsdorf, who had also been encouraging Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s interests in agriculture, also around this same time.

We are delighted that we have been able to recover this early photo of Margaret Ashley Towle. If you get a chance, get a copy of Grit-Tempered–the biographical entries also include Adelaide Bullen, another pioneering archaeologist with connections to the Peabody Institute!