Behind the Photograph – W.K. Moorehead and the Fort Ancient Excavation

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Our last newsletter sparked the interest of many readers with a featured black and white photograph of seven individuals posing with shovels, trowels, and cigars in hand. Their eyes focused intently on the camera, full of hope and mystery – reminds me of a moment like the Carpe Diem scene from Dead Poet’s Society. By popular demand, we share some additional information about this photograph.

Plate XIV – The Excavation of a Stone Heap near Station 246, Fort Ancient Site, Ohio. Photographed by C.J. Strong. Warren K. Moorehead (second from right), Joseph Wigglesworth (closest to camera on left with trowel), and unidentified field crew members.

This photograph was taken at the Fort Ancient site in Warren County, Ohio in the late nineteenth century. The photograph is of Warren K. Moorehead (second from right) and some of his field crew. Another man is identified in the photograph as Joseph Wigglesworth (closest to camera on left with trowel), a collector and amateur archaeologist from Wilmington, Delaware. You can view the original image in Moorehead’s publication of the Fort Ancient site here.

Fort Ancient is a series of earthen embankments, known as earthworks, with 18,000 feet of earthen walls enclosing 100 acres near the Little Miami River. People of the Hopewell culture (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.) built these walls and many other features both within the enclosure and on the steep valleys that surround the site. Investigations at Fort Ancient began in the early 1800s as mapping expeditions, expanding to surface collecting and full-scale excavations near the end of the century.

Warren K. Moorehead was the first curator for the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection). In 1893, Frederic Ward Putnam hired Moorehead to conduct excavations at Fort Ancient and obtain artifacts for the Columbian Exposition. One of Moorehead’s major contributions to archaeology was the preservation of Fort Ancient as an archaeological park. Later in his career, Moorehead served as the curator and then director of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology (now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology) in Andover, Massachusetts, where he conducted important excavations at the Cahokia site in Illinois and the Etowah site in Georgia.

The Fort Ancient site is maintained by the Ohio History Connection and is a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along with its earthworks, the site includes a museum about Ohio’s ancient history. You can explore the site’s website here!

Click on the following links for more information on the Fort Ancient site, Warren K. Moorehead, or Moorehead’s publication on Fort Ancient.

Restored and Revived – An Update on Peabody Drawer Projects

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

In these unprecedented times, we are adjusting to a “new normal” in our lives – whether that be working from home, wearing a mask and social distancing in public places, ordering more online, participating in video calls and Zoom meetings, or assisting students with schoolwork. As we persevere during this time, we are finding ways to safely connect with friends and family, get outside, exercise, and continue our lives while embracing new changes to keep everyone safe and healthy.

It’s nice to find new ways to smile… even in a pandemic ☺️

House projects have been a popular trend for many, especially with the warming weather. A few friends of the Peabody have used this time to revive and repurpose some of our old collection drawers.

Planting season is in full swing! This drawer is being used to sort out seeds for the Andover Community Garden. It is the perfect medium for organizing the seeds before they are packaged and distributed to those in the community looking to begin their planting season.

From storing artifacts to storing seeds – this drawer is great for organizing and storage.

A little bit of sanding, wood stain, and cabinet handles can go a long way. Revive a drawer into a serving or decorative tray. Pair some bright flowers with that Rae Dunn piece you’ve always wanted and voilà! You have a decorative centerpiece for your kitchen table or coffee table.

Just look at those original box joints on the corners!

The large drawers are great for holding large items or large quantities of smaller items. Add handles and they make a perfect storage feature for your household. These drawers are being used to store artwork. What a great way to stay organized with a little piece of history!

Stay organized with a piece of the Peabody – a beautiful accent to your storage!

We love seeing our drawers revived and repurposed into new creations. Not only do the drawers provide great opportunities for organization, storage, décor, and material design, they provide a unique story and history to share with your family and friends. If you have repurposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see and share your projects! Please share your photos with us at elavoie@andover.edu. Stay tuned for our next blog update featuring more repurposed drawer ideas!

COVID-19 and Social Distancing: What Museums Are Doing to Bring Their Collections to Audiences Stuck at Home

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. One recommendation included in these guidelines was for “social distancing” – a term referring to the conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully hinder the community transmission of the virus.

While schools, companies, and various workplaces determine the best possible options to both adhere to these guidelines as well as provide the appropriate support to their staff, students, and customers – many have chosen to close their doors. Some institutions and companies have shut down indefinitely, while various schools and universities have moved to remote teaching, where students complete their classes online and stay at home. Universities and colleges all over the country have moved courses to online platforms. Undergrads are being told to move out of their dorms and off campus for the remainder of the semester.

Phillips Academy (PA), a New England boarding school and the Peabody’s parent institution has instituted similar measures, following the directives issued by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

A local restaurant closes their doors in light of “on-site eating” bans over COVID-19

Now many would say they like working from home and actually get more done, but it is not the case for everyone. The Peabody staff are doing what they can to continue their museum work from home. For the Peabody collections team, it is very difficult to continue much of the work they do every day at the institution, as much of the collections and material cannot leave the building. While inventory, rehousing, and cataloguing of the collection is put on hold, our staff is editing object photographs, digitizing documents, transcribing collection ledgers, writing blogs (like this one), and more.

My dog, Rourke, is very happy to have me working from home!

Outside of my remote-work, I am wondering like many others who are stuck at home – what else can I do with the rest of my week? By being at home, we miss out on the daily interactions with our coworkers, colleagues, and classmates. Our experiences with each other fuel our creativity and critical thinking, and are important for much needed collaborative efforts. Through “social distancing” we are recommended to not take part in every day, public activities such as eating out, going to the store, or visiting a museum or historical site with our friends and family.

But don’t let social distancing doom your week and weekend! Museums have found a way to bring some of their collections to their visitors. So worry no more! You can view that Van Gough from the couch!

I was happy to enjoy a little culture and education in my off-time while at home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring virtual tours and online exhibits to a global audience.

Some of the museums highlighted by Google Arts & Culture include the British Museum in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico, and various historical parks and sites.

Design of the Musée d’Orsay in 1979
Image courtesy of A.C.T. Architecture and the Musée d’Orsay

The first museum I “visited” was the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. As a student, I had visited this museum on a class trip many years ago and I was interested in the exhibits they provided online. This exhibit was a detailed history on the building of the museum titled, From Station to the Renovated Musée d’Orsay. This endeavor was a groundbreaking project for Paris as it was the first time an industrial building had been restored to accommodate a major museum. The virtual exhibit showcases the early building plans and images of the Orsay train station and hotel from the 1900s as well as images of the museum and its galleries after the renovation project in the early 2000s. Explore this virtual exhibit here!

I visited a second virtual exhibition, this time, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibition is called, Fashioning a Nation. This exhibit features drawings from the Index of American Design, a collection of more than 18,000 watercolor pictures of American decorative art objects. This exhibition explores the American fashions from 1740 to 1895, giving insight into the character and quality of American life from the colonial period to the Industrial Revolution. Click here to explore this exhibit!

3D model of the Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park
Image courtesy of CyArk and Open Heritage – Google Arts & Culture

If museums aren’t your thing, explore a historic site! Open Heritage – Google Arts & Culture offers iconic locations in 3D, using 3D modeling techniques for you to explore. You can learn about the tools of digital preservation and how people all over the world are preserving our shared history. One site I visited was the Mesa Verde National Park. This site is home to Native American cliff dwellings in southern Colorado that span over 700 years of Native American history (600-1300 CE). An expedition was led by CyArk in February 2017. CyArk is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the digital documentation and preservation of historic sites. The organization documented the Balcony House at Mesa Verde using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and terrestrial photogrammetry. Combining these two technologies is what creates the 3D model of a site. To explore the 3D model of the Balcony House at Mesa Verde, click here!

Unfortunately, not all popular museums and galleries are included on Google Arts & Culture’s collection website, but some museums are offering virtual tours and online visits on their own websites, such as the Louvre in Paris, France. To see more of Google Arts & Culture’s collection of virtual museums and exhibits, visit their collection website. Explore and enjoy your visit!

A Sweet Find in the Inventory and Rehousing Project

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Nearly $345 million dollars is spent on chocolate for Valentine’s Day each year – that’s about 58 million pounds of chocolate! Holy cacao! Chocolate candy plays such a significant role for this romantic holiday, but did you ever think those very boxes would be used to store artifacts? Currently, I am cataloguing and rehousing artifacts from Tamaulipas, Mexico – a collection from Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s 1948-1949 Tamaulipas Project. About halfway through the collection I found a sweet surprise – an old chocolate box from Cambridge, MA!

In the Inventory and Rehousing Project, it is common to come across artifacts stored in their original housing material from archaeological recovery in the field. Many of these materials are unique and there is always something new to find! Examples of some of these materials can be found here in an earlier article by Peabody Director, Ryan Wheeler. Like Forrest Gump would say about life being a box of chocolates (pun intended here), the same goes for the Peabody collection – you never know what you’re going to get!

Alongside the chocolate box, I also found a holiday gift box and a greeting card box with artifact information and excavation notes written on the outside cover. The chocolate box was the most intriguing to me, because the product and box were from Massachusetts. Upon looking up the company name on the box, “Handspun Chocolate Co, Cambridge, MA,” I came across Boston’s rich history of chocolate production.

Boxes found holding artifacts in the Peabody Collections.

New England candy was king of the American confectionary industry from colonial times through to the 1950s. In 1764, two men from Dorchester, MA named John Hannon and Dr. James Baker began importing cacao beans into the United States and producing chocolate in Dorchester Lower Mills. These two men were the chocolate meisters of Revolutionary America and are known today as the oldest producers of chocolate in the United States. In 1779, John Hannon had traveled to the West Indies and never returned. As a result, Dr. James Baker became the “King of Cocoa” with the Baker Chocolate Company.

As sugar refineries began to pop up throughout New England, the candy industry reached a new height with Oliver R. Chase’s machine invention of a chalk-like candy, known today as Necco wafers. White chocolate was later created by Frederick Herbert of Hebert Candies in Shrewsbury, MA. Another local creation occurred in 1930 at the Toll House Inn in Whiteman, MA. An accidental invention, Ruth Wakefield added cut up pieces of a semisweet, chocolate bar, in hopes of melting the chocolate into the dough of her baked cookies. The chocolate kept its shape and just like that – the chocolate chip cookie was born! (Fun Fact: The chocolate chip cookie is the official cookie of the State of Massachusetts.) Nestle began selling chocolate chips in 1939.

By the 1940s, candy companies began consolidating into two large companies – Daggett Chocolates and New England Confectionary Company (NECCO). The latter still survives today, but is no longer locally owned. As of 2018, NECCO was the oldest operating candy company, celebrating 153 years of their most popular “sweethearts” candy. However, by July 2018, the company closed and announced their plans to sell everything to the Spangler Candy Company in the fall. Spangler Candy produces Dum Dum lollipops, Necco Wafers, and Circus Peanuts. In 2019, Spangler announced it would not be producing conversation hearts, as there was not enough time to meet the demand of sweethearts for Valentine’s Day. Typically it took NECCO 11 months to produce 8 billion sweethearts just to be sold for 6 weeks out of the year for Valentine’s Day. Although they were gone for 2019, the sweethearts are back for Valentine’s Day 2020! They are in limited supply at select retailers and – believe it or not – many are missing their signature sayings due to equipment printing problems!

The Daggett Chocolate Company is the lesser known of the two candy companies. Fred L. Daggett began his business in 1892 with several factories located around the city of Boston. Daggett later concentrated his production plant in Cambridge in 1925. Daggett Chocolates produced more than 40 brands of chocolate as well as strawberry fillings for their chocolates. The company also made an impact in the soda and ice cream industries, supplying syrups and crushed fruit to manufacturers. As a result, ice cream and candy were connected and Boston became the first place to mix candy into ice cream.

Looking back at the chocolate box I had found in the Peabody collection, I had searched the company name and found that the company was bought out by Daggett Chocolates along with 30 other small chocolate companies by the 1950s.

Chocolate Box, Made by Handspun Chocolate Company in Cambridge, MA

The sugar industry reached its peak in the 1950s. By this time, the Boston metro area boasted over 140 confectionaries and factories, with the main street of Cambridge, MA as the epicenter for production – known as “Confectioners Row.” Some of our favorite candy treats including Necco wafers and sweethearts, Sugar Daddies, Charleston Chews, and Junior Mints were produced on this very street. For over a century, the smell of chocolate could be found along the streets of Boston. Chocolate was in the air – literally.

After the 1950s, the candy industry in Boston took a turn. As more candy companies such as Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars took to the world stage, smaller brands were left behind. The box chocolate dynasty was reaching an end as candy bars began to take over store shelves. The candy epicenter soon waned and Confectioner’s Row became an ordinary main street. Box chocolate giant, Schrafft’s also closed in Charlestown, MA (that’s right, the building you can see from I-93 entering Boston, bearing the Schrafft’s name in red along with a clock tower, was in fact an old chocolate factory.)

Although Boston is no longer candy land today, you can still find candy makers throughout New England sharing their old-fashioned homemade treats and iconic candy classics. One candy store still in operation today is the Spindler Confections shop in North Cambridge, MA. This shop continues to hand make all of their candy and chocolate on site. They even have a candy museum! Check it out here! As for my sweet find in the Peabody collection – how could a box of chocolates send me down a rabbit hole of Boston’s sweet-toothed past? I was surprised that a simple (and chocolate-less), chocolate box could do so much.

To explore more chocolate history click here, here, and here! Enjoy your sweet finds!

No Holiday from IPM Work

Contributed by Emma Cook

For any museum institution with a vast collection and storage of artifacts, there is no holiday from IPM work! IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management and focuses on prevention of pests through preventative actions that protect museum collection environments from various pests. Examples of these actions include reducing clutter, sealing areas where pests may be entering the building, removing items that may be attracting pests such as food, and protecting artifacts that have the potential to be food or shelter to pests.

No need to pout or cry if you find insect pests, I’ll tell you why…
Image courtesy of the PestList Group, associated with Museum Pests

What’s important about this work is the long-term prevention taken to protect collections and their housing space. IPM work is not simply eliminating the pests, but looking at the environmental factors that affect the pest and its ability to thrive in its current conditions. Part of what museum staff do is use this information, and the observations made to locate potential pests, to create conditions that are unfavorable to pests and disrupt their occupied environment.

A large part of what Peabody staff do with IPM work is monitor the collection and building environments and identify potential threats or pests. The most common pests to come across in a museum collection space are various carpet beetles, webbing clothes moths, and case-making clothes moths. The type of pest one may have or attract depends on what is in the collection for the pest to eat. Most insect pests are drawn to animal and plant products such as wool, skins, fur, feathers, hair, silk, paper, horns, whalebone, and leather. As you can imagine, a museum collection looks a lot like a buffet to these insects.

The Peabody uses small insect sticky traps to monitor specific areas of the building for pests. These traps can catch insects and staff can then closely inspect these traps to understand what pests may be a potential threat and where they are occupying in the museum. It is always important to consistently check these traps as well as circulate new ones every so often.

Insect sticky trap used in museums for monitoring pest activity.

Another form of monitoring for pests is through observation and identification. As staff rehouses and inventories the collections, they complete condition reports and inspections of each artifact that may be threatened by pests. If any evidence is identified on or around the artifact, further pest control must take place. The types of pest evidence that staff is looking for is frass, webbing, larvae carcasses, and live insects. Frass consists of the excrement of an insect and the refuse produced by the activity of the boring insect. Webbing and tubular-looking cases are present for webbing and case-making clothes moths. These are usually present in textiles and are made by these insects when they are larvae. Larvae carcasses are present when the insect sheds its larvae form into an adult. These carcasses are something to look out for with objects and their storage, as it demonstrates that an insect had once been there and the same kind of pest could very likely return. If an insect or evidence of an insect are found, staff then must try to identify which insect is the threat and begin pest control and further prevention from the artifact and surrounding collection.

Peabody volunteer, Susan Rosefsky, inspecting a textile in the Peabody’s collection.

Artifacts with evidence of insect activity are cleaned and rehoused with new acid-free tissue paper. The box holding the artifact is also cleaned. Once the artifacts are placed back into their box storage, the box is sealed in a large, acid-free plastic bag with little to no air in the bag. The box is then wrapped further in another layer before being placed in the freezer for low-temperature treatment. This type of treatment control helps eradicate pests from the artifact through freezing. After a few weeks of freezing, the artifact is inspected again by staff to determine if there is any additional evidence of infestation. If the artifact has no further evidence of insect activity, the artifact will sit for a few more weeks, sealed in a plastic bag, through a process called bagging or isolation. After another few weeks a final analysis will be given before the artifact is deemed safe to return to its original storage in the collection.

The Peabody’s freezer for low-temperature pest control treatments.

There are several other treatments that are used amongst museum professionals to control pest infestations in their collections. These are heat treatment, the use of pesticides in collection areas, and controlled atmosphere through nitrogen/argon gas, carbon dioxide, and depleting oxygen levels. The treatment that is used on each artifact depends on the artifact’s material. Some treatments cannot be used on all objects and it is important to always keep the artifacts’ well-being in mind.

IPM work requires a careful eye and patience, along with a resilience to properly eliminate pests and protect collections from future threats of infestation. To learn more about Integrated Pest Management visit Museum Pests, a product of the IPM working group. 

Friends of the Peabody Repurpose More Drawers

Contributed by Emma Cook

We have had a tremendous interest in our old storage drawers in the last few months. As collections were rehoused in new cartons, we were able to give away over 100 drawers!

Our last blog featured drawers that underwent cosmetic changes, such as being repainted and stained as well as drawers repurposed into storage, furniture, and a jewelry organizer. You can see these projects here.

We are pleased to share that the Peabody Collection Team has reached their end-of-year goal in rehousing and inventorying 1,444 wooden drawers, which is about 67% of the Peabody’s collection. This means staff is about two-thirds of the way through the entire inventory of the Peabody’s collections!

The vast majority of the old drawers have now found new homes and purposes with many friends of the Peabody. We not only thank you all for your interest and for taking these drawers, but for giving these drawers a new life.

This month’s feature of drawers covers projects both big and small. Our first feature uses the drawers as wedding decorations, creating a photo capture area for guests to take photos and leave a message for the celebrating couple.

Another project is tea trays – a great DIY gift idea for family and friends this holiday season!

An example of one of the larger-scale projects for these drawers is a studio storage wall. This unique idea is fashionable as it is functional – doubling as both a storage space and accent wall for this home studio.

We have also received a lot of interest and support from our fellow Phillips Academy faculty and staff. Some of our wooden drawers have been used for material at the new Maker’s Space for students at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library on campus. Keep an eye out for our next blog update showcasing more of these drawer projects! If you have repurposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at elavoie@andover.edu.

A New Purpose for the Peabody Collection Drawers

Contributed by Emma Cook

The Peabody is continuing to undergo its Inventory and Rehousing Project to make way for more sustainable storage in the future. As a result, the Peabody Collections Team is giving away their original wooden drawers as the Peabody no longer has any use for them.

The wooden drawers were a part of the original storage for the Peabody collections, housing over 600,000 artifacts. The wooden storage originated in the early 1930s consisting of bays, shelves, and drawers. Currently, about 30% of the collection has been rehoused from its original storage. This means there are many drawers becoming available and many more to come in the future!

Those who have taken drawers have re-purposed them into various things ranging from tea trays to accent walls! Below are some examples of how our drawers were reused by friends of the Peabody.

Peabody Drawers used for storage

Peabody drawers stained and painted

Jewelry, wall storage and table made from Peabody drawers

If you have re-purposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at ecook@andover.edu.

Half-Life: Radiocarbon Dating Tehuacán Carbon Samples

Contributed by Emma Cook

In my last blog I discussed soil analysis and its importance in dating and understanding a site. Another form of analysis used in the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was a process called radiocarbon dating, a technique developed by University of Chicago physicist Willard Libby. Carbon samples were collected during excavation and sent for carbon dating to be used for the Tehuacán Chronology Project.

There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating. Relative dating, in a stratigraphic context, is the idea that objects closer to the surface are more recent in time relative to objects found deeper in the ground. This relates to the law of superposition, which in its plainest form, states soil layers in undisturbed sequences will have the oldest materials at the bottom of the sequence and the newest material closer to the surface. Although this form of dating can work well in certain cases, it does not work for all.

Jars of Carbon Samples from various sites in the Tehuacán Valley.
Jars of Carbon Samples from various sites in the Tehuacán Valley.

Many sites include soil layers that have been disturbed and this can happen several ways. Natural disasters, such as floods, can erase top layers of sites. Rodents can move around layers in a site as they burrow underground, sometimes moving items from one context to another. Even current human activity can change the stratigraphy of a site through construction, post holes, and pits.

This takes us to our second dating technique. Absolute dating represents the absolute age of a sample before the present. Examples of objects that can be used to find absolute dates are historical documents and calendars. However, when working in an archaeological site without documents, it is hard to determine an absolute date. If a site has organic material present, radiocarbon dating can be used to determine an absolute date. Radiocarbon dating is a universal dating technique that is used around the world and can be used to date materials ranging from about 400 to 50,000 years old. Radiocarbon dating may even work on very recent materials.

Part of this carbon sample sent to Isotopes lab for radiocarbon dating.
Part of this carbon sample sent to Isotopes lab for radiocarbon dating.

Organisms such as plants and animals all contain radiocarbon (14C). When these organisms die, they stop exchanging carbon with the environment. When this occurs, they begin to lose amounts of 14C overtime through a process called radioactive decay. The half-life of 14C is about 5,730 years. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of stable and unstable carbon in a sample to determine its absolute date. As a result, the older the organic material, the less 14C it has relative to stable versions of the isotope.

The carbon samples recovered from the Tehuacán Valley were collected specifically with this in mind. Many of these samples had labels or notes stating that some of each sample was sent to labs for radiocarbon testing. The carbon samples are organic material and their properties of radiocarbon were used to determine the age of the material, which in turn, helped date each site.

Map of the Tehuacán Valley and some of the sites the carbon samples came from.
Map of the Tehuacán Valley and some of the sites the carbon samples came from.

The following sites are represented in some of the jars of carbon samples I catalogued from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project.

Site Number                        Site Name                     Radiocarbon years

Tc 35                                         El Riego                                 6800 to 5000 B.C.

Tc 50                                         Coxcatlan Cave                  5000 to 3400 B.C.

Tc 307                                      Abejas                                     3400 to 2300 B.C.

Tc 272                                      Purron Cave                          2300 to 1500 B.C.

Ts 204                                     Ajalpan                                     1500 to 800 B.C.

These results were published in Volume Four of MacNeish’s Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation and can be found on Page 5. MacNeish and Tehuacán Chronology Project director, Frederick Johnson, selected carbon samples to be sent for testing, which resulted in the determination of 218 radiocarbon dates. Johnson played a prominent role in radiocarbon dating, serving as the chair of the Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 set up by the American Anthropological Association. This project not only produced a chronology for the Tehuacán sequence of excavated sites, but later contributed (along with 400 additional radiocarbon dates) to the chronology for all of Mesoamerica. The dates, however, were made within the first two decades of radiocarbon dating and lack the accuracy and precision now available with newer techniques, especially with the older dates.

To read more about the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project and the Tehuacán Chronology Project visit Internet Archive.

Further Reading

Libby, Willard F. Radiocarbon Dating, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1955. Print.

MacNeish, Richard S. et al., The Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation. Vol. 4. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 1972. Print.

Stromberg, Joseph. “A New Leap Forward for Radiocarbon Dating.” Smithsonian.com, October 18, 2012. Web. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-new-leap-forward-for-radiocarbon-dating-81047335/

Taylor, R.E. and Ofer Bar-Yosef. Radiocarbon Dating: An Archaeological Perspective. 2nd ed., Routledge, New York, NY, 2016. Print.

The Dirt on Soil Analysis

Contributed by Emma Cook

My latest work for the Peabody Inventory and Rehousing Project has led me to Tehuacán, where I have been cataloguing glass jars that contain soil samples. These jars are a part of the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish during the early 1960s. The samples were collected for testing and analysis purposes from the project area. When archaeologists excavate a site, they dig through soil layers formed by the activities of past people. What archaeologists recover from these layers provides clues about what happened at that site from features or artifacts. However, the actual soil is another very important clue for archaeologists, as it can help date sites and tell a lot about the environment of the site during the time the soil layers were formed.

Soil blog_pic2
Jars of Soil Samples from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project, 1960s

Giving an accurate description of soils help archaeologists better understand what happened in the past at a site. The color and texture of soil can reveal the age of an archaeological site, as well as how the site was used. For example, a circular stain in the soil may reveal a post-hole deposit, indicating that there was once a wooden post that had decayed, leaving a soil discoloration in the ground. Depending on the site, these post-holes could represent a structure or palisade. In addition, studying soil fertility can help archaeologists understand ancient agricultural systems.

Soil blog_pic3
MacNeish (left) and a field assistant analyzing stratigraphy at the Gladstone site on Kluane Lake in the Yukon.

Archaeologists use the Munsell Color Chart to help them describe the colors of the soil layers in a standardized way. This system was developed by Albert H. Munsell at what is now MassArt in 1905. Archaeologists compare the soil color in their excavation units to the color chips of the Munsell Chart – similar to the color squares found in hardware stores for paint. Where a color may be brown to one person, it may be gray to another – so it is important that archaeologists use this chart so they can standardize their descriptions.

Munsell Color Chart
Munsell Color Chart

To describe soil textures, archaeologists and geomorphologists use a soil triangle to help them determine what type of soil they are examining in the field. There are three types of soil components: sand, silt, and clay. Most soils have a combination of these three components and each of these components vary in sizes – sand particles being the largest and clay particles being the smallest. Similar to how the Munsell Color Chart describes soil color the same way, the soil triangle helps archaeologists describe soil texture consistently.

Soil blog_pic5
Soil Triangle – Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture

Another way archaeologists analyze their site is through soil stratigraphy. This is the different types of strata, or layers of soil that archaeologists examine to map out the archaeological site over time. Stratigraphy can be used to determine which soil was associated with human occupation and which layers are sterile, meaning the soil is not associated with human occupation and does not contain any archaeological material. Layers that include artifacts and features represent a place where people lived and worked, as archaeologists can see the objects left behind by human activity. Sterile layers such as subsoil, flood sediment, and bedrock are not as distinct, but provide information on a site’s activity or inactivity.

Soil blog_pic6
Archaeologists mapping out the stratigraphy at Purron Cave, TC 272, in the Tehuacán Valley.

The jars of soil samples were most likely examined after excavation and retained for further analysis. Presently, these soil samples have been rehoused and cataloguing for each of these jars is complete. To learn more about Richard “Scotty” MacNeish and the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project, visit the Peabody’s online archival collections. The MacNeish archives are available for research, separated into two collections – the Richard S. MacNeish Papers and the Richard S. MacNeish Records.

 

Further Readings

Birkeland, Peter W. 1974. Pedology, Weathering, and Geomorphological Research, New York: Oxford University Press.

Limbrey, Susan. 1975. Soil Science and Archaeology. London and New York: Academic Press.

Solecki, R. 1951. Notes on Soil Analysis and Archaeology. American Antiquity, 16(3), 254-256.

More Than a Number: Cataloguing the Peabody Collection

Contributed by Emma Cook

My name is Emma Cook, I am the Administrative Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I have a background in archaeology, history, and museum studies with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Georgia and Tufts University. Aside from my administration duties, I work with the Peabody’s collections. Recently I’ve been involved in the Inventory and Rehousing Project and I am working with collections on the first floor South Alcove, located in one of our gallery/classroom spaces.

The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology collection comprises nearly 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and archives. Some of these materials are displayed and used for teaching, while many reside in our collection storage. What is unique about much of our collection space is its original storage. The bays and drawers in which many of these artifacts inhabit are almost as old as the Peabody itself, the bays being first built in the early 1920s. However, below the surface of these pine wood bays and drawers are a collection of uncatalogued objects that have hardly come to light (literally), with some still stored in the tin foil and paper bags they were placed in upon archaeological excavation many years ago.

The antiquated charm of these wooden bays is not enough to meet the need of accessible storage for our collections and the goal is to replace them with new custom-built shelves. In preparation of this storage renovation, objects need to be identified, catalogued, and rehoused. This work is completed through our Inventory and Rehousing Project.

Blog_1
First Floor, South Alcove – where my cataloguing work began

I began my work simply inventorying the objects in each drawer of each bay in the alcove. Some of these objects were already identified, numbered, and recorded in Past Perfect – a museum software that is the standard for cataloguing museum collections. Through this software, the Peabody collection is documented and made accessible online. My job was to make sure these objects were accounted for and in the right place, as well as properly rehoused and organized within the drawers. Sounds pretty easy right? Well, eventually things changed as I came across several drawers and bays containing objects with old numbers or no numbers at all. This is where my cataloguing efforts began.

Cataloguing is the process of recording details about an object into a collection catalog or database that documents the information of each object as well as its location in storage. Through this process each object receives a unique number. This number is physically attached to the object and appears in records related to the object in Past Perfect. In museums and archives, objects or materials in a collection are normally catalogued in what is called a collection catalog. In the past, this was traditionally done using a card index, but in the present-day it is normally implemented using a computerized database – for the Peabody this is Past Perfect. Some of the objects I came across with “old numbers” were either connected to the Peabody’s past card index cataloguing system or the Peabody’s original numbering system (i.e. 1,2,3,…. 78,049).

Blog_4
Lithic objects with affixed labels and old numbers

Each object was given a new number associated with the Peabody’s present catalog numbering sequence (i.e. 2019.1.123). This numbering sequence is a three-part number, making it both simple and expandable. The first part of the sequence is the year in which the object was accessioned or catalogued (i.e. 2019). The second part of the sequence is given to objects in chronological order based on when they were first accessioned (i.e. 2019.1). The third part of the sequence gives a single object a number in chronological order (i.e. 2019.1.1). Objects that had an affixed label had the new number written on the label. Objects without labels had their numbers painted on with ink. A solution called B72 is applied to the object before the ink in order to protect the original surface of each object. This solution is not harmful to the object and can be easily removed if a mistake is made or the object needs a different number.

Blog_5
Lithic objects with new numbers painted on their surface using ink and the B72 solution

The cataloguing process is not an easy one, nor is inventorying and rehousing a collection. The process may be slow and tedious, but it does have its rewards. By using a great deal of care, time, and effort, rehoused and identified objects can be used for teaching and research. Not only can collection staff have full access to the collection, they can provide a safe and accessible place for these materials in storage. The cataloguing process may seem like a trivial task, but it just goes to show – it’s more than a number.

For more information and reading on the Inventory and Rehousing Project, see the following blogs below:

Transcribing the Collection – January 2019

A New Face in the Basement – January 2019

Ceramic Inventory Complete – December 2018

Collections Reboxing Project Update – April 2018

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes – November 2017

Shelving to the Rescue – September 2016

Boxes and Boxes and Boxes – August 2016

Summer Work Duty Students Begin Rehousing Inventory – August 2016