Packing up my car with artifacts always signals that I am off on an adventure!
Recently I traveled to Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea to work with the 4th grade classes. The students had recently begun learning about ancient cultures and how historians and scientists study them, particularly when there are no written records – or at least ones that we can read!
To help everyone better understand how archaeology allows us to investigate cultures of the past, I brought our mock excavation site. The faux dig is made up of painted canvas squares and real artifacts. It is based on a real archaeological dig that took place in Andover decades ago at a pre-contact Native American site, approximately 500 years old.
Working in groups, students rotated around each square or “unit” to look at the artifacts and to hypothesize what human activities were taking place. The groups were able to correctly identify which unit was similar to a kitchen, where the house stood, and where pottery was being made – proving that they had become experts in deciphering the clues left behind!
A few weeks ago I began trekking down to Cambridge every Tuesday evening for the class Principles of Editing, offered through Harvard Extension School. I signed up for the class as I was looking for something that would help me to improve and polish our lesson booklets and other educational materials as we share them with the public. Christina Thompson, editor for the Harvard Review, has structured the class to teach lay people how to produce good, clean copy when editing material such as blogs, newsletters, websites, brochures, and other text.
Christina has a quirky personality one expects in a writer and the other adult students frequently use humor to make points about the homework. My type of people! The camaraderie in the class certainly makes the late nights enjoyable.
I am looking forward to learning more about editing and to see what other rousing debates we will engage in. (Last week was about when to use Em dashes and En dashes. WARNING: they can elicit strong – occasionally violent – emotions in individuals!)
This blog represents the eighth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled of the Peabody 25 tag!
Excavations at the Etowah Mound site in Georgia have revealed a great deal about the Mississippian culture. Based on the archaeological materials found at the site, it is likely that during its occupation about 1,100 to 500 years ago, it was one of the most significant and influential cities in southeastern North America. A hallmark of the Mississippian culture, is the linkage through economics, politics, and other societal influences of large villages, such as Etowah, with smaller communities that surround it.
Due to its historical prominence, the Etowah Mound site is considered an important archaeological site in the United States.
The site has three large platform mounds in addition to a plaza and smaller mounds. The largest of the mounds towered over the landscape, reaching the height of a six-story building. The mounds were used in a variety of ways: platforms that supported buildings, ceremonial sites, as well as burial locations for elite members of the society.
In 1925 the Trustees of Phillips Academy sponsored the first systematic excavation under the direction of Warren K. Moorehead. This three year investigation occurred during a transitional time in the history of archaeology when excavators were moving away from an antiquarian focus on objects and developing more scientifically rigorous methods. Moorehead’s interest in Etowah may have been a reaction to Alfred V. Kidder’s stratigraphic excavations at Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico, where new ideas about chronology and multidisciplinary work were tested.
Despite new methodologies and practices in archaeological investigations, many excavations were still carried out in ways that would make any archaeologist today cringe. The importance of stratigraphy was still not fully understood or appreciated by all archaeologists, including Moorehead, when the Etowah excavations were being undertaken. Modern attempts to sort out and understand Moorehead’s excavations have proved challenging. In their 1996 book Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast archaeologists Jeffrey Brain and Philip Phillips lament Moorehead’s lack of precision, poor recordkeeping, and disregard for context and stratigraphy. Perhaps it’s best that Moorehead announced in 1930 that he had decided “to abandon further field operations and concentrate on a study of type distributions in the United States during the next six years.”
As we reviewed Moorehead’s photographs of the 1925-1928 excavations at Etowah, we were often incredulous about the images of a tractor bulldozing a mound or workers (dressed in 3 piece suits no less!) hacking away at the side of a large mound. We understand today that a great deal of contextual information was lost using these clumsy techniques.
Tractor being used to excavate mound
Digging into the side of a mound
Workers at Etowah
Although these images affect our sensibilities, it cannot be denied that they are also important. These photographs help to document just how much the field of archaeology has changed and grown in the past 100 years. What started out as a gentlemen’s pastime has transformed into a profession associated with state-of-the art scientific techniques and theories that allow investigation of “hidden histories.” We understand that in another hundred years the images of our pristine and scientifically driven investigations might too cause heartburn in those archaeologists looking back on our work!
The site is now a Georgia state park and is designated as a National Historic Landmark (1964) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1966)
On Monday May 22nd students and teachers from Brookwood School came to the Peabody Museum to kick off their “Steep Week.” During Steep Week, students immerse themselves in an intensive program related to an area of interest, in this case archaeology.
When the students arrived they were very proud to announce that archaeologists “DON’T DIG DINOSAURS!” Clearly their two teachers (one of whom is a trained archaeologist) had worked VERY hard to prep them for their visit to the Peabody, as well as for the rest of the week’s activities.
The students began by learning how to “read” modern trash to make a biography about an individual based solely on the objects that the person had thrown away. The clean trash that the students looked through was mine that I had split into three different bags related to different activities that I do: kayaking and running, cooking, quilting and reading. The group that had the container with an old Doritos bag declared that their person (me!) was a guy who was either “failing at adulting” or “had student loans” – very interesting assumptions they were making!!! They were then shocked to learn that the person who had the Doritos was also the same person who had run a half marathon and made quilts. This allowed us to have a great conversation about assumptions that we make and how that can impact our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The next two activities were mock excavations of a prehistoric site as well as a historic one. Both helped the students prepare for the real archaeological dig that they were going to conduct on their school property later in the week, particularly the historic example, since they had already been looking at old maps of the school’s property to see what they could learn about it before putting a shovel into the ground.
Students looking at a mock excvation unit that has evidence of pottery making
Students working in the “lab” to identify artifacts found from the mock Katherine Nanny Naylor site
The rain mostly held off for the group and we were able to conclude the day with a fierce atlatl competition!
“Our introduction to Archaeology at the Peabody Museum at Phillips Academy, Andover successfully prepared our students to investigate archaeological problems at a high level by concentrating on the conceptual basis of archaeological thought and filtering it through readily understandable, local examples. Our students enjoyed themselves while having their minds opened to a different way of investigatory thought that they relied on heavily to ask questions and achieve understanding.” – Mike Wise, Brookwood teacher
There were no classes on Tuesday May 9th to allow students to take AP exams and to give faculty dedicated time to meet within their departments. Knowing that we would not have students in the Peabody for classes or work duty I took that day as an opportunity to spread my crafting chaos throughout the museum.
I began by painting some of the fabric squares that will serve as mock excavation units for our Privy to the Past lesson about Katherine Nanny Naylor. The excavation was of her privy, or outhouse, and so I painted the brick wall that enclosed it, as well as the darker night soil.
Lindsay Randall hard at work painting
The finished canvas square
In addition to the squares, I have created bags of artifacts that represent objects that were found during the original excavation. Later this summer I will be collaborating with Liza Oldham of the OWHL to create a multi-day lesson for older students to further their historical literacy, as the archaeological and documentary records related to Katherine Nanny Naylor seemingly contradict one another.
If the idea of privies intrigues you, please check out the Iowa State Archaeology program as they have some excellent information about why archaeologist just LOVE privies!
The other crafting project that I undertook was some paper repair work. After numerous classes and events our models of the Royall House and Slave Quarters site has begun to show its age (3 years!). Using double sided tape, an x-acto knife, and hands that a surgeon would envy, I managed to make all the necessary repairs to ensure the longevity of the models.
When you think of the binary search algorithm you immediately think an archaeology museum is the perfect place for students to get a hands on example. Right?
Well it certainly was not what students in Nick Zufelt’s Computer Science 500 class expected when they showed up at the museum. To many of the students who had been to the Peabody with their history or science class to look at objects, it was a bit perplexing how they could be combining archaeology with computer science.
What many do not know is that the Peabody has many other resources that PA faculty can tap into. Mr. Zufelt discovered something that Peabody Museum still had that no other place on campus (not even the OWHL!) still had: our card catalog.
When Nick first came up with the idea to use our card catalog in an interactive lab activity for his students, we were ecstatic. We love when Peabody resources are utilized for learning in such out of the box ways. The card catalog was a perfect hands on example for students to understand the binary search algorithm.
To those who are not familiar with this concept (and I was certainly one of them!) Nick began the class with this simple introduction:
When you look up a word in the dictionary, do you start at page 1, look for the word, then move onto page 2, etc.? No, of course not. You have a more sophisticated way of searching through the massive list of words. This activity hones in on the algorithm underlying this process: the binary search algorithm. The basic idea is: chop in half, go to the half that will have your item in it; repeat.
Each student was then given a page listing 23 different cards from our card catalog system and told to pick one of them. Then they had to find the card and write down the process of how they found it, but in a manner that a computer could follow.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “wow that seems like a pretty easy project….” WRONG!
While this activity may strike us as simple, it actually turned into a battle of the wills for many students as they struggled throughout the period to create a very simple process that was also accurate. And when some students had a friend try their process, they often found that what they had devised was incorrect (Arrrgggg!!! The FRUSTRATION!!!!)
This type of learning helps to make abstract concepts more accessible for students as they begin learning something that forces them to think in a completely new and different manner.
Mr. Zufelt has already talked about bringing future students back for the activity and we look forward to working with him and his students on this and other computer science adventures at the Peabody!
NOTE: Despite still having a card catalog, the Peabody library is completely cataloged in the system used by the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Our librarian Mary Beth Clack is currently updating records to make monographic series more accessible.
This blog represents the fourth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
Contributed by: Lindsay Randall
Peabody curator Warren K. Moorehead, beginning in 1915, excavated in the Castine area of Maine in search of sites related to the Red Paint People. Moorehead believed the Red Paint People to be an ancient culture that was distinct from the more recent Algonquian tribes that still live in Maine today. He recognized a number of unusual artifact types found in Red Paint cemeteries and the liberal use of red ochre in burials, hence the name Red Paint. Ideas about the origins and relationships of the Red Paint or Moorehead Burial Tradition (as it is now called) are changing and often still hotly contested by archaeologists and tribes today. The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine presents a timeline of contemporary Wabanaki peoples in Maine, demonstrating continuity of modern American Indians back to the earliest occupation of the state.
While Moorehead’s Castine investigation did not locate Red Paint site, numerous shell heaps were found. One of the most amazing sites to be excavated was located on the property of Professor Edmund Von Mach. Von Mach was an instructor in art and fine arts at Harvard, Wellesley and other schools in the Boston area and published books on painting and art history. He gained some notoriety during and after World War I for encouraging Americans to support the German cause and his book Official Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the War was withdrawn due to inaccuracies by the publisher.
Von Mach’s politics aside, the shell heap was a very impressive monument, measuring approximately 660 feet long and having a depth between 3 and 5 feet. The vast majority of the shells present were quahog clams, quite common to the area. Given that a total of twenty four hundred artifacts were recovered, combined with the sheer expanse of the heap and its numerous layers, it is believed that the site was a permanent settlement used by tribes about 2,500 years ago.
Throughout the summer, several hundred people visited the site to see what unique pieces of the past were being unearthed. Some of the most interesting artifacts discovered were fragments of pottery.
The pottery is unusual in New England as the soil conditions are very acidic and often deteriorate fragile artifacts. Ceramic specimens are more common in other parts of the country, like the American Southwest.
The only reason that the pottery was not dissolved by the acidic soils surrounding it is that the shells were deposited in the same area. Leaching of calcium carbonate from the shells neutralized the harmful acidic soil. Altering the soil matrix in this manner allows for almost unprecedented preservation of sensitive material.
The pottery helps us to learn about technology and artwork in the community. The introduction and development of ceramics into Maine around 2,700 years ago was very important. It is during this same period that the populations increased and became more sedentary in permanent villages.
The majority of the pottery pieces in our collections are small and fragile, despite being preserved in the shell heaps. The ceramic pieces also are decorated with stamped and incised lines. This method of decoration not only reflects the aesthetics of the time, but may have helped reduce air bubbles prior to firing.
Interestingly, archaeologists are now investigating the language that we use to describe archaeological sites. In her 2014 PhD dissertation at UMass Amherst Katie Kirakosian looks at the terms used by archaeologists like Warren Moorehead and his contemporaries to describe shell-bearing sites like Von Mach’s and how these terms have influenced our thinking about the sites and the people that made them. Kirakosian concludes that use of terms like “shell midden” to describe these sites (and, by extension, their Native constructors) denies their complexity and can result in a narrow and biased narrative.
Recently the History and Social Sciences Department has implemented significant changes to their History 100 curriculum, required of all ninth graders. One of the new features of the curriculum is the inclusion of “dips” or week long periods where students can delve more deeply into a subject. This allows students to practice historical literacy skills in a more targeted manner, while also offering the opportunity for more hands-on and experiential learning.
That’s where the Peabody comes in.
Both the Education and Collections programs at the Peabody have teamed up with the History and Social Sciences faculty to offer a week long intensive investigation of trade networks in the Americas. The focus of the week is to learn how to read objects as primary sources and to look for patterns and similarities between cultures to learn about the connections between the groups. The cultures that students will be focusing on are the Hopewell, Pueblo, Maya, and Moche.
For an entire week each Winter and Spring terms the majority of ninth graders will descend upon the Peabody to work extensively with our collections from the four cultures. The objects will be set up in “stations” according to their cultural groups and working in teams, students will rotate through each station examining the object and collaboratively answering questions.
Afterward, the teams will get images of all the objects and will be asked to sort them – using any criteria they want – before sharing their decisions with the class. Looking at objects creatively in this manner has often helped archaeologists to make connections that they might have missed otherwise.
One example of a trade connection is our cylinder jar from Chaco Canyon, which shares its shape with cylinder jars produced by the Maya. Many of the Maya cylinder jars held drinks made from cacao, and so it was thought that perhaps chocolate residue might be found in the ones from Chaco Canyon. And it was!!!
Chaco Cylinder Jar
Maya Cylinder Jar
We look forward to working with students and faculty on this amazing adventure! (Although you will probably find us drinking soda or other caffeinated beverages after as we recover from the onslaught of the entire Junior class.)
November 1 is still a few weeks away but Dia de los Muertos—the Mexican Day of the Dead—came early to the Peabody. On Thursday September 29 Dr. Marisela Ramos of the History and Social Sciences Department brought her History 200 class. The class has been learning about different civilizations from around the world and the Peabody’s Dia de los Muertos lesson is a fun and interactive way for the students to learn about a holiday that is still celebrated today, but which has deep roots to a time before Europeans came to the Americas.
The holiday is celebrated in Mexico and is a mix of traditional native beliefs (primarily from the Maya and Aztec cultures) that were combined with European Catholic traditions. It is believed that between October 31 and November 2—coinciding with Catholicism’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day—that the souls of loved ones return. Many homes have alters with images of the deceased. Marigolds are often placed on the alters, as the smell helps guide the souls home, and food is left out for the souls to eat after their long journey.
Our alter has images of notable people connected with the Peabody:
Robert Singlton Peabody – Our founder and PA class of 1857. His image is always in a place of honor.
Charles Peabody – Son of Robert and the first director of the Peabody Museum.
Warren Moorehead – Excavated many important archaeological sites and appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to the federal Board of Indian Commissioners.
Alfred Kidder – Considered the “Grandfather of American Archaeology” for his work at Pecos Pueblo.
Douglas Byers – Helped to professionalize the field of archaeology into a legitimate science.
Frederick Johnson – One of the first archaeologists to engage experts from other fields while investigating the Boylston Street Fishweir site in Boston.
Adelaide Bullen – Excavated the Lucy Foster Site in Andover, one of the first archaeological studies of a free Black
Ripley Bullen – Husband of Adelaide. Excavated many sites locally in and around Andover while doing graduate work at Harvard.
Richard “Scotty” MacNeish – Investigated the origins of agriculture and civilization in the Americas.
Gene Winter – Served as museum caretaker in the 1980s and served as honorary curator. He was associated with the museum for over 70 years.
Students in Dr. Ramos’s class helped arrange the altar and made paper flowers to decorate the shrine as they also enjoyed traditional Mexican candy given out during the holiday.
This summer we have worked on updating our course catalog that we share with the faculty at Andover. All of our programs incorporate the Peabody’s unique artifacts into classes that allow students to explore topics in art, history, science, foreign languages, math, music, and many other subjects. While we offer many classes that support the goals and objectives of faculty through meaningful and engaging experiences for their students, we are also always have to collaborate to create new learning opportunities.
This year we are working with the History Department to create a week long activity for all History 100 students. It is an artifact rich class which will rely heavily on the expertise and assistance of our Curator of Collections, Marla Taylor. The in-depth lesson will focus on the interaction and trade roots of the Moche, Maya, Puebloan, and Hopewell cultures. We cannot wait to get started!
To see what other lessons and activities we offer to the different departments at Phillips Academy, please browse our catalog