Wild Ride No More

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Cups and Coaster
The collections environment before and after rehousing in archival boxes

Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.

Temp and RH graph for John August 2019
Environmental Stats for April

First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.

Layerd Storage
Layered Storage

The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.

 

Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.

Sachet
Silica Gel Sachets

The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.

 

Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey re-examined

Hello! We are Arthur Anderson and Gabe Hrynick, faculty at the University of New England and University of New Brunswick, respectively. Much of our fieldwork together is in far Down East, Maine on Cobscook Bay in Washington County. We’ve been lucky enough to make a few visits to the Peabody over the last few years to get an understanding of the collections housed there from this area. Now we’re excited to be back for an extended visit to explore these collections further! The Peabody’s collections are particularly important to our research because in many cases they may be all that’s left of sites that have eroded due to rising sea levels and increased storm magnitude.

The Peabody collections from Cobscook Bay are almost all the product of the Northeastern Archaeological Survey from the late 1940s to the middle 1950s. The project was initially led by Robert Dyson, future director of the Penn Museum, but effectively taken over by Theodore Stoddard, the most consistent member of the crew over those years. In addition to NAS members from the Peabody, Stoddard worked closely with avocational archaeologists in the area. The most prominent of these was Isaac W. Kingsbury, a Hartford internist who summered in Perry, Maine and seems to have been a local point of contact for the survey crew, and even occasionally published his findings in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. One of the most interesting aspects of our research in the Peabody Collections has been reconstructing the work undertaken during those years largely from charming and expansive correspondence between Kingsbury and Stoddard to better understand the context of their records and collections. It’s also a lot of fun to read their accounts of the joys and challenges of working in an area that we love. We can commiserate with their complaints of construction on US Route 1 almost every summer and the barrage of mosquitoes and black flies. We certainly identify with ‘day book’ entries recounting their discussions of the latest archaeological publications on the long drive there. Unfortunately, Frank’s Restaurant in Freeport is long gone, so we can’t comment on their lunch recommendations.

In addition to better understanding the NAS collections, we’ve been looking for some very specific artifacts within it. Our current project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, focuses on the very earliest period of European interaction with Maine and the Maritime Provinces. This is often referred to as the Protohistoric period. By examining old collections for things like glass trade beads, early iron axes and fragments of copper kettle that we have much more context for and information about than they did in the middle of the 20th century, we hope that we can better understand the period and potentially re-locate sites we know to have Protohistoric components thanks to the Peabody collections.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey
Why not write the entire provenience on every object?

Sharing our collection – Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In September 2018, Catherine Hunter, Research Associate, presented a paper to the 2018 Symposium of the Textile Society of America (TSA).  The symposium was an opportunity to publish a portion of the Native American basketry collection at the Peabody Institute.  Held in Vancouver, BC, the symposium was a dynamic event with over 400 participants and Catherine was one of 120 individuals presenting their research.

Catherine’s paper, Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley, 19th-20th Century: Gertrude ‘Cosie’ Hutchings Mills, Tourists and the National Park Service, is now available via Digital Commons at the University of Nebraska.

For more about the basketry in the Peabody’s collection, take a look back at Catherine’s past contributions to our blog: The Language of Baskets, The Language of Weaving, California Basketry Exploration

Halfway there…and funding for the finish!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I am thrilled to share that we have officially inventoried half of the collection!

As of mid-June, the collections team has inventoried 1,079 artifact drawers – half of the 2,159 that hold our collection.  Those drawers translate to 243,967 individual artifacts that have been counted and rehoused in the process!

A massive “thank you” goes out to all of the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the inventory so far: Rachel Manning, John Bergman-McCool, Emma Cook, Annie Greco, Alex Hagler, Quinn Rosefsky, and dozens of work duty students.

With excitement and deep gratitude, we also announce that funding has been secured to complete the inventory by our target deadline of December 31, 2020.

The Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Illinois has renewed its support for a temporary inventory specialist for another two years.  Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for its continued generosity and commitment to the Peabody’s goal of improving the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

But that is not all!

Barbara and Les Callahan have agreed to provide critical funding to extend the appointment of our current inventory specialist – John Bergman-McCool.  Les graduated from Phillips Academy in 1968 and is an active volunteer on campus. Barbara has served on the Peabody Advisory Committee since 2013.  Both have been steadfast advocates and supporters of our mission and we cannot thank them enough for providing this deeply meaningful gift.

We hope these acts will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help, please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Fowled in Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

This skeleton is from a site near Glorieta, New Mexico – just southeast of Santa Fe – and collected by Alfred Kidder during his work at Pecos Pueblo.

As discussed in a previous blog, The Macaw Factor, the presence of macaws in the southwest is certainly note-worthy.  These birds have a natural habitat approximately 1000 miles to the south and were clearly transported to the region as status symbols.  They may have been kept for their feathers or displayed as a sign of wealth and connections.

Two scarlet macaws
Scarlet macaws

As we continue to move through the collection, who knows what we will find next!

Further reading:

Hill, Erica. “The Contextual Analysis of Animal Interments and Ritual Practice in Southwestern North America.” Kiva 65, no. 4 (2000): 361-98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30246334.

Wu, Katherine J. “A Macaw Breeding Center Supplied Prehistoric Americans With Prized Plumage.” Smithsonian.com, August 13, 2018.

 

Mansion House Excavations

Contributed by Ryan Collins

My name is Ryan Collins, and I am an Archaeological Anthropologist specializing in Ancient Maya Culture. I recently earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University where I also instruct courses (as well as at Northeastern University and Lesley Art + Design) in Archaeology, Anthropology, Latin America, and Material Culture Studies.

I am also fortunate enough to have two roles with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. First, I am the Transcription Project Associate, working through the museum’s original bound ledgers to create a digital inventory. While there are several subjects of interest that I want to explore from the Ledger Transcription Project (including the stories of somewhat mysterious artifacts), the subject of this post will focus on my role as the Lead Archaeologist with Mansion House Excavations happening on Phillips Academy’s Campus during the Summer Session with the Lower School Institute. The Mansion House excavations happen in collaboration with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology which houses recovered artifacts as well as materials that once belonged in the late 18th-century building.

The Mansion House at Phillips Academy Andover is a site of significant historical importance in the local community. Built during the Revolutionary War in 1782 (though fully completed in 1785) it was home to Phillips Academy Andover’s founder, Judge Samuel “Esquire” Phillips Jr., and his family until 1812. During this time Judge Phillips, his wife Phoebe Phillips, and their family were known to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere to the students of the academy while also hosting notable political figures of the day like President George Washington.

Image 1 MansionHouse_1880s
Mansion House in the 1880s

With the decline of Phoebe Phillips’ health in 1812, the Trustees of Phillips Academy purchased Mansion House converting it into an Inn and Tavern. As an Inn and Tavern, Mansion House became a central meeting place for students and faculty of the academy as well as for residents in Andover. Over the years Mansion House hosted notable guests including Emerson, Webster, President Andrew Jackson, and Mark Twain among many others. Although, when looking through the guest ledger on the date of his stay, Mark Twain’s signature is absent having mysteriously been cut out.

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Signed guest ledger from the Mansion House

The history of Mansion House and its guests is enough to capture the attention of archaeologists. However, beneath Mansion House’s rich past is an enduring mystery – who burned it down? On the very early morning of November 29th, 1887, around 2:00 am the tenants were awoken by thick smoke coming from a fire in the rear base of the house near a pile of woodchips. A second fire was discovered shortly after in a third-floor room at the front of the house. Despite the best efforts of the local fire brigade and a galvanized town, Mansion House could not be saved. As chronicled by the Andover Townsman on December 2nd, 1887, Mansion House did not collapse, but it “slowly melted” into its foundations.

Image 3 1887 Mansion House Ruins Post Fire
Mansion House ruins after the fire

Most sites and buildings that archaeologists explore are little more than skeletons of their former selves. This reality puts limits on the archaeological record (often refuse in this context) and on the questions that archaeologists can ask about a site to broad notions of process or change over time. With Mansion House, a question of this variety would be: How did Mansion House change over time? What traditions are evident in the material remains of the site? However, because Mansion House burned into its foundations, we have access to an event, a specific moment in time. In this way, the materials students recover from Mansion House will help then share different informed stories about the site, its residents, and life in the 18th and 19th centuries. (IMAGE 4)

Image 4
Summer Session excavation unit

In 2018, our excavations confirmed the location of Mansion House by finding one of its (at least) 6 chimneys and the remains of an iron furnace. This finding not only establishes a more precise understanding of where Mansion House’s foundations are currently situated but it allows us to explore the material remains that have sat untouched for 132 years. With luck, this year’s investigations will allow us to understand even more about life in Mansion House during its final days. While the mysteries around the long-ago fire are unlikely to be solved, more insight will undoubtedly be learned about Phillips Academy and the local Andover community. Excavations at Mansion House will reopen in July of 2019.

Uninvited Guests

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Mold_Salt 1
Meet Mold and Salt

In early February we wrapped up inventorying and rehousing collections that originated in Missouri. The work was followed by two weeks of cleaning, and as a result we’ve completed one of the regions held in the collection. So you may be wondering what we were cleaning. During the inventory, we encountered bone and antler objects covered with salt crystals and patchy dormant mold. The objects were cleaned before they were stored inside their new boxes to remove salt and minimize the risk of mold spreading to unaffected objects.

Where did the mold and salt come from and why are they a problem?

Mold spores are found everywhere in the environment. When the humidity is high, those spores germinate resulting in mold. Because it is a living organism, mold is classified in the museum world as an agent of biological deterioration. It eats organic matter, in this case the dust resting on the outer surface of bone or the bone itself, and secretes waste that can stain or damage the surface that it is growing on. Mold can appear to be dormant, but when the conditions are right mold will generate spores that are easily borne on the wind, allowing it to spread quickly.

Mold_Salt 2
Agents of deterioration

Salts on the other hand are considered chemical agents of deterioration. They are brought into museum collections on the objects themselves.  Dissolved salts present in groundwater can be absorbed by porous objects, such as bone, while they are buried underground. After the water evaporates the salts are left behind. Excessively humid conditions can dissolve soluble salts, allowing them to move through porous objects. When they arrive at the surface they form crystals. If the crystals form below the surface they can exert enough force to cause damaging cracks and spalling.

Mold and salt thrive in damp environments where the Relative Humidity (RH) is above 65%. The institute’s storage area is located in the basement, which does not have a controlled climate, so mold and salt are an unfortunate reality. Currently, the RH in the basement is somewhere below 15% (15% is as low as our monitoring equipment can read). RH levels this low shouldn’t support active mold and salt growth, so what we found is inactive, but it is hard to say when and for how long the growth of mold and salt was last active.

At the Peabody we are committed to maintaining the longevity of this very important research collection and salt and mold pose a risk to its scientific viability. Damage to the surface of artifacts caused by mold and salt can negatively impact the research value of the collection.

How do we prevent mold and salt?

While we don’t have an HVAC system maintaining the environment in basement storage, we have adopted a few practices that will mitigate and prevent future growth of mold and salt. First, we use dehumidifiers during times of high humidity that typically arise during the summer. Second, we are moving the artifacts currently stored in open drawers and rehousing them in closed archival boxes. The enclosed space of a box helps create a buffer that protects the contents from rapid shifts in RH that lead to mold and salt growth. The boxes will also keep future mold growth from spreading; something that was not possible with open-drawer storage.

Mold_Salt 3
Vacuum defeats Mold and Salt

In addition to the rehousing, we have implemented a cleaning program. When mold and salt are identified we isolate the effected object to keep spores from spreading. We clean the affected artifacts with a dry brush and vacuum. After we clean we use sachets of silica gel to absorb excess moisture, thereby providing another buffer against cycles of RH increases and decreases. In six months we’ll check on the status of the bone to see if the mold and salt are staying away.

Peabody at the Smithsonian

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Did you know that you can find artifacts from the Peabody in Washington, D.C.?  Well, you can!

In 2018, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) contacted the Peabody to request the loan of objects associated with Lucy Foster, a free Black woman, who lived in the Ballardvale section of Andover, for their Slavery and Freedom exhibition. Here is how the NMAAHC describes the exhibition:

The Slavery and Freedom inaugural exhibition is at the physical heart of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibition invites visitors to explore the complex and intertwined histories of slavery and freedom through the personal stories of those who experienced it. Chronicling the early 15th century through 1876, the exhibition explores the cultural, economic, and political legacies of the making of modern slavery and the foundation of American freedoms. Visitors will encounter both free and enslaved African Americans’ contributions to the making of America in body, mind, and spirit. They will glimpse a vision of freedom—an American freedom—pushed to its fullest and most transformational limits through the everyday actions of men and women. Most importantly, they will walk away with an understanding of how the story of slavery and freedom is a shared American history with deep roots linking all people together and that still impacts American society today.

The discovery of Lucy Foster’s homestead was an accident in 1945 as archaeologists Adelaide and Ripley Bullen were looking for evidence of an ancient Native American settlement. Lucy’s early nineteenth century homestead was instead one of the first African American archaeological sites excavated in the United States. To learn more about the excavation and the artifacts recovered, check out these sources:

Adelaide and Ripley Bullen’s 1945 article on the Lucy Foster site

Vernon Baker’s 1978 “blue book” on Lucy Foster’s ceramics

Vernon Baker’s 1972 book chapter on Lucy Foster

Anthony Martin’s 2018 article Homeplace Is also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts

You can also find many of Lucy’s belongings in our online collection.

The Lucy Foster site objects are displayed in Slavery and Freedom in “The Northern Colonies: Expanding Merchant Capital” section of the museum. These objects allow the NMAAHC to tell the story of women and their work in the north and bring to light the personal voice and story of Lucy Foster. Foster was born in Boston in 1767 and was sold into the household of Job and Hannah Foster at age four, in 1771. She worked as a domestic in their household until Job’s death in 1789, when she moved with Hannah to her new husband Philemon Chandler’s household. After Chandler’s death, they moved back to the Foster household until Hannah’s death in 1815. Lucy then established her own household on land willed to her by Hannah. Lucy died of pneumonia on November 1, 1845. Occasional mentions of Lucy in historical documents, coupled with the archaeological remains, has allowed a glimpse into her life.

The NMAAHC requested these objects because Lucy’s story is unique. She is one of two People of Color from this area with documentary and archaeological records to tell her story. Lucy was part of both free and enslaved communities in Andover, and these objects show how she continually used her sewing and cooking skills to carve a place for herself in the Andover community. These objects embody the presence of women and their work as fundamental to the northern states and are a rare example of objects from the early nineteenth century concretely connected to an enslaved person.

If you are in the D.C. area, be sure to stop by and say “hello” to Lucy!

Transcribing the Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The Peabody Institute has been working for some time now to establish full physical and intellectual control over our collection. You can read about our progress here, here, here, and here.

But, physically inventorying the collection is only half the project. The Peabody also needs to document and account for all the artifacts that came into, and left, the collection over the years. Currently, about 56,000 catalog records are present in our database, PastPerfect, versus the nearly 120,000 unique catalog numbers that have been assigned over the years. Original cataloging records at the Institute are largely on paper in two formats – ledger books that document the first phase of collections and individual catalog cards that were in use through the 1980s. Often, a single line of handwritten text or a 3×5 index card contains all the documented information for a specific artifact. That data is invaluable for making objects relevant and accessible to researchers, faculty, students, and in our ongoing repatriation work with Native American tribes.

example accession ledger page
A page from one of the accession ledgers

Recently, I presented this problem to the Board of the Abbot Academy Fund as part of their biannual grant cycle. Focusing on the need to transcribe the hand-written ledger books – 78,094 individual line entries in 14 ledger books. I am thrilled to report that the Abbot Academy Fund has chosen to support our Transcribing the Collection initiative!

The grant funds a temporary project transcriptionist who will type each line of the original accession ledgers from early twentieth century cursive into an Excel document. The project will be complete in the fall of 2019.

Once all this information is recorded, the Peabody will collaborate with PastPerfect to migrate the data into our database. The ultimate goal is to make the collection more accessible to staff, researchers, students and tribes.

I will keep you updated!

The Transcribing the Collection project is made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

A New Face in the Basement

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Hi there! My name is John and I am the new Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute. As Inventory Specialist my primary task is to work on the ongoing inventory and rehousing project. The project’s goals are to fully understand the collections that are held at the Institute and move them from their old wooden drawers into archival boxes. Armed with the more precise knowledge of what is in the Peabody, the institute can ensure their continued care and share them with students and the public for years to come.

This position is a dream job for me. It brings together my interest in archaeology, museums and collections care, and who doesn’t love spending time underground!

John inside a pit during excavations
Yep, this is me in a bell pit during an excavation in Arizona!

Before moving to Massachusetts in 2013, I worked for almost a decade as an archaeologist in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. After relocating to New England I enrolled in the MFA program at Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. During my time as a graduate student I found that I kept coming back to archaeology and the history of museum collections as a subject for my artwork.

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Artwork from my thesis project

While I was in graduate school I also pursued a certificate in Museum Studies. I gravitated towards collections care and since graduating I’ve worked in collections at the Fitchburg Art Museum and Historic New England. ­

In a round-about way I’ve come back to archaeology, though it’s been following me for the past 5 years. During my time here I’ve been inventorying objects from Missouri. There have been some surprising finds, which has been great. You never know what you’re going to find here at the Peabody.