All posts by Marla Taylor

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Updated Collections Online

The Peabody is excited to share our updated collections website!

Curious about the scholarly depth of the Peabody collections?  Looking for material from a particular site for your research?  Interested in simply browsing through the artifacts?

The site’s new and improved format is more user-friendly and provides easier access to our object records.  Enter a key word to search, browse a full list of sites, and click through random images of artifacts.

In addition to a streamlined interface, the updated website also includes information about the archival collections housed at the Peabody.  Temporary Archivist Irene Gates’s recent blog post  highlights the completion of the first step in processing our archives.  Or, explore the archival collections here.

While we do not yet have our full collection online, we add new records regularly – so come back often.  I hope that you enjoy exploring the Peabody’s collections as much as I do!

The Peabody Collection Online is made possible in part by a grant from the Abbot Academy Association, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

Dr. Steeves examining the collection

Dr. Paulette Steeves is ‘decolonizing the past and present of the Western hemisphere’

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Last week, the Peabody had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Paulette Steeves as she examined portions of the MacNeish collection.  Dr. Steeves is currently a Lecturer of Indigenous archaeology and anthropology and the Interim Director of the certificate program in Native American Studies at UMass Amherst.  Her research focuses on the peopling of the Western hemisphere, but not through the traditional Bering Strait theory.

Dr. Steeves uses indigenous theory and methodology to explore sites in the Americas that date back as far as 60,000 years ago.  This is actually a big deal and an anti-establishment approach to the subject.  Dr. Steeves is looking into the materials collected by Scotty MacNeish during his work in the 1960s in Peru and Mexico for additional evidence.   MacNeish was also a proponent of the idea of early colonization and much of his collection has remained unanalyzed for decades.

Dr. Steeves was thrilled to see the collection and to meet MacNeish himself on her visit.  We look forward to hosting her again for many research visits to come!

Contractors carrying in drywall

Upgrading the storage environment

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The bulk of the Peabody’s collection is stored in the basement.  It has been challenging over the years to control the temperature and humidity in the basement – an essential factor in maintaining an artifact collection.  A small fluctuation of both temperature and humidity is normal and expected as seasons change.  However, extreme variation lead to damage – bone can become fragile, ceramics can develop weak-points, and even stone tools can become brittle.

For the past four years, I have been tracking the environment throughout Peabody and noticed these strong fluctuations.  By taking readings of the temperature and humidity in all our storage spaces once an hour (through the use of a datalogger), I determined that the influx of outdoor air through these poorly sealed windows is large contributing factor.  There is only one way to fix this.

In collaboration with the Office of Physical Plant on campus, we are implementing a plan to mitigate some of this fluctuation.  Contractors are working to seal the windows in the basement to stop outside air from sneaking into the storage.

This will stabilize the environment and lead to fewer changes in both temperature and humidity.  The first step on the road to environmental control!

Detail of breccia

Jacob’s Cavern

This blog represents the third entry in a blog new 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 Marla Taylor

The unassuming and muddled looking object below is a piece of loosely formed breccia from Jacob’s Cavern in McDonald County, Missouri.

Breccia from Jacob's Cavern
Breccia from Jacob’s Cavern

Breccia is a type of rock that is composed of broken fragments of other rocks that have been cemented together by a fine-grained matrix – this process can take thousands of years. While this piece is not yet solid rock, it is on the way.  In this case, the matrix (or glue) is ash from thousands of fires that sustained life in the cavern for hundreds of years.

Acting on a tip from a local named E.H. Jacobs, Charles Peabody and Warren Moorehead traveled to Jacob’s Cavern in April of 1903 to examine the site.  Upon arrival, they found a large rockshelter of limestone with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, and the floor was covered with a thick layer of fine ash up to 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) deep! This ash is most likely the direct result of untold numbers of small fires in the cavern to keep the occupants warm over the years of use.

Peabody and Moorehead excavated the thick layer of ashes in using a careful grid system and uncovered hundreds of artifacts.  The stone tools were primarily projectile points and blades with relatively few large tools like axes.  They also found a ‘considerable’ number of bone needles and awls.  These small bone tools are essential in daily life to create, maintain, and repair clothing and other basic equipment.  The sheer volume of ash and artifacts in the cavern indicates long-term occupation.

All evidence of human occupation – stone and bone tools, food debris – in the cavern was found in the layer of ashes and intermingled with breccia.  And, most notably, many artifacts are visible within the breccia (see the photo below).  This means that they were created, used, and discarded before the formation of the breccia and were left undisturbed for possibly thousands of years.

Detail of breccia
Detail of breccia with stone tools circled in green and bone fragments circled in yellow.

Peabody and Moorehead brought samples of the breccia and hundreds of collected artifacts back to the Peabody in 1903 while excavations continued by Mr. Jacobs for another couple years.  Published in 1904, the report of their work became the first Bulletin published by the Department of Archaeology.  The entirety of this report can be found here.

The work done by Peabody and Moorehead with Jacob’s Cavern became a foundation for later work at the Peabody.  Explore and excavate a little-known site, bring the materials back to Andover for study, publish about that work, and provide invaluable new research and insight into the field of archaeology.

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Reboxing project – Update

Contributed by Marla Taylor

About six months in and the reboxing project is beginning to take off.  With the help of students and volunteers, 52 drawers have been converted into 86 boxes.  These first months have been spent ironing-out the kinks in the procedure and strategically identifying areas of the collection on which to focus.

The inventories produced from this project have already helped to identify areas of the collection for further attention and have made some objects available for education use.

I am excited to pick-up the pace over the winter!

Baskets Explored

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Thanks to Catherine Hunter, Peabody Museum research associate, our full basketry collection of 329 is inventoried and described.  In September, Catherine turned over 7 binders of material including research into known artists, glossaries, information on weaving techniques, and a basic description of each basket.  This massive project took Catherine nearly a year!

The next phase is to photograph each of these gorgeous baskets and improve their storage and accessibility.  Last week, Marla Taylor, Samantha Hixson, and Catherine took a trip to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University to examine their basketry storage.  The visit was full of inspiration and incredibly helpful as we continue to work on this project.

Keep your eyes peeled for the inclusion of these amazing baskets in our online collection database!

Welcome Samantha!

Contributed by Samantha Hixson

Hello everyone,

My name is Samantha Hixson and I am the new collections assistant here at the Peabody. I come to you from New Mexico where the weather is warm and has left me completely unprepared for New England winters (although Marla and Lindsay promise that they’ll get me through it).

I have previously worked at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It’s these places that got me excited to work within museums, focusing specifically on Native American collections. So you can imagine how excited I was when I was hired to work at the Peabody, it’s the perfect job for me! I’ve also had some other very interesting archaeological/ethnographic experiences, but those are for other posts.

I’ve started getting my feet wet in a couple projects already (with the promise of a lot more to come) and am most excited about the re-housing of the collection as well the Adopt A Drawer program. I think it’s great that these collections are getting new homes and more personal interactions, however brief.

If you’re in the neighborhood of the museum, come stop by; I’d love to meet you!

The new Peabody Collections Assistant, Samantha Hixson
The new Peabody Collections Assistant, Samantha Hixson

No “Orphaned” Artifacts

This blog represents the first entry in a blog new 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 Quinn Rosefsky  (Phillips Academy Class of ’59)

Robert Singleton Peabody (1837-1904) grew up in Muskingum County, Ohio—just outside of Zanesville—but attended an eastern boarding school—Phillips Academy—to graduate in 1857. After law school at Harvard he established a lucrative legal practice in Vermont before relocating to the Germantown area of Philadelphia. During much of his life, Robert nurtured an interest in archaeology and Native Americans and worked to amass a personal collection of artifacts. In 1866, Robert’s uncle, George Peabody (known as the father of modern philanthropy) gifted PA with funds to establish a “scientific department” to encourage scientific discourse be incorporated into the curriculum. At the turn of the 20th century, Robert sought to revitalize his uncle’s good intentions by re-establishing a program for the sciences, specifically archaeology.

The archives of the Peabody Museum contain the letters and documents that reveal the evolution of Robert’s intentions. The primary correspondence is between Robert Peabody and Warren K. Moorehead. Moorehead was the man responsible for building, cataloging, and maintaining Robert’s artifact collection and would ultimately become the first curator of the Department of Archaeology at Phillips Academy.

Peabody then wrote in a letter dated March 3, 1898, that he was impressed with Moorehead’s cataloguing of the substantial collection Peabody had amassed (nearly 50,000 artifacts), which were “of sufficient value, to be cared for.” Adding, “I have known too well the fate of those Orphaned collections placed at the Mercy of a cold world…” Although what Peabody then proposed was to establish a department of archaeology, he also wrote that the financial situation at the time was not good. He was likely referring to the Panic of 1893, during which 500 banks closed and 15,000 businesses failed. The ensuing financial depression lasted from 1893 to 1898. Peabody’s conclusion was: “…I will not deliberately, add another to the list of failures…I want to make assurance doubly sure, if I go into it at all.”

Nevertheless, Moorehead’s letter to Peabody on April 4, 1898, continued to press the issue. He had spoken to the wife of Dr. Wilson, a Curator of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute, and conveyed her response to Peabody: “…It is fortunate for Andover and the public at large that you conceived the idea of preserving archaeological relics.”

The archives have a gap in the sequence of letters, but it is clear that Robert S. Peabody had been having discussions with Dr. Cecil F. P.  Bancroft (1839-1901), Andover’s fifth headmaster. Bancroft agreed to help push the project forward with the school’s Board of Trustees. By November 11, 1900, planning was well-advanced.

In a letter dated March 6, 1901 from Peabody to the Trustees of Phillips Academy, the amount and purpose of the donation were laid out. Specifically, Peabody wished his collection to have a home for preservation, the establishment of a Department of Archaeology which would be “self-supporting and independent.” Furthermore, this Department should be “disconnected from any other branch of Phillips Academy.” As for the museum itself, “…(it) should be, as far as consistent, tasteful and attractive on its exterior, with good proportions, not too high, and within, light and cheerful as possible, with some simple and tasteful decoration—as tinted walls, etc.” Peabody went on to propose that Moorehead be the first curator because “…Professor Moorehead knows every specimen in the collection, and its history.” Peabody also stipulated, “…that the building/museum be a pleasant place where students might find an agreeable relaxation during the broken events which occur in the lives of the most closely pressed.” In other words, the building would serve not only as a museum but as a social center.

It was no surprise that the amount of the gift to Andover, indicated in a letter dated March 8, 1901 from Peabody to Bancroft, was related to the amount given previously by his uncle in 1866. George Peabody had also dedicated the same amount—$150,000—to aid in founding the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. To differentiate himself from his uncle, Robert pointed out that his gift would also include a collection of artifacts. These artifacts amounted to one hundred thirty-two boxes containing nearly 50,000 items insured for $35,000 at the time of transportation by rail on July 10, 1901 from Philadelphia to Warren K. Moorehead in Andover. The actual endowment, anonymous by design, included $100,000 for the Peabody Foundation and $50,000 for the building. This amount would grow substantially at Peabody’s death, as he willed the residue and remainder of his estate to Phillips Academy in March, 1902. The total gift amounted to at least $500,000—approximately $12 to $13 million by today’s standards.

What did $50,000 buy in 1901? The future architect for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Guy Lowell, was hired and he submitted plans for the projected museum at Phillips Academy. By the end of October, 1901, ground-breaking began on the site where formerly the First Classroom Building, the Farrar House, and then the Churchill House had been located. The building was completed in less than two years and was dedicated on March 28, 1903, the event was  memorialized in the mid-April 1903 edition of The Phillipian.“The building was tastefully decorated with potted palms and flowers…Mr. Frederick W. Putnam, L.L.D, professor of Ethnology and Archaeology at Harvard, said that students would learn to reason more for themselves, and would depend more upon their own powers than upon text books.”

Completed shelving

Shelving to the rescue!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As I began working this summer on the reboxing project, it immediately became apparent that the artifacts needed room to grow sooner rather than later.  Moving the objects from the wooden drawers into the boxes revealed just how heavy some of those drawers were – some too heavy to be supported by the new archival boxes.

What I needed was solid temporary shelving to support these materials.  Donnegan Systems, Inc. of Northboro, Massachusetts to the rescue!   Donnegan Systems has been consulting with us periodically to reimagine collections storage once all the artifacts have been boxed.  They saw our need and offered some spare shelving that was taking up space in their warehouse.  Delivered and installed in a single morning, these shelves will facilitate faster progress with the reboxing project.