Calling All Volunteers!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a museum? The Peabody, like many museums, has a small force of volunteers who dedicate a few hours each week to helping our staff further our work. We are currently looking to expand this group of volunteers.

Our volunteers have assisted us with a huge number of projects. We currently have one volunteer who works with our textile collection. In a museum setting, it is very important to protect artifacts from pests that can occasionally work their way into the building. Our textile artifacts are particularly susceptible to the damage from carpet beetle and clothes moth larvae. An infestation of these pests can completely destroy a textile collection without proper intervention and pest management. In order to stay on top of any potential pest problems, one of our volunteers systematically goes through our textiles and inspects them for evidence of damage, insect excrement, and live specimens. This involves vacuuming the textiles, inspecting them, and putting them through a freezing process designed to kill living pests. Once this two week process is completed, the textiles are removed from the freezer, isolated, and then inspected again for any signs of life. Once we are satisfied that pests are not present, the objects are returned to the collections storage space. Our volunteer has done an excellent job with this, and has made significant process on this project.

Our other current volunteer is a P.A. alumnus who works on a wide variety of projects. One of the most important projects is our complete inventory of the collection. We hope to renovate the Peabody in the next few years and before we do that, we need to have a completed inventory of our collections. This involves inventory of our storage drawers and recording information about collections, including objects present, count, geographic origin, and current storage location.  Volunteers can help with this most important project.

In addition to helping out with the inventory, volunteers help out as needed across the Peabody. Other projects include organizing portions of the archives for researchers, pulling out and putting away objects for classes, creating labels for our artifact boxes, and transcribing catalog cards into a digital system. There is never a shortage of work to be done at the Peabody!

If this sounds like an opportunity that you would be interested in, feel free to contact me with for more information at rmanning@andover.edu. I would be glad to speak to anyone about potentially volunteering for us!

Lucy Foster’s Ceramic Collection

For archaeologists, ceramics are one of the most useful artifacts that can be found during an excavation. They can help date an archaeological site, they can shed light on the domestic habits of the people who left them behind, and they can also reflect the social and economic status of individuals.

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Hand painted dishes from the Lucy Foster Collection.

When I worked in Virginia, ceramics were my favorite artifacts to have to clean and catalog. I was fascinated with the variety of colorful patterns that were excavated from the areas where James Madison’s enslaved populations lived their daily lives. I also wondered what these ceramics must have meant to them, considering they had relatively little, especially compared to the family they worked for.

The collections at the Peabody don’t typically have these types of historic ceramics. The main type of ceramic housed here are Native American ceramics, which are very interesting, but also very different from the European ceramics I had grown accustomed to seeing in my daily work life. We do have one collection that is comprised of historic ceramics, and that is the Lucy Foster Collection.

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A brown transfer printed pitcher from the Lucy Foster Collection.

Lucy Foster, unbeknownst to her in her lifetime, became a very important figure in the world of African American archaeology. Her dwelling, known as Lucy Foster’s Garden, was one of the first, if not the first, excavated site of a freed former slave in the United States. In addition to other materials, Lucy Foster left behind a great deal of ceramics. Lucy’s ceramics were like those I had grown accustomed to seeing in the context of enslaved populations in the South. However, here were the same patterns showing up at the home of a freed woman.

The remains of pearlware, creamware, and even porcelain were present in the assemblages from Lucy’s Garden. Decorations ranged from plain to hand painted and transfer printed. Vessels ranged from bowls to plates, to jugs and mugs. This variety is especially interesting. Of note is the nearly equal percentage of bowls and plates found. Research into various enslaved populations has suggested that they commonly ate from bowls, and therefore a higher percentage of bowls are found in these archaeological contexts. Plates were more commonly used by freed individuals or people of European descent. The nearly equal representation of both vessel types is especially interesting because it could possibly show how Lucy walked the line of being enslaved and freed, which is essentially true to her life story.

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A hand painted mug with a floral pattern.

The Lucy Foster ceramics are quite an impressive collection for Lucy to have had in her lifetime. Further research into the collections of Lucy Foster and comparing them to the assemblages of enslaved populations and freed populations could give us even more insight into Lucy Foster and her life as a freed woman in Andover over 200 years ago. These collections are available for any researchers or Phillips Academy students who might be interested in taking on such a project. Anyone in the Washington D.C. area can view a portion of the collections as they are now on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as talked about here!

For more on Lucy Foster, see:

Battle-Baptiste, Whitney
2011 Black Feminist Archaeology. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA

 

Martin, Anthony
2018 Homeplace is also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts. Historical Archaeology 52(1):100-112.

Ceramic Inventory Complete!

For the past year and a half, I have spent the majority of my time inventorying drawers as part of the Peabody’s Inventory and Reboxing Project. As exciting as that project has been, every once in a while I have needed to take a break from it to recharge my brain. In order to recharge while simultaneously staying productive, I was tasked with photographing and inventorying the ceramic vessel collection that is housed on the second floor of the Peabody. In order to complete this project, I printed out inventory sheets for the ceramic cabinets in Second Floor Storage and went shelf by shelf making sure each vessel was there and photographing it. This was great because I enjoy photography and try to do it often in my spare time. Once the vessels were photographed, I edited them in Photoshop and then uploaded the finished photos to each object’s catalog record in our museum software, PastPerfect. Editing the photos was very enjoyable for me because I was able to expand my Photoshop skills, which were pretty limited before taking on this project.

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One of the ceramics that was inventoried and photographed

The original goal was to take one day a week to do these tasks. However, as the inventory project got rolling and certain collections needed to be cataloged faster than others, the ceramic inventory ended up getting slightly pushed aside in order to accommodate more pressing tasks at the Peabody. The main point of this blog post is this: the ceramic inventory has officially been completed!! Each vessel is logged into PastPerfect and has a photograph attached to it. The other exciting bit of information is that all of these vessels (except for NAGPRA sensitive ones) are available to view in our online catalog which can be found HERE. Take a look at the link to see what I have been working on, and feel free to peruse the online collections even further to see what else is housed at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology!

The William Duncan Strong Collection

This blog represents the twelfth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!

The Peabody Institute holds many collections from across North America. In the early 20th century, institutions often traded objects with one another in order to expand holdings and develop more diverse collections. One of the collections the Peabody received in trade is the William Duncan Strong collection, which consists of objects from Labrador. Strong was a prolific archaeologist and anthropologist who was known for his direct historical approach to studying Indigenous cultures of North and South America.

William Duncan Strong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1899. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he initially studied zoology before switching his focus to Anthropology. While at Berkeley, he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, a well-known American anthropologist who Strong considered a mentor and friend. Strong received his Ph. D. in 1926. His dissertation, titled “An Analysis of Southwestern Society,” was subsequently published in American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. Throughout his career, Strong conducted ethnographic and archaeological studies throughout southern California, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Peru, and Labrador.

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William Duncan Strong. Photo Source: Alchetron.com/william-duncan-strong

The Labrador collection is one of the largest collections housed at the Peabody. It was given to the Peabody by the Field Museum in Chicago in exchange for materials from Pecos Pueblo. The Labrador collection contains many interesting artifacts from the Arctic region. Strong assembled the collection as part of a 1927-28 expedition to the Arctic led by Commander Donald B. MacMillan. MacMillan was known for his arctic cruises, which often included a variety of scientists and observers. Most of Strong’s time was spent in ethnographic research with the Montagnais-Naskapi, but he also found time to excavate several Inuit villages—this is where the Peabody collection originated.

One of the artifacts that I found the most intriguing was what looked like a boat carved out of stone. I asked about what this object was since I had never come across anything like it.  I thought perhaps it was some kind of kettle but I was informed that it was actually a lamp called a Kudlik.

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One of the Kudliks present in our collection.

These lamps were typically used by people in the Arctic to light and heat their dwellings, to melt snow, and to cook. They were usually made out of soapstone, which was carved into a dish-like object with a shallow perforation in the center. This is where the wick, which was fashioned from cottongrass or moss, would be placed. The surrounding dish was then most commonly filled with seal blubber, although whale blubber was also used in whaling communities. The wick would soak in blubber, which would then allow it to remain lit and provide people with light.

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A picture of a Kudlik in use. Photo Credit: elfshotgallery.blogspot.com

It is always very interesting to see how people in the past used various objects from their environment to create tools that we still use to this day!

Mount Making for a Special Object

I recently had the opportunity to create a cavity mount for a double cylinder jar that is from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. This artifact is very special because only one double cylinder jar has ever been recovered from Chaco Canyon.

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A drawing of the double cylinder jar from Warren K. Moorehead’s 1906 publication.

Chaco Canyon is a large archaeological site located in northwestern New Mexico. It is believed that people have inhabited the region for over 10,000 years, with large scale occupancy occurring between AD 700 and 1300. This period is known as the Pueblo period. Architecture at Chaco Canyon ranged from domestic dwellings to large, multi-story complexes. These multi-story buildings are known as Great Houses, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito. In addition to these structures, Chaco Canyon also contains large subterranean rooms called Kivas. Kivas were typically used for ceremonial purposes, and the largest kivas could hold hundreds of people. Eventually Chaco Canyon was abandoned by its inhabitants for reasons that remain unknown. It is believed that drought was a significant factor in its abandonment.

In order to make a mount for this vessel, I needed to find a block of archival ethafoam large enough to hold the vessel. Once this was located, I carefully traced the shape of the jar into the foam. I then used a hot knife to essentially melt and cut the foam out, forming the cavity in which the vessel would rest. This part was awesome, and I got to work outside so that the smoke and fumes of melting foam didn’t set off the fire alarms. Once the cavity was made, I lined it with Tyvek paper, which is an archival material that will not damage artifacts while providing a smooth surface on which to rest. Once the Tyvek was in place, the vessel could rest inside its new home. To see a video of cavity mount making check out this link . It’s not a video of me making this mount, but the process I used was exactly the same. Now this one of a kind vessel is happily resting in a mount instead of just in a cardboard box.

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Here is the double cylinder jar, happily resting in its new mount.

The double cylinder vessel is housed in one of the drawers from our Adopt A Drawer program. If you are interested in adopting a drawer at the Peabody feel free to contact us!

Exciting Changes!

I have been working as the Inventory Specialist at the Peabody for the past year. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have learned a great deal, not only about the collections at the Peabody, but about collections and artifacts from other institutions throughout the United States as well.

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It is with great pleasure that I will be taking on the position of Collections Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology! With this new position comes a variety of new responsibilities that I am ready to undertake. While I will still be inventorying drawers as time allows, I will focus more on drawers that have been adopted through our Adopt A Drawer program. Through this program, donors can “adopt” a drawer housed at the Peabody! They receive updates on the progress of the inventory and rehousing of the artifacts in the drawer and pictures of what is inside. Upon completion, a write-up with information pertaining to the age, origin and various other details about the artifacts within the drawer is sent to the donor. Interested in participating? Contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (rwheeler@andover.edu).

Another major part of the position will be monitoring the environment in the various collections spaces. Maintaining proper relative humidity and temperature is imperative to keeping a healthy collection. Fluctuations in these variables can be detrimental to the collection and cause damage to and have other undesirable effects on the artifacts. In addition to environmental monitoring, I will also be in control of the Integrated Pest Management program. Keeping on top of pest activity in any institution is the best way to avoid an infestation. This is especially important in museums where irreplaceable artifacts can be damaged by insect activity.

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Here I am, monitoring the environment.

A third big change will be working more closely with our volunteers and work duty students who spend time at the Peabody helping us with a few of the many tasks that need to be accomplished. Once a week groups of students from Phillips Academy assigned work duty at the Peabody will take time doing anything from inventorying drawers to digitally inputting information from catalog cards and ledgers. We also have a group of volunteers who join us once a week to inventory drawers, perform inspections of our ethnographic materials, or do other tasks as they present themselves. If this sounds like something interesting to you or anyone you know, feel free to contact us about volunteering at the Peabody!

I am very excited to be able to contribute to the Peabody in new ways!

Back to Class!

As part of my work at the Peabody, my supervisor suggested that I take an online class in Collections Management. Throughout school, I had never been offered classes that pertained to museum studies or collections management, so I thought that this was a great idea considering it is directly related to my current and hopefully future line of work. Therefore, over the past 6 weeks, I have been enrolled in an online class on Collections Management Policies for Cultural Institutions through museumclasses.org.

Over the period of the course, I learned a great deal about what it takes to create and implement a collections management policy at an institution such as the Peabody. For cultural institutions, these policies are very important to have because they set up guidelines for almost every aspect of the institution. These guidelines are good to have on file should any issues arise within the institution. For example, if an institution received a collection that does not fit within the scope of the collections, the museum staff could refer to their collections management policy for information on how to handle the situation. The policy also helps to establish consistency in practices regarding the proper management of collections associated with cultural institutions.

Throughout the course of the class, I have been tasked each week with writing various portions of a policy. My classmates and I would upload our segments to the online forum so that we could read and critique each other’s documents before turning them in for grading. The feedback was incredibly helpful and I feel it helped strengthen my policy. An additional part of the class was to participate in a chat room discussion for an hour once a week. These chats were always very interesting and everyone was very engaging. It was really interesting to see how different cultural institutions are run and how similar institutions can end up with very different policies tailored to their individual needs. I think that this class was an excellent decision, and one that will be very useful as I continue to pursue my career in collections management!

In other news, I have recently started cataloging drawers in the South Bay Storage area of the Peabody’s collections space! These bays primarily consist of sites from the American Southeast and Southwest, but also contain sites from Missouri, Kentucky, and even as far away as Labrador. I am very excited to continue working with artifacts that I don’t get to see as often as I would like!

Fossil!
Here is a cool fossil I found in South Bay Storage. I’m not a plant expert, but it looks like a type of fern.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift 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.

The Peabody goes to the Annual SAA Meeting!

Last week, members of the Peabody staff made their way down to Washington D. C. to attend the 83rd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology! This society is the largest organization for archaeologists who conduct work in North and South America. It was founded in 1934 and had its very first meeting at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Today, the SAA is comprised of over 7000 members. The annual meeting of the SAA lasts for four days. Archaeologists from all over the Americas get together to present papers and posters pertaining to their research, conduct symposiums related to current issues in and directions for the field of archaeology, and many institutions and vendors rent space in the book room to promote their organizations.

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Dr. Wheeler and Rachel behind the Peabody’s table.

 

This was my primary task at the SAA meeting this year. The Robert S. Peabody Institute had a table in the exhibition hall manned by Peabody staff members. This is a great way for other conference attendees to stop by and talk to us about what is going on at the Institute, find out whether or not we have collections that researchers are interested in, and learn more about our online collections, Cordell Scholarship award and the Journal of Archaeology & Education. There was also an order form for anyone who interested in purchasing our new book, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. All in all, working the table was a great experience. It was awesome getting to talk to fellow archaeologists who might not have ever crossed my path if not for the Peabody table.

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Dr. Wheeler and his former advisor Dr. Barbara Purdy

 

In addition to the educational and networking benefits that come along with attending conferences, the SAA is also a great place to get to see former colleagues and friends who have gone their own ways. I had the chance to see so many people that I never get to see anymore because in the world of archaeology, people can work with you one year and then go work halfway across the world the next! People I know came from St. Louis, Albany, New York City, Virginia, New Mexico and even Hawaii! I saw colleagues from my very early days as an archaeologist in New York, as well as friends that I had made working on projects all the way down in Virginia. It was very enjoyable to have my multiple spheres of friends finally collide in one space.

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Dr. Ryan Wheeler with Ted Stoddard, whose collections are housed at the Peabody!

Because the conference was in Washington, D.C., it also provided the opportunity to see museums in the area. The main museum I had wanted to see was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Unfortunately, everyone else in the city wants to go there too, and even though we tried to grab tickets at 6:30 AM, there were none to be had. I walked the mall with some friends anyway. The weather was gorgeous, passing 80 degrees! The cherry blossoms and sun were out and it was a great day to walk around outside and see the various monuments (which look much better in the sun and heat than they did the last time I was in D.C. in January 2016 with clouds and rain).

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Check out those cherry blossoms blooming!

I finally made my way to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I’ve somehow never been to this one before, and I’m very glad that I went. The museum had numerous exhibits, including precious gems and rock formations, dinosaurs, a human origins exhibit, an osteology exhibit and even an exhibit showcasing mummies from Egypt. The collection of faunal skeletons in the Osteology Hall was particularly fascinating. It’s amazing to see how similar many creatures are when they are stripped down to just bone.

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The Hope Diamond housed at the National Museum of Natural History.

The four days spent in D.C. for the SAA were amazing and I hope a good time was had by all who attended. It was a nice break from the daily routines I have here at the Peabody!

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift 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.

Identifying Patterns!

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Out of all the artifacts that I have worked with over the course of my career, one of my favorite types has always been historic ceramics. There are so many different ceramic types and beautiful decorative patterns that it’s easy to see why ceramics can often become collector’s items. Transferware has always been particularly interesting to me. Maybe it’s because there is such a wide array of images and scenery that can be depicted on this type of ceramic.

One of my previous jobs dealt heavily with colonial and antebellum artifacts, so transfer printed ceramic fragments would come through the lab on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do there was to identify the specific patterns on the fragments as best I could. In order to do that I had many resources, including a Powerpoint with typologies found at the site and access to the Transferware Collectors Club website.

Last week, I decided to inventory a drawer which has historic ceramics in it. I rarely see historic ceramics here, so I figured it would be a good way to keep them fresh in my mind. When it came time to catalog the ceramics, I organized them in my workspace by colors, and then further broke these groups into design patterns.

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Organizing ceramics!

I had kept the aforementioned Powerpoint on a flash drive in case I ever ran into historic ceramics again. It was open on my computer while I was going through this particular drawer and it proved to be a valuable resource once again. I had a few fragments of transfer printed ceramics in front of me and noticed that even though they were tiny sherds, I was able to see that they contained images of grain, a foot, and a window with some shrubs.

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The foot of a gleaner
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Ceramic fragment with a window and shrubs
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Ceramic fragment with gathered wheat

Going through the Powerpoint, I immediately recognized that these match up with a transfer pattern that is known as “Gleaners.” The rim pattern also was a dead giveaway, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see that from a few tiny pieces of ceramic, I could get a vision of what the entire vessel once looked like!

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An entire vessel with the “Gleaners” pattern.

Finding fragments of transfer printed ceramic is always exciting and can be like having pieces of a puzzle that you need to put together. Many antique transfer printing patterns are still used and reproduced to this day. If you have any in your possession, or know anyone else who does, I’d encourage you to look it up online and see what you can learn about something you might have once thought was just a cool decorative piece.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift 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.

A Move Around the Country

This job is awesome, but sometimes the material I work with can get pretty repetitive. I have been working on cataloging a bay full of artifacts from sites throughout Massachusetts. This allowed me to see what had been discovered throughout the state in which I now live. While there were a few ground stone tools, the vast majority of artifacts I cataloged were modified stone and bifaces. Drawer after drawer, box after box was filled to the brim with fragments of stone that had been worked by someone, but never fully formed into a usable tool such as a projectile point or a blade, and while it is still incredible to see these artifacts and be able to hone my skills identifying worked stone, it started getting very redundant.

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A completed box of modified stone – more layers under the ethofoam

Luckily for me, when I need a change of pace, I can walk over to another bay and choose drawers from almost anywhere in North America. After cataloging hundreds, if not thousands, of modified stone fragments, I decided to take a break from the Northeast and I moved to a bay containing artifacts from Idaho, Kansas and Iowa. So far these drawers have been amazing! While there are still amorphous fragments of modified stone, the number of finished tools far outweighs them. This particular drawer has many finished projectile points.

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Tiny projectile points!

Not only are they finished points, some of them are seriously tiny! A couple haven’t been much bigger than my pinky nail, and I have pretty small hands. It is incredible to see how small they are and think about the craftsmanship that must have gone into making such a tiny specimen. The level of precision and the skill that must have been required to craft these projectile points without them breaking must have been tremendous. Getting to see final products such as these has the power to make counting all the other fragments of modified stone worth it.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift 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.