All posts by Rachel Manning

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.

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes

Contributed by Rachel Manning

Hi, my name is Rachel and I was hired in August as the Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I am originally from upstate New York although for part of 2016 and the majority of 2017 I did work primarily in Virginia. For my first blog post I wanted to give a brief overview of my daily activities.

The main goal of the project I was hired to do is to conduct a complete inventory and rehousing of the collections at the Peabody. This is a task that has never been done before. Currently, the majority of the collections are housed in the wooden drawers that were brought into the Peabody in the 1930s. In each drawer, collections objects are housed in tan artifact boxes.

This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.
This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.

Every day I take the objects out of the tan box and record information about them such as what the object is, what its catalog number is, how many there are and their current location. I then record all of this information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, put the objects back into their tan box and put them into the new gray (or blue, depending on who is asked) archival box. Currently I am working on drawers containing collections from Massachusetts.

These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.
These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.

This type of work is something I have done since 2013 when I was a graduate student at SUNY Albany. It is work that I genuinely enjoy doing, which makes getting up in the morning and coming to the Peabody a whole lot easier. It is always amazing to handle various collections. Doing so has helped me to learn so much more than I ever thought I could about material culture from all over the United States. I know working at the Peabody will help push that knowledge even further. It’s such a great experience to be able to work on a collection from Massachusetts one day, then move to a collection from Ohio or Indiana or even the Yukon the next day.

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.