All posts by Ryan Wheeler

Teaching Human Origins: High School Edition

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Human Origins at Phillips Academy began in 2007 and represented one of the early collaborations between faculty and the Peabody. In its initial incarnation the course was led by Jerry Hagler, science faculty, and co-taught by personnel at the Peabody. The content was strongly interdisciplinary, mirroring the reality of archaeology and anthropology, which draw heavily on science, history, historiography, psychology, and other fields. Three years ago I began leading the course solo, but have endeavored to maintain the strong interdisciplinary flavor. The course is now among those offered by the Academy’s new Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. The course description states:

This interdisciplinary science course uses insights drawn from history, art, archaeology, and other disciplines to chart the human journey from hominid to the first civilizations that forecast the modern world. Hands-on laboratory exercises emphasize use of Peabody Institute of Archaeology collections and challenge students to apply ancient techniques to solve daily problems of survival.

Image of books used in Human Origins course.
The Human Origins bookshelf. These are some of the texts from which class readings are drawn.

In the fast paced world of human evolution, I’ve found it imperative to focus on some of the big questions and issues, rather than on the details, as new finds and discoveries rewrite our evolutionary history nearly monthly. In June 2017 a new discovery in Morocco pushed back the antiquity of modern humans (us!) by nearly 100,000 years and called into question the predominant view that our earliest ancestors first appeared in eastern and southern Africa. We also only have 10 weeks to cover some 7 million years of human evolution, so judicious pruning of the syllabus is necessary.

On the first day of class some students are surprised to learn that we will spend a great deal of time talking about race. When you understand that the scientists who first studied fossil humans were also the scientists that were interested in human diversity this connection becomes clearer. We encounter ideas like polygenesis, which suggests that so-called races today had different evolutionary origins and trajectories. Despite the widespread adherence to the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, polygenism casts a long shadow and continues to crop up in new guises.

Image of Big Foot casts.
Casts of Bigfoot or Sasquatch footprint impressions, Washington State, cast and reconstructed by Dr. Grover Krantz, Professor of Anthropology at Washington State University. Casts from Bone Clones Inc.

Early in the term we tackle pseudoscience and read a chapter from Michael Shermer’s 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things. We get to talk about Big Foot. It was with great reluctance that I dropped a reading from Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero’s 2013 book Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. They review every piece of evidence for the existence of these creatures (and more!), pointing out over and over that scientific inquiry requires falsifiability beyond all else. The importance of falsifiability in science will remain central, but the Loxton and Prothero readings were just too long!

Image of Neanderthal skull cast.
The Peabody’s vintage plaster cast of a Neanderthal from La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France.

We also spend some time talking about Neanderthals, and the incredible shifts in our understanding of one of our closest human relatives. As much as possible I try to have students read things written by the scientists on the front line of human origins research, including Svante Pääbo, who less than ten years ago reconstructed the Neanderthal genome and demonstrated that many of us carry a little Neanderthal DNA, the product of interbreeding between what most scientists had though two separate species.  The recent discovery of an individual from 90,000 years ago that had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father will no doubt be front and center in our discussion. Denisovans are another recently discovered fossil human group that overlapped geographically and temporally with Neanderthals in eastern Europe and Asia. Students presenting on Neanderthals in the popular imagination will explore everything from the GEICO caveman to the Flintstones.

Image of students flint knapping or making stone tools.
Students try their hand at flint knapping in Human Origins, fall 2017.

During our extended periods we will explore a variety of early technologies, from flint knapping to fire making. In order to contextualize these early technologies, students will read some of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he introduces the concept of the “meme.” Many are surprised to find that the term meme, now embedded in the culture of social media, originated with Dawkins as he wrestled with ways to model the origins and transmission of ideas. We discuss innovation versus transmission, and how both are necessary for an idea to persist and spread. Fire and stone tool making are particularly good examples, sparking discussion of the earliest evidence for each and if they were independently invented over and over (and how one might tell).

Image of students using calipers to measure skulls.
Students apply the Giles & Elliot discriminant functions to models of human skulls, a basic forensic technique that is often used to distinguish “race.” We explore why it works, its limitations, and the problems with scientific explorations of race and human diversity.

We revisit race again with an entire week dedicated to readings and discussion of the problematical origin of the concept, and how it melds physical traits with cultural ones. We delve into paleontologist Stephen J. Gould’s campaign against the idea of race as a biological or scientific concept, and how scientists have continued to study race despite Gould’s protests. The focus here is on creating a context for future discussions of race—the cultural construct—versus biological diversity. We’ll tackle the complexities of forensic methods used to distinguish race, why these work so well, and how physical anthropologists struggle with ideas about race. Other lab days visit the Peabody’s collection of fossil human cranial casts, how to read the story of human evolution in one skeleton, and a special trip to the campus Makerspace where we will 3D print a fossil of Homo naledi, a recently discovered fossil human species from South Africa that overlaps with modern humans in space and time and blends ancient and modern characteristics.

Image of student debate.
The NAGPRA debate unfolds in Human Origins, spring 2015. The class is divided into teams, each representing one of the parties in the case of Spirit Cave Man, a 10,600-year old individual found in Nevada. Materials from the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe’s legal battle for the remains are used as primary source material.

The term will finish with some time dedicated to the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), explored through a classroom debate and using the legal documents from the Spirit Cave Man case. The Peabody has been deeply involved in NAGPRA since its implementation in 1990 and it seems appropriate to share this work with students and investigate the arguments on all sides of the repatriation debate.

Stay tuned for updates from this fall’s Human Origins course. Let’s see how new discoveries in the field and lab change our conversations in the classroom!

 

Return of the Etowah Spatulate Celt

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

A spatulate celt originally found at the Etowah site recently returned to the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

Image of spatulate stone celt.
The Etowah spatulate celt, recently returned to the Peabody.

Warren K. Moorehead, then director of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, conducted excavations at the Etowah site near Cartersville, Georgia from 1925 through 1929. He published his results in 1932 as The Etowah Papers, through an arrangement with Yale University Press. A few reprint editions were available in the 1970s and in 2000 the University Press of Florida reprinted that publication as Exploration of the Etowah Site in Georgia: The Etowah Papers. Contemporary scholars have struggled to correlate and interpret Moorehead’s work. For example, writing in their compendium of Southeastern shell gorgets, Brain and Phillips (1996:135) note “many conflicts between the published report, the field notes, and the RSPF catalogue entries, and the artifacts that could be located at the RSPF in Andover, Massachusetts.” Despite the issues with Moorehead’s approach, he recovered many amazing objects and in his publication presented the two prevailing models about the origins of Mississippian imagery.

Moorehead’s Etowah collection has garnered attention over the years, including work to conserve some of the copper specimens (Byers 1962), as well as research into the preserved textiles (by Lucy R. Sibley, clothing and textile specialist from Ohio State University in 1985) and the incredible array of shell gorgets recovered during the project (Brain and Phillips 1996; Muller 1966). For more on Etowah and the history of excavations at site see Adam King (2003a, 2003b).

Black and white image of mounds at Etowah site, circa 1925-1926.
Etowah’s Mound C, probably 1925-26. From nitrate negative 2009.0.1088, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

In 1991 it became clear that objects had been pilfered from the Etowah collection assembled by Moorehead. Then director of the Peabody James Bradley learned that Jan Sorgenfrei of Old Barn Auctions in Findlay, Ohio was offering to sell a shell woodpecker gorget from the collection. The prospective purchaser discovered that the gorget had originated at the Andover Peabody and that there was no evidence that the object had been legally traded, transferred, or sold into private hands. Bradley worked with local law enforcement and the FBI to recover the shell gorget, which served for a time as the museum’s logo (see Figure 31 in Moorehead 1932). Dr. Arthur Cushman, the prospective buyer, generously agreed to pay Sorgenfrei for the gorget and donate it back to the museum (Britton 1992). Bradley suspected that other objects from the Etowah collection also were missing.

Such thefts are not unknown. Art crimes in general have garnered more and more attention, beginning with the high-profile theft of paintings from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston and continuing with the wholesale looting of European and Near Eastern sites, often to fund terrorism. In terms of other objects like the Etowah collection, thefts of southeastern Native American pottery occurred in 1974 at the Kolomoki site museum in Georgia (see Georgia Department of Community Affairs website 2006) and, in 1980, at the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository at Moundville in Alabama (see Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama website 2003). A few of the objects from Kolomoki have been recovered, but the majority of the Kolomoki and Moundville vessels remain at large. No arrests have been made in either theft.

Museum records and information provided by the late Eugene C. Winter Jr., volunteer and longtime friend of the Peabody, documents at least one known theft. The thefts included the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology as we were then known. Mr. McLaughlin had systematically removed catalog numbers from artifacts. The large number of bifaces and other objects recovered from his parent’s home were divided among the institutions involved since it was impossible to positively identify the bulk of the objects. Both Winter and Bradley suspected that other thefts had gone undetected. In 2005, collector Kurt Spurr returned a number of Maine stone gouges and chipped stone artifacts that he had purchased from Jan Sorgenfrei. The Etowah and Maine recoveries suggest that there were multiple thefts, since those objects retained their catalog numbers, while McLaughlin removed numbers from the objects that he took.

At the beginning of January 2018 I entered into correspondence with Mr. Thomas Rachels of Cordele, Georgia. Mr. Rachels had purchased a spatulate celt at a private sale and was researching the piece, which was reputed to be from Warren Moorehead’s investigation of Etowah. In fact, someone had written “Etowah” on the artifact. Figure 50c in The Etowah Papers seemed to match the artifact and a partial catalog number was written in India ink on the side of the piece. Mr. Rachels wrote and asked if we had any paperwork on the artifact, including documents indicating that the celt had been deaccessioned from the Peabody. I located an archival image of the artifact in question and consulted our original ledger books. Object # 61783 was described as “a beautiful spatulate ceremonial.” There was no indication that the object had been deaccessioned. We searched the collection and found no object bearing this catalog number. I inquired about the celt’s provenance, and Mr. Rachels shared the name of the seller and that of the late Jan Sorgenfrei, who had been in possession of the celt at some time in the past.

Upon learning about Mr. Sorgenfrei’s involvement, I contacted the Andover Police Department to seek advice about how to proceed. I also shared with Mr. Rachels that I believed the artifact had been stolen, perhaps in the 1970s or 1980s, when security was lax. Mr. Rachels immediately decided that the piece should be returned to the Peabody. The local law enforcement and FBI art crimes division personnel agreed that Mr. Rachels had not been involved in the theft and had purchased the celt in good faith. They encouraged us to work with Mr. Rachels on the amicable return of the object. At that point Mr. Rachels and I began to work on an agreement for the celt’s return. We ultimately offered Mr. Rachels a $2,500 reward and completed an IRS form 8283, covering the donation of art objects valued in excess of $5,000. The celt was returned on March 2, 2018.

Brain and Phillips (1996:140, 377-379) provide a brief discussion and preliminary chronology of this rare, though widely-distributed artifact type. They note that these artifacts have a short poll and broad bit, often exhibiting a biconically drilled perforation. Other authors suggest that lack of use wear, specialized manufacture, exotic materials, and mortuary associations make these elaborate weapons markers of social status (see, for example, Mainfort et al. 2006). Hally (2008:561) suggests that spatulate celts were markers of an achieved war honor or perhaps even the marker for town war chief. The Etowah example is particularly important, since, as Brain and Phillips (1996:14) note, this is the only site that exhibits the complete range of their proposed chronological sequence; the example discussed here is considered a late form.

We spent four months completely inventorying the Etowah collection and checking our holdings against Moorehead’s original artifact ledger entries. This was complicated. We faced many of the issues raised by Brain and Phillips (1996), including some objects that were not given catalog numbers, some with duplicate numbers, and other objects that were re-cataloged in the 1950s and 1990s and have multiple numbers. At this point we are certain that the following objects are missing:

Image of Etowah monolithic celt of blue limestone.

  • Monolithic ax (Ga-Brt-E63 in Brain and Phillips 1996:141; Moorehead 1932:82 and 100).

Image of shell gorget with dancing birdman figure.

  • Big Toco style shell gorget (Ga-Brt-E8 in Brain and Phillips 1996:45, 141, 418; Moorehead 1932:51 and 54).

Image of shell gorget with stylized rattlesnake design engraved on surface.

  • Citico style shell gorget (Ga-Mu-LE12 in Brain and Phillips 1996:97, 195, and 426; Moorehead 1932:153) from the nearby Little Egypt site.

61770

  • Canoe or basket-shaped ceramic pipe (see Moorehead 1932:Figure 62a).
  • Three shell gorgets, never previously illustrated. The specimen in color is from Etowah, the two in black-and-white are from the Little Egypt site.

We anticipate that the FBI will list these and any other missing objects in their art loss database.

It also is worth noting that the pertinent laws and legal process for recovering stolen artifacts, like those from the Peabody Etowah collection, are not immediately clear. Stealing such items is a violation of both state and federal law. For example, the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) provides additional federal penalties for artifact crimes covered under state law. When so much time elapsed, however, and those involved in the initial theft are deceased, unknown, or outside the statute of limitations, what recourse does an institution have? Possession of stolen property is an offense, but law enforcement may be unwilling to penalize those who have unknowingly purchased or obtained stolen artifacts. Much of the case law revolves around recovery of art that was stolen or disposed of under duress during the Nazi regime in 1930s and 1940s Europe. Now, museums have obtained this artwork, either through gifts, bequests, or purchase. Heirs are interested in recovering the artwork, while museums want to retain valuable parts of their collections. Several legal theories are at play, including the efforts made by former owners and heirs to recover the art.

We are grateful to Mr. Rachels for returning the Etowah spatulate celt. We are hopeful that other collectors will come forward with other objects from the Peabody collection, especially those from Etowah and Little Egypt. We look forward to working with the folks who have these objects in the same spirit of cooperation most recently exhibited in the return of the Etowah spatulate celt. If you have information on the whereabouts of objects from our collection, please contact me and know that our objective is to restore our significant museum collection.

To learn more about the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology visit us on the Web or see our online collections website.

A version of this story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Horizon & Tradition: The Newsletter of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference. I’m grateful to SEAC editor Sarah Bennett for publishing this account and helping to spread the work about stolen artifacts.

References Cited

Anonymous. 2013 In Memoriam: Jan Sorgenfrei, Old Barn Auction owner, 70. Electronic resource, https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/people/in-memoriam-jan-sorgenfrei-old-barn-auction-owner-70/, accessed March 20, 2018.

Bean, Linda. 1988 Phillips Pair Helped Nab Thief. Eagle-Tribune, Sunday, June 12, 1988. Pages A1, A7. North Andover, MA.

Blustain, Malinda Stafford, and Ryan Wheeler. 2018 Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Brain, Jeffrey P., and Philip Phillips. 1996 Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast. Peabody Museum Press, Harvard University, Cambridge.

Britton, Sharron. 1992 Honest Man Made Their Day. Boston Globe (regional edition), Sunday, December 27, 1992, pages 1, 4.

Byers, Douglas S. 1962 The Restoration and Preservation of Some Objects from Etowah. American Antiquity 28(2):206-216.

Foley, Michael. 1988 Phillips Artifacts in $1 Million Haul. Eagle-Tribune, Thursday, June 9, 1988. North Andover, MA.

Georgia Department of Community Affairs. 2006 Electronic document http://www.georgiaplanning.com/history/kolomoki/ accessed March 26, 2018.

Hally, David J. 2008 King: The Social Archaeology of a Late Mississippian Town in Northwestern Georgia. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

King, Adam. 2003a Etowah: The Political History of a Chiefdom Capital. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

_______. 2003b Over a Century of Explorations at Etowah. Journal of Archaeological Research 11(4):279-306.

Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., Rita Fisher-Carroll, and Daniel G. Gall. 2006 Sociotechnic Celts from the Upper Nodena Site, Northeast Arkansas. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 31(2):323-343.

Moorehead, Warren K. 1932 The Etowah Papers. Yale University Press, New Haven.

______. 2000 Exploration of the Etowah Site in Georgia: The Etowah Papers, with an introduction by Frank T. Schnell. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Muller, Jon D. 1966 An Experimental Theory of Stylistic Analysis. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge.

Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama. 2003 Electronic resource http://museums.ua.edu/oas/stolenartifacts/ accessed March 26, 2018.

Born of Fire

Contributed by Barbara Callahan*

To the uninformed, the Peabody Institute of Archaeology is just a building on  the Phillips Academy campus that houses old artifacts and sherds of pottery from long ago archaeological expeditions. They would be very mistaken! The Peabody provides incredible academic enrichment opportunities to the student body across all disciplines.

In a unique approach to education, the Peabody collections are used to demonstrate the practical applications of history, language, mathematics, science and sociology.  This year celebrates the fifth year the Peabody has arranged for pottery artists from the Pueblo of Jemez to come to campus to work with students.

In collaboration with Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes the potters spent the week working with 48 students teaching the ancient techniques of transforming clay into pottery. I had the rare opportunity to not only observe these artists work with the students, but to actually work with them myself. Maxine, Dominique and Mia worked with students individually on both shape and decorative painting to create unique pieces of art.

Image of Pueblo potters Dominique and Mia Toya working with a high school student.
Dominique Toya (left) and Mia Toya (right) work with a student.

Glazing is not used in Pueblo pottery. Any glossy surfaces are achieved by polishing the area with smooth stones. The process is delicate and time consuming and if you mess up, as one student found out, the Potters would show you how to fix the problem – sand it all off and start again!

Image of Pueblo potter Maxine Toya showing a student how to polish a red slipped pot.
Maxine Toya demonstrates how to polish the red slip.

Dominique, Mia and their mother, Maxine Toya come from a multi-generational family tradition of Pueblo Potters. Each is known for their unique style, Dominique for her mellon designs, Mia for her signature butterfly designs and Maxine for her animals and figures. Their work is highly collectible and sought after. Nancy Youngblood, another prominent Pueblo potter, has joined them the last three years. These four ladies are the “Super Stars” in the Native American world of ceramic art.

When speaking with the Potters, one theme stood out. They love bringing the ancient methods to this generation to instill a knowledge of their culture and heritage. They each spoke of how polite the Andover students were as well as the appreciation shown to them by each student for the opportunity to learn this ancient art form.

Image of pottery firing.
Students look on as Dominique tends the fire.

The culmination of each of their visits is the “firing.” They still use the ancient method of firing the pottery outdoors, which usually draws a large crowd. A huge bonfire is built to bake all the pieces the classes have created. The end result brings pride and a sense of accomplishment to both students and teachers alike.

Image of Pueblo potters with ceramics instructor and blog author.
From left to right: Maxine Toya, Thayer Zaeder, Mia Toya, Ward Weppa, Barbara Callahan, and Dominique Toya.
Image of soot covered vessels post firing.
Vessels as they emerge from the fire.

*Guest contributor Barbara Callahan is Secretary of the Peabody Advisory Committee. She and her husband Les Callahan (Phillips Academy Class of 1968) provided the generous support for the Pueblo Potters program in 2017 and 2018.

New Acquisition

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We are delighted to share this recent acquisition, a contemporary painted vessel made by Jason Garcia. Garcia (Okuu Pin) is a talented ceramic artist from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico known for his mix of traditional materials and methods with pop culture. This piece explores the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 through the media of traditionally built pottery and painting in the style of comic books or graphic novels.

Image of Jason Garcia's Pueblo Revolt 1680 ceramic vessel, with brightly painted, comic-book style figures of Po'Pay and Spanish soldiers.

Here Garcia illustrates a dynamic struggle between Tewa religious leader Po’Pay and Spanish soldiers. Po’Pay, from Ohkay Owingeh (also called San Juan Pueblo), is depicted in the style of a comic book superhero. He rose to prominence in 1675 after his imprisonment at the hands of the Spanish colonial government. After his release he planned the successful ouster of the Spanish from New Mexico, carefully orchestrating the insurgency across diverse linguistic, geographic, and cultural lines. The Spanish returned in 1692, but Po’Pay and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 remain significant, though little-known in American history. We work with several Phillips Academy instructors in history and social science to introduce their students to the Pueblo Revolt, which some scholars have suggested provided a template for the American Revolution some one-hundred years later.

 

Birdstones

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We were fortunate to receive a generous gift from Phillips Academy trustee and Peabody Advisory Committee member Peter T. Hetzler MD, FACS (Class of 1972) in December 2017 that allowed us to purchase several important books to add to our library.

One of these is the very rare, privately published volume Birdstones of the North American Indian by Earl C. Townsend, Jr. Published in 1959, Townsend’s book was limited to 700 copies. A reprint edition was released in 2003 by Steven Hart, but these are also scarce and hard to find. Both the original edition and the reprint can be quite expensive, if you are lucky enough to find one. Townsend (1914-2007) was an attorney and founding member of the Indiana Archaeological Society, as well as an avid collector of Native American artifacts, cars, and artwork. According to Townsend’s obituary, he was honored by the Black River-Swan Creek Saginaw Chippewa Tribe with the name Senee Pen Eshee Na Na, meaning “Birdstone Man.”

Image from the Townsend Birdstones book showing a color plate.
One of the color plates in Townsend’s Birdstones book, showing some of the variations in color and material found among this artifact type.

Townsend’s preface begins with a reference to Warren Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator, who “spoke of the need for specialized volumes, each devoted to one particular form of prehistoric North American Indian relic.” Moorehead insisted that the province of archaeologists was the study of material culture and he urged his contemporaries to abandoned reconnaissance and site survey that were becoming more common in the first quarter of the twentieth century and hunker down on description and classification of artifacts. Moorehead published at least three volumes that highlighted objects, mostly those held by artifact collectors. His most expansive was the 1910 two volume The Stone Age in North America. Moorehead also published more detailed studies of particular artifact types, like his 1906 The So-Called “Gorgets,” an early bulletin of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, and his 1899 The Bird-stone Ceremonial.

Image of a large pop-eyed birdstone from the Peabody Institute collection.
A magnificent example of a pop-eyed birdstone in banded slate, Warren County, Ohio.

Townsend’s 719-page book is nothing short of monumental, and depicts thousands of birdstones from public and private collections. He also covers the ideas about what these objects are, which are myriad and diverse, as well as how they were made, distribution patterns, cultural affiliations, and fraudulent specimens.

Image of birdstones.
A selection of birdstones from the Peabody Institute collection. Note that some are broken and repaired.

So, what is a birdstone? As Townsend notes, this is not an easy question to answer, since there is no clear agreement on how they were used in antiquity. In terms of form, birdstones are often described as highly stylized depictions of birds. A variety of distinct forms are all described in detail by Townsend. The virtuosity of manufacture, incredible symmetry, and sculptural quality have often elicited comparison with modern art. Sizes range from an inch or two to larger examples that are five or six inches in length. A common feature is the presence of bi-conically drilled holes, one at either end of the birdstone’s base. These holes are often the site of breakage and repair. Most birdstones are made of banded slate, especially the greenish-gray banded Huronian variety, but other stones were used as well, including porphyry. Many have projecting eyes or ears. Few if any have come from secure archaeological contexts and most are known as field finds. Townsend’s distribution map indicates that the vast majority of birdstones in his sample come from areas around the southern margins of the Great Lakes, especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Ontario. Cultural affiliations of birdstones vary across this area and include a number of Late Archaic and Early Woodland cultures like Glacial Kame and Red Ochre, circa 1500-500 BCE.

Image of a large birdstone preform showing an early stage of manufacturing birdstones.
A birdstone preform, showing one stage in the manufacture process.

Townsend does a nice job of summarizing the diverse opinions on birdstones. The ideas range from Charles C. Abbott’s notion that they were worn as hair ornaments by women during maternity to use as a spear thrower (atlatl) counterweight. Other ideas include attachment to flutes or similar musical instruments, game pieces, hair or clothing ornaments, staff mounted religious symbols, and atlatl handle grips (Townsend’s preferred idea). Considering the diversity of forms, it seems likely that different styles were used in different ways and there are probably layers of meaning that we are unable to detect. Many contemporary archaeologists have accepted that birdstones are, in fact, associated with atlatls or spear throwers (for example, this is how they are described by David Penney in his essay on Archaic art in the 1985 exhibit catalog Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians). Many articles about birdstones have been added to the literature since the 1959 publication of Townsend’s book, often proposing new ideas or offering further support or evidence for an existing hypothesis.

We were particularly excited to acquire a copy of Townsend’s Birdstones because the Peabody collections contain many examples of this enigmatic and interesting artifact. Only a few, however, are illustrated in Townsend’s book, including two from Ohio that had been salvaged after breakage (see Townsend 1959: Plates 76s and 77h). A few other fine examples from the Peabody are illustrated here.

It’s unlikely that we will unlock the secret of the birdstone anytime soon, however, we are immensely grateful to Peter Hetzler for his generous gift of the Earl Townsend book, which nicely complements our object collection!

Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology: Behind the Book

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

When I joined the staff of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology in July 2012 there was major project underway. At the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, then Peabody director Malinda Stafford Blustain had organized a symposium on the history of our venerable institution. Presentations were made by archaeologists, as well as Phillips Academy faculty members, administrators, and alumni, and covered everything from the scientific contributions and the ups and downs of the Peabody to personal recollections. The major theme of that symposium was conveyed in its title, “Rising from the Ashes: Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology.” In 2002 financial issues and lack of connections with our parent institution, Phillips Academy, came to a head and resulted in a potential shuttering of the Peabody. That didn’t happen, and the 2011 SAA symposium was a celebration and reflection on what can be described as a very unusual place: an archaeology museum situated at a storied New England prep school.

Image of Participants in the 2011 symposium "Rising from the Ashes" at the 2011 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting.
Participants in the 2011 symposium “Rising from the Ashes” at the 2011 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, Sacramento, California.

Malinda had done the Herculean task of procuring drafts of each symposium presentation and recruited Jane Libby, close friend and colleague of former Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, to help with editing. The plan was to edit, design, and print the volume in-house. Linda S. Cordell, Peabody Advisory Committee member and contributor to the volume, had insisted on peer review; reviewers had been identified and were submitting notes to Blustain and Libby. When I joined the team it became clear that there were several challenges. Some of the contributions needed lots of editing, some were very long, there were over 100 photographs planned for inclusion, and, most notably, we possessed no means to warehouse, market, or fulfil orders. In September 2012 Linda Cordell and I discussed the project and I also spoke with Lynn Baca, then editor at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and John Strand, editor for the American Alliance of Museums. We all agreed that the project had lots of merit, but that there were any number of obstacles to overcome. Institutional histories can be tricky to publish, as they often have a limited audience. Our lack of distribution and fulfillment created problems, as did questions of storage. As a part of Phillips Academy, we have no way to set up a bank account or receive payments. It was clear that we needed a publishing partner and that we needed to do some serious editing.

Image of Peabody books on a shelf.
Peabody publications from the 1920s through the 1970s.

Our own history provided a clue. In the 1920s Alfred V. Kidder established a relationship with the Yale University Press. Yale published Kidder’s An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology in 1924 (and it has remained in print since that time). Other volumes in Kidder’s Southwest project also were published by Yale, including studies of Pecos Pueblo artifacts, pottery, and volumes prepared by Carl Guthe, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Earnest Hooten. Warren Moorehead used the Yale press connection to bring out his volumes on Etowah and sites in Arkansas and neighboring areas. Some of these Yale titles are still in print, while others are hard to find, even on Internet book searches. The “blue book” series, developed in the 1930s by the Peabody’s Doug Byers and Frederick Johnson, suffered from many of the same problems that we were facing with the new volume: lack of distribution, marketing, and fulfillment logistics. Despite producing some significant work, most of the printed “blue books” are still stored here in the Peabody attic. We’ve had the bulk of this series digitized and made available via InternetArchive. Scotty MacNeish avoided these issues by partnering with academic presses at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan, which brought out his five-volume Tehuacan and three-volume Ayacucho studies in the 1960s through 1980s. This was clearly the solution!

Image of metal shelves holding blue paper-covered books.
Copies of Peabody “blue books,” so-called because of their blue paper covers, still housed in the attic. Many institutions had similar publication series–and similar challenges.

By the end of 2012 I hired writer and editor Sharon Magnuson to help work on the project. She continued to work on editing through the end of 2016. We were able to return substantive review comments to authors, along with copy-edited versions created by Sharon. In 2013 I had conversation with the kind folks at Harvard’s Peabody Museum Press, who were publishing David L. Browman and Stephen Williams fabulous Anthropology at Harvard: A Biographical History, 1790-1940. There were some discussions about publishing our volume as a companion piece and I prepared a prospectus. Time and other commitments didn’t allow that relationship to go forward, but conversations with Harvard’s Joan O’Donnell helped me think through some of the challenges. One idea that Sharon Magnuson and I tackled was to make some of the personal reflection chapters into much shorter essays or sidebars. This helped focus these pieces, and significantly shortened our page and image count. Sharon’s great editorial eye also helped identity a few other issues, including one massive bibliography that had one chapter tipping the scales at over 80 pages! We put it on a diet.

By September 2015 I felt that the book was in pretty good shape and I was on the hunt for a publisher. Early efforts were a bit discouraging and I was prepared to revisit in-house publishing. Marshall Cloyd, Phillips Academy Class of 1958 and long-time member of the Peabody Advisory Committee gave me a pep talk and encouraged me to keep trying. Archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History was kind enough to help me brainstorm ideas about presses that might be interested. It was clear that we needed an academic press that was publishing histories of archaeology and anthropology. I ultimately sent out at least twenty inquiries. I got a lot of rejections! I did, however, have interest from presses at the University of New Mexico and the University of Nebraska. Editor Matthew Bokovoy at Nebraska thought the book might fit nicely in their Critical Histories of Anthropology series. I supplied the manuscript and waited for reviewer comments and a decision from Matt and series editors Regna Darnell and Stephen Murray.

On July 5, 2016 we had two sets of review comments and positive feedback from the press. I prepared a response to reader’s comments, which was due August 1, 2016. The folks at Nebraska got it—we had an interesting story to tell, one that was often central to the history of American archaeology, but one that also was little known. It was summer 2016 and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do. The editors and the twenty contributors alike had lots of constructive comments to address. We needed to cut back on the figures—we agreed that fifty-five was the right number—and we needed to find a way to reintegrate those sidebars that we had created into the regular chapter structure. By September 2016 we had an agreement with Nebraska and were working away on a final draft, which we submitted in January 2017.

Despite the joy surrounding the completion of the manuscript, we must remember the people that we lost during this journey. Linda S. Cordell (1943-2013), who wrote about Alfred Kidder’s contributions at Pecos Pueblo and pushed for a peer-reviewed volume, died March 29, 2013. Gene Winter (1927-2014), long-time Peabody volunteer and honorary curator, passed on February 24, 2014. Gene brought his tremendous knowledge of New England archaeology and institutional history to the volume and I am so grateful that I was able to sit with him and work on revisions to his co-authored chapter. Most recently the world of archaeology lost another bright light in Brian Robinson (1953-2016). Brian passed on October 27, 2016. He and I had had many discussions about Maine archaeology and our decision to affiliate and repatriate funerary objects from the Nevin site to the Wabanaki tribes. The last conversation we had was about his chapter and some final notes from the copyeditor. Linda, Gene, and Brian were kind, generous, and knowledgeable people who made time for the Robert S. Peabody Museum, shared our values and vision, and helped to make us better. You will be missed.

Over the course of 2017 we got to know many people at the University of Nebraska Press. We worked closely with copyeditor Sally Antrobus, as well as production editor Joeth Zucco, who both brought a lot to the volume. Heather Stauffer answered lots of questions and helped keep us on track. I was happy for the opportunity to meet editor Matthew Bokovoy in early December 2017 at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington DC and share just how professional, encouraging, and kind he and his entire staff had been during the publication process.

Image of galley proofs showing mark up.
Pages from the galley proofs were marked up and returned to the press–this was the last time we saw the book before publication! These pages are from Mary Eubanks’ chapter on Scotty MacNeish and the search for the origins of corn domestication.

Marla Taylor, Peabody curator of collections, Irene Gates, archivist, and Lesley Shahbazian, staff assistant, all contributed to the volume, helping to find, re-find, and re-re-find photographs, providing proper citations for archival materials, and helping to obtain permissions. Their help is greatly appreciated!

One final person deserves a special mention. Dr. Peter Hetzler, Phillips Academy Class of 1972, and member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees and the Peabody Advisory Committee, provided much-needed support for publication of the volume. Archaeologist Jimmy Griffin once used the term “archaeological angel.” I can think of no better way to describe Peter!

Books in cardboard shipping box.
Copies of Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology arrived in early March 2018!

Copies of the published book arrived at my office on March 5, 2018. It’s a beautiful book with some amazing stories. Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology is a testament to what people did here, from Alfred V. Kidder and Warren K. Moorehead to today’s museum professionals, educators, and students. If you’d like a copy they are available directly from the University of Nebraska Press and on Amazon!

 

 

 

 

Containing the Past

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Archaeologists are known as a creative and frugal bunch, and this is evident in the many ingenious ways that we have found to store artifacts and samples from recovery in the field to processing in the lab to long term storage on the museum shelf. Prior to the plastic bag, soil samples were housed in everything from feed sacks to paper bags. Glass food and condiment jars were a great way to keep charcoal samples, especially if you didn’t have a ready supply of tin foil. Metal, and then plastic, 35mm film canisters were highly prized for retaining tiny objects, like beads (the slightly opaque Fuji film canisters allowed a peek at the contents, unlike the black and gray Kodak canisters).

Image of cigar boxes.
A selection of cigar boxes once used to house Peabody Institute collections. Note the site information and catalog numbers visible on some boxes.

Nothing, however, is more ubiquitous for storing artifacts than the classic cigar box. These sturdy wood or cardboard boxes with a built-in hinged lid were highly prized by generations of kids for storing marbles, coins, arrowheads, and other treasures. Perhaps it’s not surprising that as adults these boxes remained as the go-to storage solution. The Canadian Museum of History has a great interactive website about cigar boxes that explores the significance, history, art, and general usefulness of these containers. Much has been written too about cigar box guitars, which apparently go back to at least the 1840s through 1860s when cigars were first being stored and marketed in wooden boxes—see, for example, http://cigarboxguitars.com/about/history.

Image of soil samples from Mexico stored in two large food our sauce jars.
Food or sauce jars used to store soil samples from Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project, 1960s.

The collections of the Peabody Institute are no exception, and vast numbers of stone points, tools, and pottery fragments were once kept in legions of cigar boxes. Most, if not all, our artifacts have been rehoused in cardboard boxes and now we are working on a massive rehousing and cataloging endeavor that will improve our intellectual and physical control over our collections (museum-speak translated as “we will have a better idea what we have and where it is”). Our current strategic plan, developed in 2014 and 2015 identifies this as one of our most important objectives, and one we plan to accomplish in the next few years.

Image of new storage cartons and old wooden storage drawers.
Side by side comparison of new archival storage cartons and older wooden drawers. Peabody collections personnel are transferring the collections to the new boxes with the help of students and volunteers.

There are, however, still a small collection of cigar boxes and other biscuit, cereal, and medicine boxes and tins that were once used to house objects and photographs. Handwritten labels, pasted over the decorative and distinctive cigar box art, identify sites and catalog numbers. A small collection of these boxes has been retained.

Image of 1970s-1980s shoe box with purple and orange mid-century design.
A groovy Zodiac shoe box from the late 1970s or early 1980s once housed a small, woven bag donated by Dorothy Byers. Note the two part accession/catalog number and other notes written on the lid.

A recent effort to address a backlog of objects awaiting cataloging turned up a groovy mid-twentieth century shoebox that contained a woven bag, apparently given to the Peabody by Dorothy Byers, widow of former director Douglas Byers (1903-1978). Byers worked at the Peabody from 1933 until his retirement in 1968, and served as director from 1938 through 1968. Zodiac was a brand of Encore Show Corp. and first debuted in the late 1970s and has had a recent revival. The woven bag—unfortunately bearing little information—has been rehoused and is now in storage. The shoe box is in my office.

The Peabody’s cataloging and rehousing project is made possible through a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring, and the generous support of the Oak River Foundation, and Barbara and Les’ 68 Callahan. For information on how you can contribute to this project, please contact Peabody Institute director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978.749.4490.

Puerto Rican Artifacts at the Peabody

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

A poorly known collection occupying several drawers at the Peabody Institute sheds a little light on the Taíno, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico and neighboring islands who met Christopher Columbus in 1492.

When Columbus landed in Hispaniola the Taíno population was perhaps in the millions and early records estimate that 85 percent of the population had been lost within a few decades. People lived in family groups, with some villages numbering 3,000 people. Native foods like fish, shellfish, birds, lizards, and other small animals augmented agricultural crops of cassava, yams, and other domesticates. A complex and elaborate religion included the worship of spirits called zemis, and like their neighbors in Mesoamerica, the Taíno played a ball game on a rectangular court that they called Batey. Hereditary chiefs and nobles ruled over commoners and slaves. The Taíno, however, soon succumbed to the Spanish conquest, but most of us recognize a handful of loan words in English that can be traced back to the Caribbean, including barbecue (barbacoa) and canoe (canoa).

Image of Ryan Wheeler at the Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site in barrio Caguana, Utuado, Puerto Rico, 2006. The reconstructed ball court is lined with engraved stone slabs.
Ryan Wheeler at the Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site in barrio Caguana, Utuado, Puerto Rico, 2006. The reconstructed ball court is lined with engraved stone slabs.

I got interested in the Taíno in 1999 when as an employee of the Florida State Archaeologist’s Office I conducted an investigation of the Miami Circle site in downtown Miami. Miami is a melting pot of people from Latin America and the Caribbean. Among those I met during my time in Miami were a group of folks from Puerto Rico who considered themselves living members of the Taíno tribe. Like most other archaeologist and anthropologists at that time I had learned that the Taíno were extinct—one of the first victims of European conquest and colonization of the Americas. My new friends shared that they had, however, preserved their language and culture, including many old songs which they were working to pass on to future generations. Over the next few years I met more Taíno people and several tribal members participated in my excavations near Lake Okeechobee in 2000.

A 2011 Smithsonian.com article by Robert M. Poole recounts his search for modern day Taíno in New York and Puerto Rico with surprising results. Like my friends in Miami, many Puerto Ricans acknowledged indigenous ancestry. Many of my archaeologist friends were still skeptical, suggesting that cultural practices were based on ethnohistoric accounts left by the Spanish and that language was being recreated based on Julian Granberry’s 2005 book Languages of the pre-Columbian Antilles. By the early 2000s there were several Taíno groups that asserted cultural affiliation, including the Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken, who were the folks I knew. DNA analysis by Juan C. Martínez-Cruzado—reported in 2003 and 2006—suggests that the archaeologists and anthropologists got it wrong. Based on an island-wide DNA survey, Martinez-Cruzado found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans have Amerindian mitochondrial DNA, 27 percent have African and 12 percent Caucasian. Martinez-Cruzado’s study also pointed to evidence for cultural survivals into modern times, including traditional fishing practices.

So, back to the Peabody collections. Preserved in several drawers are petaloid celts, adornos and sherds from ceramic vessels (many depict animals), three-point stones (also called zemis), and a very heavy stone belt (or yoke) that would have been worn during the ball game. Mela Pons Alegria, in an article in Archaeology magazine, explains that the three-pointed stone zemis “are the oldest and most abundant” form of Taíno art, and evolve from simple triangular carvings to elaborate effigy forms. Flat areas hint that these may have been attached to handles or staffs. We have little catalog information, but it appears that the collection was a gift from Eugene M. Verges. A little poking around on genealogical sites shows that Eugene Marcelin Verges II was born in 1889 in Arroyo, Puerto Rico and was a student at Phillips Academy in 1907—he’s listed in the catalog as being from Wellesley, Mass.—he died in 1970. Verges’ father was engaged in the sugar business and it seems likely that the Peabody collections from Puerto Rico were made by the Verges family and gifted to us in the first part of the twentieth century.

NAGPRA, Repatriation, and the Peabody

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush (Phillips Academy Class of 1942) signed into law the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The passage of NAGPRA signaled a major shift in the relationship between Native Americans and museums, requiring that the latter inventory collections and identify human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony and contact the appropriate tribal groups to arrange repatriation. For tribal peoples this represented major human rights legislation.

Former Peabody director James Bradley and repatriation coordinator Leah Rosenmeier embraced the new law and worked diligently through the 1990s and into the early 2000s to identify NAGPRA collections, to determine tribal affiliations, and to ensure timely repatriation. Much of the focus during this time was on human remains and associated funerary objects. Major consultations include those that involved Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo in the early twentieth century, Warren Moorehead’s excavations at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia, and excavations at sites in Maine.

Today the Peabody continues its commitment to working with tribes and indigenous peoples to ensure that ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are repatriated in a respectful and timely fashion. Much work has been done and much remains to be done.

The Peabody supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is committed to the repatriation provisions outlined in that document. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly affirms that indigenous people have a right to repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains.

We look forward to hearing from the representatives of tribes in the United States or indigenous groups abroad to answer questions, to schedule visits to view collections, to receive guidance on care and storage of collections, or to begin the consultation process. We also are happy to discuss NAGPRA and repatriation with staff members from other institutions. Please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493) to begin a conversation today.

Homo naledi and 3D printing

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the announcement of Homo naledi’s discovery in 2015, this South African fossil hominin has made an appearance in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught at the Peabody and offered as a senior science elective by Phillips Academy.

Over 100 specimens of Homo naledi have been scanned and made available via Duke University’s MorphoSource website. This represents unprecedented access to the fossils. Typically, we rely on older casts (our plaster casts from Wenner-Gren’s twentieth century casting program have become quite fragile!) or models made from photos and measurements.

Image of Homo naledi hand from Morphosource website.
Reconstruction of Homo naledi hand from MorphoSource website.

Last year in Human Origins Phillips Academy Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner helped us 3D print Homo naledi’s femur, which includes some unusual features, including a distinct sulcus or furrow on the femoral neck that is not known in other hominins. Students and instructor alike puzzled over the femur, and compared it to other casts and models in the Peabody collection.

This year Ms. Wessner was kind enough to host us again and discuss different types of 3D scanning and printing and help us think how these might be useful in paleoanthropology and physical anthropology.

Image of students and Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner with 3D print of Homo naledi hand.
Human Origins students look on as Claudia Wessner prepares the resin print of Homo naledi’s hand for a bath in alcohol.

Instead of the femur, we chose to do a 3D print of Homo naledi’s hand, also available via the MorphoSource website. We were treated to side by side 3D prints using the Makerspace’s filament and resin printers. While the prints with the filament printer were interesting, the resin print is at a level comparable with a cast or model, in terms of finish and detail. Lee Berger and his colleagues, involved in discovery and study of Homo naledi, have pointed out that the hand is quite similar to that of a modern human, but also has curved bones likely related to tree climbing. Students in Human Origins 2017 got a chance to see Homo naledi’s hand up close and compare with bones of a modern human, noting the similarities and differences.

Image of resin 3D hand print.
Resin 3D hand print.

In the intervening months between the 2016 and 2017 Human Origins classes we’ve learned a lot more about Homo naledi. Lee Berger’s book, Almost Human, was published, adding lots of exciting details to the discovery and quest to date the remains, and perhaps most important, we now understand the dating of the fossils. In May 2017 we learned that Homo naledi dates between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, making them a cousin, rather than great-grandparent of modern humans. It is fascinating to imagine, however, that a hominin that combined aspects of Australopithecines and much more modern features existed around the same time as the earliest anatomically modern humans.

Image with comparison of four hands: from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.
Comparison of hands, from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.

An end of the term assignment, Human Origins in the News, asks students to find recent and relevant news stories and share them with the class. One story—from September 2017—reports on new fossils found at the Rising Star Cave system. Also members of the new genus and species, these fossils may help understand how Homo naledi accessed the cave and if they were being interred there.

Beyond the classroom, Homo naledi inspired some excitement in one of the seniors who took the course in 2016. I was delighted when she wrote to me in May 2017 to report that Lee Berger’s Almost Human book was out–she had pre-ordered on Amazon and her copy had arrived. A few months later she had a chance to hear Dr Berger deliver a lecture on Homo naledi at the Chautauqua Institute in New York.