Busman’s Holiday: The Scottish Crannog Centre

If you’ve ever wondered what museum archaeologists do on vacation, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. As you may have guessed the tropical destinations and theme parks are typically bypassed for museums and archaeological sites. This was true on a recent vacation to Scotland, which featured everything from kitschy shops on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to breathtaking vistas in Glencoe. But, for the archaeologist, the real highlight was a visit to the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay in Perthshire.

Image of thatched pile dwelling reconstruction at Scottish Crannog Centre.
Replica crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre, log boat in the foreground.

So, what’s a “crannog?”  A crannog is an Iron Age pile dwelling, and it turns out that they are quite common in Scotland. At least 347 are recorded in Scotland and more are known in Ireland. Each crannog varies based on local environment and geomorphology, but they are commonly made of wooden timbers set in the lake bed and surmounted by a thatch dwelling. A narrow boardwalk provides a connection to the shore. The crannogs were built and occupied by Iron Age families (and their livestock) some 5,000 years ago. Accumulation of debris under and around the crannogs resulted in artificial islands. Many of these remained in use for a considerable time after the Iron Age, and we even had lunch in a restaurant built on a crannog in Fort William.

Image of dyed materials in a range of colors, all made with Iron Age pigments and processes.
Iron Age dyes replicated at the Scottish Crannog Centre.

The Crannog Centre in Perthshire is a living history museum with an active program of experimental archaeology and hands-on activities for visitors. A highlight is a reconstructed crannog based exactly on archaeological remains located nearby. Construction and repair of the replica crannog, and experiments to recreate ancient foods, tools, and clothes have provided considerable insight into the lives of Iron Age peoples. The interpreters did an outstanding job of explaining what is known and not known about crannogs. We got a sense of what the bustling lake must have been like 5,000 years ago as people tended crops and livestock, created tools and ornaments, cooked and ate their meals, and were entertained by traveling bards. Fragments of a musical instrument, traced to the Iberian Peninsula, provided some clues about connections during the Iron Age. Our guide Jason was a specialist in recreation of Iron Age textiles and shared some of his work in dyeing, spinning, and weaving. We were also treated to a fire-making demonstration, ancient pottery making, and replica log boats.

 

Since the water in Loch Tay was relatively calm that day we were invited to take out one of the modern replica log boats. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a paddle, but I was delighted to learn that a 3,000-year-old log boat had been located adjacent to the reconstructed crannog. We had seen examples of these craft in both the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh. They share a lot with Native American dugout canoes, though the Scottish examples have a plank inset in the stern, creating a distinctive flat transom. And, of course, they are carved with iron tools rather than hollowed by fire.

Image of artifacts, including carved wooded ladles, bowls, and other shapes.
Anaerobic conditions at the crannog preserve wooden artifacts, seeds and nuts, as well as the more typical stone tools found at terrestrial archaeological sites.

So along with Scotland’s castles, sweeping vistas, great food, friendly people, and the occasional bagpiper, we had a real treat at the Crannog Centre. Next time: paddling one of their log boats!

New Acquisition: Toya Collaborative Pottery

The Peabody Institute is pleased to share our latest acquisition, a piece of pottery made by Dominique and Maxine Toya, Pueblo of Jemez. Dominique and her mom Maxine have had a long relationship with the Peabody, first visiting campus in 2014 to share their work in the world of Native American art. Since then they have visited campus in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and plan on returning in fall 2019 to conduct a week-long seminar with students in Thayer Zaeder’s studio pottery classes. We have been lucky to work with Mia Toya, Dominique’s sister, and friend Nancy Youngblood from Santa Clara Pueblo.

Dominique is a 5th generation potter, who combines traditional forms, materials, and methods with exciting innovations in decoration and design. We have two of Dominique’s melon swirl vessels with micaceous slip, courtesy of Marshall Cloyd (PA Class of 1958). Dominique has won numerous awards, including Best of Classification at the Heard Indian Market (2008); Best of Classification at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (2009), Best of Show at the Eiteljorg Indian market in Indianapolis in for a collaboration with Jody Naranjo (2010); and numerous distinctions at the Santa Fe Indian Market; Dominque is currently vice chair of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, host of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Maxine is a talented artist and educator as well, specializing in hand-painted figurines. She studied with Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Three pottery figures and vessels, including painted owl figurine, the collaborative piece by Dominique and Maxine, and a swirl pot by Dominique.
Owl figurine made by Maxine Toya (left); collaborative pottery, Dominique and Maxine Toya (center); micaceous swirl bottle by Dominique Toya.

Dominique and Maxine have recently begun to combine their talents, with Dominique contributing her beautiful vessels and Maxine painting them with human and animal figures. This piece, like all of their creations, is made from local New Mexican materials, hand decorated and polished, and open fired.

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.

The Toya pottery collaboration is thanks to a generous gift from Barbara and Les Callahan (PA Class of 1968). Many thanks Barb and Les for this beautiful addition to our collection!

Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms

In April the University Press of Florida published Iconography and Wetsite Archaeology of Florida’s Watery Realms, my new book, co-edited with Oxford’s Joanna Ostapkowicz. Watery Realms highlights current research on sites and artifacts preserved in anaerobic environments throughout Florida. This blog reproduces some of the book’s first chapter, which recounts the origins of the volume and some of the exciting research presented.

Image of presenters at the 2016 Society for American Archaeology symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes with Barbara A. Purdy. From left: Joanna Ostapkowicz, Dan Seinfeld, Bill Marquardt, Michael Faught, Julia Duggins, Karen Jo Walker, Phyllis Kolianos, Steven Koski, Barbara Purdy, Jim Knight, and Ryan Wheeler.
Presenters at the 2016 Society for American Archaeology symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes with Barbara A. Purdy. From left: Joanna Ostapkowicz, Dan Seinfeld, Bill Marquardt, Michael Faught, Julia Duggins, Karen Jo Walker, Phyllis Kolianos, Steven Koski, Barbara Purdy, Jim Knight, and Ryan Wheeler.

The book grew out of the symposium The Archaeology, Art, and Iconography of Florida’s Watery Landscapes that we organized at the 81st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in Orlando, Florida, not terribly far from some of the amazing sites being discussed. By coincidence, the icon of the 2016 SAA meeting was the Hontoon/Thursby owl, which was the focus of our conference presentation and recent study. This made the venue doubly relevant in highlighting the importance of Florida wetland archaeology. As the session grew into the Watery Realms book, it expanded to include other contributors and has inspired new collaborations. A generous grant from the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences helped underwrite the symposium and ensure that presenters from graduate programs, government agencies, cultural resource management firms, universities, and museums were able to attend. William Marquardt, a co-presenter on the wetsite resources of the Pineland site with Karen Jo Walker, volunteered to write a chapter for the book on the interesting corpus of wooden anthropomorphic figurines from southern Florida. Rick Schulting, who was involved in the strontium isotope analysis of the Hontoon/Thursby carvings in our study, linked with Julia Duggins over ways to test her ideas about Florida canoes and watersheds, a project that secured a Wenner-Gren Foundation grant. Plans for future collaborations on the anthropomorphic figurines and Key Marco material are also under way. Our discussants Jim Knight and Lee Newsom pointed out many of the ways the presenters could connect their work and explore Florida’s wetsite art.

Archaeologists Christine Newman and Ray McGee excavating the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site, 2000.
Archaeologists Christine Newman and Ray McGee excavating the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site, 2000. Dugout canoes like these figure prominently in the Watery Realms book.

The idea for the symposium emerged through a rather circuitous route. It began at the SAA’s 78th annual meeting in Hawaii, where I first meet Joanna Ostapkowicz. We were participants in a general session called By Design: Iconography in Social and Cosmological Negotiations, which included an interesting array of papers on everything from Dorset art to Egyptian textiles. Our papers contributed to enlarging the geographical scope to Florida (Wheeler: “Thinking about Animals in Ancient Florida”) and the Caribbean (Ostapkowicz: “The Sculptural Legacy of the Jamaican Taino”). Before and after the session we talked about how many iconographic wood carvings were known from Florida, from Key Marco to Fort Center and everything in between. Joanna suggested that the techniques she had been using with Caribbean wood carvings might have interesting applications in Florida. Many of the Caribbean pieces had traces of pigments and adhesives that were modified over relatively long periods of time. Some of this could be understood with a combination of microscopic examination and AMS dating. She also suggested that it might be possible to use isotopic analysis to understand the origin of a piece and how it could have been moved during its use life. In responding to slides in Ryan’s presentation, Joanna said something that was intriguing, namely that none of the carvings bore much similarity to Caribbean pieces, the potential connections between these geographically close areas remaining a hotly debated topic in some circles of Florida archaeology. We agreed to collaborate and decided that the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings would be a good pilot study. We secured a National Environment Research Council (UK) grant to undertake AMS radiocarbon dating on the four sculptures. The results of that collaboration are explored in Chapter 9 of Watery Realms and in our recent article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. During our field trip to visit the Hontoon/Thursby and Tomoka carvings, we linked with many colleagues who are doing research on Florida’s wetsites, both collections-based study and reanalysis, and learned of new discoveries. After canvassing people about their work and interest, we decided to organize the SAA symposium.

Two images of archaeologist Barbara Purdy: Barbara Purdy during excavations at Hontoon Island, 1980 (left) and revisiting the Container Corporation of America site in Marion County, Florida, in 2017.
Barbara Purdy during excavations at Hontoon Island, 1980 (left) and revisiting the Container Corporation of America site in Marion County, Florida, in 2017. Courtesy of Barbara A. Purdy.

That is not really the whole story, however, as there was another person in the audience of our symposium who deserves a lot of credit for modern studies of Florida’s wetsites, wooden artifacts, and iconography. Nearly all of the presenters that day mentioned Barbara Purdy, professor emerita of the University of Florida. She led a statewide investigation of dugout canoe finds from the 1970s until her retirement in 1992, maintaining extensive files and documentation on hundreds of canoes. She also led excavations at Hontoon Island in the 1980s to probe the wetsite deposits there, followed by a project at Lake Monroe, where I had my first taste of wetsite archaeology as a graduate student in the 1990s. In fact, I tracked down several canoes with Purdy and fellow grad student Ray McGee in the early 1990s; this work prefigured my involvement in the Lake Pithlachocco canoe site some ten years later. In 1991, Purdy published a compendium of Florida’s wetsites in Art and Archaeology of Florida’s Wetlands, building on her statewide survey of wetsites in 1981. That book was followed by Indian Art of Ancient Florida, a survey of Florida’s American Indian art with photographer and curator Roy Craven. It is most appropriate that the Watery Realms book is dedicated to Barbara Purdy, a pioneer of Florida’s wetsite archaeology and studies of wooden artifacts and carvings. Purdy encouraged an appreciation of canoes as fascinating artifacts in their own right that embody information about past lifeways and deserve care and study. Purdy organized and hosted several international wetsite conferences that resulted in important proceedings on the subject and created a community of scholars dedicated to the documentation and preservations of wetsite artifacts. She has continued to advocate for more recognition for Florida wetsites. Archaeologists still avoid damp and low areas during surveys and seldom think about intentional prospecting for these important sites. That is changing, however, largely due to her work, which introduced many of us as students and professionals to the hidden world of wetsite archaeology.

Image of Hontoon Island owl carving.
The Hontoon Island owl carving displayed at the Florida State Museum (now Florida Museum of Natural History), shortly after it was found in the St. Johns River, circa 1955. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 13 May. 2019.

The rest of Chapter 1 introduces the environment of Florida and gives a brief overview of the other eight chapters, as well as some thoughts about major themes covered in the book and prevalent in wetsite archaeology. Copies are available from Amazon.com and directly from the University of Press of Florida.

#SAA2019 #MeToo

This time of year usually sees a blog post about our attendance at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The meetings are held in late March or April and attract thousands of archaeologists from around the world who share their research, connect with old friends, buy books in the exhibit hall, and generally revel in our discipline. The Peabody and Phillips Academy have a long history with the SAA and its annual meeting. The first ever annual meeting of the Society was held at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Doug Byers, the long-time director of the Peabody, served as the editor of American Antiquity, the Society’s flagship publication. Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was president of SAA.

Image of human hand petroglyphs carved on dark volcanic rock at Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico.
Petroglyphs at Piedras Marcados Canyon, part of Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Ryan Wheeler, April 12, 2019.

Peabody personnel have continued to be involved with SAA. Staff members and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee regularly present papers and posters in the annual meeting sessions. Since 2017 we have had a booth in the annual meeting’s exhibit hall to promote the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award, our book Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, the Journal of Archaeology & Education, and generally network with folks in attendance. This year’s meeting was much the same, with lots of comradery with old and new friends, some great New Mexican cuisine, sightseeing at Petroglyph National Monument, and a visit to Albuquerque’s Red Planet Comics, a Native American-owned comic book store.

The difference this year, however, was that our discipline and the Society for American Archaeology have run headlong into issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that have garnered headlines everywhere from the film industry to tech and science sectors, often under the umbrella of #MeToo. These issues have been prevalent in archaeology for decades, and two of the papers in the session that I participated in, Sins of Our Ancestors (and of Ourselves), highlighted the contributions of women in museums and archaeology, and how their voices have often been excluded, their work co-opted, or their names simply excised or omitted from the record.

Image of name tag and program book from SAA conference.
Name tag and program book from the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Shortly before the Society’s annual meeting this year news circulated about a Title IX investigation of a prominent archaeologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. According to news stories published at the end of March 2019, the Title IX investigation into sexual discrimination and sexual harassment found accusations from nine women all credible. The professor was denied emeritus status, and students and faculty were advised to alert authorities if the professor was encountered on campus. This professor apparently registered for the SAA annual meeting on-site. Not long after this, at least three survivors encountered him at the conference and reported his presence to the meeting organizers. Michael Balter, a journalist who has reported on #MeToo in science and who was at the conference for a session on this topic, also reported the individual’s presence and ultimately escorted the professor out of the meetings. He, however, returned later.

While the above is troubling, it’s only the beginning of the story. The current furor in archaeology centers on the Society for American Archaeology’s response to what happened at the meeting. The initial response was sluggish at best and often misguided. Michael Balter, the journalist who ejected the professor, was himself kicked out of the conference by the meeting organizers. Ultimately, over 2,300 people (many SAA members) signed an open letter to the Society that castigates the SAA for its response and demands action.

Apologies to the survivors were late in coming and there has been a general disregard for how this event has impacted all survivors of harassment and abuse who were at the meeting. Social media posts by the Society have blamed others or presented distorted timelines. It’s left many of us wondering how we can encourage the next generation of archaeologists to attend these meetings if they aren’t safe spaces, let alone continue our own support for an organization that is willing to tolerate sexual harassment and all its attendant hurt, trauma, and pain. At least three of the survivors have gone public with their experiences at the conference, including their interactions with SAA professional staff and leadership. Their posts on social media continue to raise concerns.

The SAA’s new president, Joe Watkins, issued an apology via a video message and letter on April 18. Comments on social media indicate that the apology was well received by some, but not all. Watkins, in his letter to SAA members, promises that the Society “will create a body to examine the short-comings in our sexual harassment policy of 2015 and the anti-harassment policy of 2018” and “do our best to ensure that this does not happen again.” He does, however, acknowledge that the recommendations of task forces have often been ignored by SAA leadership in the past.

If you want to learn more about what happened at the meeting and in the ensuing weeks, take a look at these articles by Lizzie Wade, Kerry Grens, as well as Kristina Kilgrove’s resignation as chair of the SAA media relations committee, and follow Norma Johnson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nmj428

UPDATE 4/26/2019: See Kristina Kilgrove’s blog for a timeline of events.

Student Photo Contest: Adventures in Ancient China

Eighteen Phillips Academy students traveled across China during spring break 2019 on the inaugural Adventures in Ancient China trip, part of the Learning in the World program. Student travelers visited major archaeological sites, cultural and religious sites, and museums and brought back many memories, as well as some great images! We asked students to submit their favorite shots in four categories: a) landscape or cityscape; b) candid; c) texture, pattern, or contemplative; and d) image that tells a story. We received eleven great submissions. Here are the winners in each category:

Landscape or Cityscape

Image of the Great Wall of China in the mountains.
The Great Wall, by Abdurahman Sahibousidq.

We loved Abdu’s landscape shot of the Great Wall. We were lucky to have some blue skies like this during our last few days in Beijing, and the color and texture gradations from the greens and browns in the lower half of the image to the blues and purples of the mountains and sky give a great sense of the wall around Mutianyu where we stayed. Oh, we hiked this section of the wall too!

Candid

Image of students and chaperones sharing hot pot in Luoyang.
Hot pot, by Frank Mercer.

This is a great shot of students and chaperones sharing hot pot in Luoyang after a long train ride from Beijing. Seven of us were pretty hungry and delighted when a restaurant owner stayed open late to serve us hot pot. We love the assortment of food on the table and the steam coming from the pot!

Texture, Pattern, or Contemplative

Image of carved marble ramp or pavement on the staircase at the Forbidden City.
Dragon pavement, by Emily Ho.

Emily Ho’s close-up of the Dragon Pavement captures some of the amazing patterns and textures that we encountered in China. The carved marble pavement is part of a staircase in the Forbidden City; it was carved in the Ming Dynasty and re-carved in 1761. We really like the contrast and shadows in Emily’s shot!

Storytelling

Image of a performer having makeup applied.
Painted face, by Alexander Ashman.

We saw opera performers getting ready in both Xi’an and Chengdu. What we love about Alexander’s image is the silent conversation happening between the performer and the makeup artist!

Special Award

Image of Summer Palace buildings on lake, with reflections.
Summer Palace, by Ramphis Medina.

We had a hard time picking the Adventures in Ancient China photo contest winners, so we added one extra category. This shot of the Summer Palace in Beijing, by Ramphis Medina, combines aspects of the landscape and patterns, textures, contemplative categories. The Summer Palace is considered by UNESCO a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, both seen here, are major features of the gardens.

Congratulations to our contest winners and many thanks to everyone who submitted a photo! It was very hard to choose!!!!

#PAGivingDay

We are delighted to share that we reached our goal of matching Peter Hetzler’s (Class of 1972) generous $10,000 challenge during PA Giving Day 2019!

Andover__PAGivingDay__SamPhil__LinkImage__2019

Jenny Elkus (Class of 1992) also successfully challenged her class to match gifts up to $1,000 to fund a Peabody Institute Adopt A Drawer!

The final dollar figures and donor counts are not in yet, but this was a big milestone for us, and contributes significantly to our current use fundraising.

Many thanks for all the support received and an extra special thank you to Peter and Jenny for the challenges!

The overall day netted $2,348,896 from 3,624 donors for Andover financial aid, academics, the arts, and outreach programs.

China Travelers Meet Tu’er Ye

Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World programs at Phillips Academy. During spring break 2019 eighteen students experienced some of China’s most dynamic history and archaeology, along with spicy cuisine, fantastic religious art, and new friends.

After exploring the impressive architecture of Ming and Qing dynasties at the Summer Palace, the Tian Tan, and the Forbidden City we engaged with some of Beijing’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artifacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” This can include oral tradition, performing arts, rituals and festivals, traditional knowledge, and craftsmanship.

Image of Beijing Tu'er Ye artist with figurine.
Beijing Tu’er Ye artist explains how to decorate a figurine.

Students participated in a workshop with a local artist who makes and decorates figurines of Lord Rabbit, also known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing. Tu’er Ye, once worshiped in the pantheon of local deities, was renown as a healer and maker of elixirs.  The moon goddess Chang’e sent Tu’er Ye to use his/her knowledge of medicine to save the people of Beijing from a plaque. Tu’er Ye probably appeared as early as the Ming Dynasty, often as a clay figurine for inclusion in household shrines.

Two students paint ceramic rabbit figurines.
Students paint their own Tu’er Ye figurines.

Tu’er Ye is a rabbit with a human body adorned with the outfit of an ancient general: helmet, scarf, shoulder-draped golden armor, broad belt and big boots, while holding an alchemist’s pestle and mortar. Tu’er Ye figures prominently in the Mid-Autumn festival and the figurines may have become toys to occupy children during festival preparations.

A student shows off her painted rabbit figurine.
The finishing touches–after completing their figurines each student had a nice souvenir of Beijing!

A handful of artists continue the tradition of making and decorating the figurines. Making the Tu’er Ye figurines is one of Beijing’s more than 12,000 intangible cultural heritage items. It was inscribed on the national list in 2014.

Adventures in Ancient China is generously supported by The Schmertzler Fund for Exploration and Experiential Education.

PA Giving Day is March 27, 2019!

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Make your mark on PA Giving Day 2019!

Mark your calendars! The third PA Giving Day is Wednesday, March 27, 2019! Last year the Peabody Institute garnered 60 gifts, nearly doubling PA Giving Day gifts in 2017! This year we hope to have more challenges, more social media posts, and even more support!

 

Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

In 1901 Robert S. Peabody lamented the lack of instruction in archaeology at his high school alma mater Phillips Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school. To rectify the situation, he used family funds and artifacts amassed by his personal curator Warren K. Moorehead to establish a Department of Archaeology at the school. A building was constructed and Moorehead and Peabody’s son, Charles, set about teaching classes. The pattern established by Moorehead and Peabody, however, was disrupted in 1914 when the school refocused the program exclusively on research. Classes were offered periodically over the next decades, and some students were inspired to follow their high school passions to lifetime careers in our field. Successive administrators at the institution, ultimately called the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, struggled to find a place for archaeology in the high school curriculum due to a variety of factors. Cyclical trends in teaching archaeology at Phillips Academy and long term struggles to integrate archaeology into the high school classroom mirror nationwide patterns, providing a case study that can inform the broader initiative to harness the excitement and interdisciplinary aspect of archaeology, and to encourage stewardship of  archaeological resources. The experience of the educators at Phillips Academy, however, suggests that these goals may be at odds with one another and require a delicate balancing act to achieve sustained results.

Image of Peabody director Scotty MacNeish showing students how to excavate at the Andover town dump site.
Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish instructing Phillips Academy students at the Andover town dump, 1970s.

To read Ryan Wheeler’s new article on the history of teaching archaeology and anthropology at Phillips Academy–Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School–please visit the Journal of Archaeology & Education!

Adventures in Ancient China—the Countdown Begins!

During spring break, March 2019, eighteen Phillips Academy students will accompany Peabody director Ryan Wheeler, instructor in Chinese Congmin Zhao, and Anne Martin-Montgomery, Chinese for Families, on the inaugural Adventures in Ancient China trip. Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World Programs, offered cooperatively by the Tang Institute and the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

Recruiting for the trip commenced in fall 2018, with a deadline for applications on December 1, 2018. Wheeler, Zhao, and Carmen Muñoz-Fernández, Director of Learning in the World, hustled to make decisions and invite students to participate before winter break began. We were impressed by the diversity of the group, with a good mix of male and female students, as well as good representation of each grade, including some intrepid juniors! Students and families were asked to complete the first round of paperwork necessary for the trip, and to check that passports were current.

Image of Chinese visa photo requirements.
Flyer from the Chinese Consulate in New York detailing visa photo requirements.

Once all the initial paperwork was in at the outset of January, we began the process of booking flights and lodging, all necessary for the fairly complex visa applications that would be required of most of our travelers. Along the way we learned a lot about Adobe Acrobat forms and benefited from tips provided by one parent! At this point we have our hotels booked for our stay in Beijing, as well as our airline tickets secured, thanks to assistance from China Highlights and Jody’s Travel. As families complete visa application forms, we’ve asked our student travelers to secure their visa photos. Happily, there are several apps that can help generate the photos in their required format and size (33 mm by 48 mm).

Image of Gong Fu students running past the Shaolin Temple buidlings.
Gong Fu students from a nearby school training at the Shaolin Monastery.

Setting aside the paperwork, bookings, and visa applications for a moment, however, we can reflect on some of the cultural and archaeological wonders that await us in a China. Some of our student travelers have mentioned that they are particularly excited about visiting the Shaolin Monastery, a day trip during our stay in Luoyang. The Shaolin Monastery is the center of Chan Buddhism and is believed to have been founded in the fifth century CE—some 1,500 years ago! Chan Buddhism is believed to be the predecessor of Japanese Zen Buddhism and shares many similarities; Chan Buddhism was also heavily influenced by Taoism, and this is evident in some of the martial arts practiced by the Shaolin monks and at the many Gong Fu (Kung Fu) schools in the area. We will get a chance to visit one of those schools and take a short course in Gong Fu!

Image of an artist restoring the giant statute of a Buddhist immortal at the Shaolin Monastery.
A pipa toting Buddhist immortal gets a touch up at the Shaolin Zhongyue Temple. June 21, 2017. The pipa is a four-stringed musical instrument, similar to a lute.

Soon it will be time to hand in the completed visa applications, which will then go to a visa service company and the Chinese consulate in New York. We’re also planning for our first gathering with the students—an opportunity to meet fellow travelers, review the itinerary, ask questions about the packing list, and get ready for our trip!