On October 15, more than 100 sixth-grade students and teachers from West Middle School in Andover visited the Peabody as a way to kick off the beginning of their lesson in ancient history. The teachers thought it would be useful for their students to have a better understanding of how archaeologists come up with their explanations of sites, particularly sites that are very old. Using the museum’s Shattuck Farm mock excavation lesson as an example, curator of education Lindsay Randall taught the students how to read objects as primary sources. This allowed them to begin making inferences and complex connections regarding what they were viewing.
On October 20, Emerson “Tad” Baker, PhD ’76, delighted a packed Peabody Museum with his lecture, “Witchcraft, Counter Magic, and Archaeology in Salem and New England.” Drawing on details from his new book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, Baker demonstrated that the practice of counter magic to ward off witches and demons in colonial New England persisted through the 19th century and continues today.
Join the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS) Gene Winter Chapter for their fall lecture series. Each month features a presentation by an expert about a variety of topics. All lectures take place at the Peabody Museum at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
Tuesday, November 17—Jameson Harwood (Massachusetts Department of Transportation): “Battlefield Archaeology”
Tuesday, December 15—Christa Beranek (University of Massachusetts Boston): “The Tyng Mansion Site: A Project in Three Vignettes”
“Mr. Peabody spent his boyhood in the valley of the Muskingum and as in that region there are numerous mound-builder and Indian remains, he became interested in archaeology. With his own hands he collected some one or two hundred specimens on his father’s farm. When the collection at Phillips was numbered the records properly began with Mr. Peabody’s personal finds and No. 1 is an interesting hematite celt.”
A celt is a prehistoric stone or metal implement shaped like a chisel or ax head. Hematite is a mineral ranging in color from black to red to brown, often taking on a high polish when tumbled in a rock polisher. The reddish color comes from iron. Hematite was highly prized by Native Americans throughout parts of the eastern United States for making a variety of tools and ornaments, including axes and celts.
Jenny asked if we could provide a photo of the hematite celt—object #1 in the museum’s collection, essentially the founding object. Although many of our collections are well documented and regularly used by students and researchers, others need considerable attention. Unfortunately, the hematite celt fell into the latter category, as Jenny’s seemingly simple request illustrated.
We began our search by checking the original accession ledger and confirming that the first object was indeed a hematite celt collected at Spice Knob, Muskingum County, Ohio, by Robert S. Peabody sometime between 1845 and 1860. A note indicates the celt had a particularly nice polish.
We then made a quick check of four or five drawers containing objects from Ohio and found a number of items with low catalog numbers that also came from Spice Knob. Unfortunately, the hematite celt was not among them. Further checking of a drawer-by-drawer inventory made in 2002 failed to locate the celt. With the aid of volunteers we searched drawers more thoroughly, with negative results.
Consulting another early museum bulletin, Warren Moorehead’s 1912 Hematite Implements of the United States together with Chemical Analysis of Various Hematites, we found a detailed study of the tools and ornaments made from this mineral. Figure 3, opposite page 13, illustrates seven hematite celts from the Andover collection. Catalog numbers are visible on three of the celts, so we knew we could rule them out as being the founding object we were searching for, but they are not visible on the remaining four objects in the figure, which meant it was possible one of them was the object in question. We also checked Moorehead’s other publications, which contain numerous illustrations of artifacts, including hematite celts. However, in the end, no definite candidates were identified.
So, what happened to Robert Peabody’s hematite celt?
There are several possible explanations. One is that museum personnel recataloged the object in the 1940s after the introduction of a more sophisticated cataloging system that imposed a two-part numbering technique and avoided some of the confusion that might arise from a simple sequential numbering of objects (e.g., 1 through 70,000+, as Moorehead had done).
Another possibility is that the celt was stolen. In 1986 a thief named George B. McLaughlin gained access to museum collections across the Northeast, including the Peabody, as well as institutions in Worcester, Attleboro, Springfield, Deerfield, and at Yale University, before the FBI apprehended him. During his spree, McLaughlin amassed thousands of artifacts and removed their catalog numbers. Although many objects were recovered, there was confusion regarding which artifacts belonged to each museum. We currently have drawers of objects returned to us by the FBI.
And so the search for Robert Peabody’s hematite celt continues, illustrating the challenges of locating an object from an older collection that has limited intellectual and physical control. A multiyear effort began in 2013 to gain better intellectual and physical control with the help of Abbot Academy Association grant funding for a new database system. The effort will continue for years to come as collections are cataloged and storage is upgraded.
The Peabody Museum houses an impressive collection of Pueblo pottery, including iconic black-on-white painted pieces from Chaco Canyon and vessels made around the first part of the 20th century.
In October, students in art instructor Emily Trespas’s Art 225A Visual Studies Studio class visited the Peabody to examine some of our graphic painted pottery as they prepared for a lesson in printmaking. Emily wanted her students to look at an array of ancient and contemporary pottery, primarily from the American Southwest. The ceramic traditions of the Anasazi, Casas Grandes, Hohokam, and modern Pueblos emphasize bold, graphic designs that often play with negative and positive space—perfect inspiration for printmaking.
The students were invited to spend the first few minutes of their visit moving around the room and examining each piece closely. We asked them to look at the designs and issued a challenge: could they find the one piece that was not from the Southwest? The students used deductive reasoning to rule out the Anasazi vessels, which are clearly unified by their bold black-on-white geometric designs; the black-on-black vessels of Maria Martinez; and some of the historic pieces from the San Ildefonso and Santa Clara pueblos. Many students settled on a bottle form with a distinctive cross-in-circle sunburst motif rendered in ghostly black pigment. Remarkably, one student offered that the piece is from the Southeast, possibly Georgia. She was right—the bottle is a negative-painted vessel from the Etowah site, just outside Atlanta.
We talked a little about where these pieces are from, how old they are, how they were made and decorated, and the lives of those who made them. I shared the story of Maria Martinez and how she and her husband, Julian, created a sensation in the 1920s by combining traditional forms and designs with their innovative black-on-black technique. Their glimmering black pieces with matte geometric designs appealed to collectors interested in the streamlined and precise aesthetic of Art Deco, and the pieces became highly collectible as Maria demonstrated her technique and marketed her pottery.
At the end of their visit, the students had an opportunity to tell us about their favorite pieces and capture some photos for later inspiration. Some liked the polychrome Casas Grandes vessel, which harbored abstract animal or human forms, while others were captivated by the subtle asymmetry of a beautiful water jar from Zia Pueblo. We look forward to seeing the prints the students create!