Moving the Big Ones

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I have always thought of the Peabody’s collections storage as one of those sliding tile puzzles.  You have to keep shifting pieces that look like they are in the right place in order to end up with the correct completed final image.  Sometimes it seems never ending, but each shift makes the space more organized, cleaner, and more efficient.

A few months ago, I was faced with trying to find space for a couple dozen boxes that we agreed to store temporarily (maybe a year or so).  These objects needed discrete storage in a place that would not be disturbed.  This was a challenge, but one worth tackling.  After some thought, Rachel (Collections Assistant) came up with the idea of moving our large groundstone collection – that storage was discrete and in an area of the room that we rarely needed to interact with.  Perfect.

You may be asking yourself, What is a large groundstone?  Groundstone objects are stone tools that are formed by grinding and pecking away the larger stone into the desired shape.  These can include axe heads, portable petroglyphs, weights, as well as manos and metates.  The largest of these are often the metates, or grinding stones, that were used to prepare wheat and corn flour. Some of them are easily 40+ pounds!

The first task was dismantling the previous storage bays – a fun day with power drills and a sawzall.  Then I created a plan to install new shelving inside the bays that would be sturdy enough to support all the weight we were moving.  The photos may just look like shelves, but I am proud of all the precise measuring, leveling, and cutting with a circular saw and jigsaw that went into this project.  When we installed the shelves, everything fit perfectly.

To move the 183 objects we had to load everything onto trays and wheel them across the storage space – some were much too heavy to carry that distance.  A quick reinventory assigned everything a new storage location and the process was complete.  All told, this move took about a week.

I can’t pretend for a second that I did this project alone – massive thanks and credit to Rachel, Emily, John, and Ryan for their insights, object moving abilities, and skills with power tools!

Oversize storage
Look at those beautiful shelves!

Introducing Our Newest Team Member

Contributed by Emily Hurley

My name is Emily and I have been working as the new Inventory Specialist at the Peabody Institute for about a month now. My job is to assist with the current inventory and rehousing project. My day to day work consists of moving artifacts from their old wooden storage drawers into new archival boxes which better preserve the objects.

I grew up in a small town called Andover, New York (I know, how ironic) before moving to Buffalo to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. From there, I spent a year in Florence, Italy doing coursework for my MA in Museum Studies which I completed this past August. During my time in Italy, I learned collections care and management from some of the most famous museums in the world including the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican Museum. This is only my first position working in a museum but I have completed museum internships back home in Buffalo as well as in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Emily Hurley photo
This is me overlooking the beautiful city of Florence!

I have always been passionate about archaeology and indigenous studies so I am excited to be in a position where I can apply my knowledge of both and continue to learn more. Even though I have only been here a few weeks, I have learned so much already. It is amazing to be able to work with and handle objects every day which are hundreds of years old and come from all over the continent. Objects that I have been studying for the past five years are now a part of my everyday life and it is truly such a rewarding experience.

Overall I am very excited to be in this position and can’t wait to see what else I will learn and do during my time at the Peabody!

A New Purpose for the Peabody Collection Drawers

Contributed by Emma Cook

The Peabody is continuing to undergo its Inventory and Rehousing Project to make way for more sustainable storage in the future. As a result, the Peabody Collections Team is giving away their original wooden drawers as the Peabody no longer has any use for them.

The wooden drawers were a part of the original storage for the Peabody collections, housing over 600,000 artifacts. The wooden storage originated in the early 1930s consisting of bays, shelves, and drawers. Currently, about 30% of the collection has been rehoused from its original storage. This means there are many drawers becoming available and many more to come in the future!

Those who have taken drawers have re-purposed them into various things ranging from tea trays to accent walls! Below are some examples of how our drawers were reused by friends of the Peabody.

Peabody Drawers used for storage

Peabody drawers stained and painted

Jewelry, wall storage and table made from Peabody drawers

If you have re-purposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at ecook@andover.edu.

Wild Ride No More

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Cups and Coaster
The collections environment before and after rehousing in archival boxes

Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.

Temp and RH graph for John August 2019
Environmental Stats for April

First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.

Layerd Storage
Layered Storage

The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.

 

Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.

Sachet
Silica Gel Sachets

The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.

 

Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.

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!