The return to in-person classes means that this fall’s Human Origins includes many of the hands-on project-based assignments that have become a hallmark of the course.
Students in Human Origins—an interdisciplinary science elective—visited with Claudia Wessner, Oliver Wendell Holmes Library Makerspace guru—who introduced the class to our hominin 3D printing project, including different 3D printing technologies, some of the ways that archaeologists use 3D printing and scanning, and Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Ms. Wessner also showed students how to use the Makerspace 3D printers for their projects.
Each project team will select a fossil hominin to 3D print in the Makerspace. Hominins are humans and their close extinct ancestors, including fossils dating back about 6 to 7 million years ago. Students will present their scaled prints, along with basic info on the fossil, during class in a few weeks. This project was inspired by the inclusion of 3D scans of Homo naledi in Morphosource, a database of 3D scans of fossils and biological specimens hosted by Duke University. Since the Homo naledi scans were made available in 2015, many additional fossil scans have been added, including other hominins.
During our September 2021 visit to the Makerspace, Ms. Wessner introduced us to Nefertari: Journey to Eternity-A Tombscale VR Experience. VR technology uses a headset interface so users can experience a virtual world, in this case an Egyptian tomb that has been scanned and recreated. We also discussed The Dawn of Art, Google’s VR version of Chauvet Cave in France, featuring some of the world’s oldest cave paintings.
Like for so many of us, this summer has been a rather abrupt transition back to “normal” at the Peabody.
I returned to the office full time in July and had to hit the ground running to help support the other Peabody staff, welcome researchers, jump back into giving tours, and provide back up for Summer Session activities. It has definitely been a transition, but it feels good to have students, researchers, and volunteers back at the Peabody!
For the entire month of July, the Peabody hosted the Summer Session class Dig This! This Lower School initiative takes a closer look at different global case studies from across the ancient world to hone skills and understanding as a historian and archaeologist. Students then get to take part in excavating the lost Mansion House of Phillips Academy – the home of Samuel Phillips. It is always great to see these students get excited about archaeology every summer!
Beyond that, it was a joy to welcome our Cordell Fellows for 2021 – Dr. Arthur Anderson and Dr. Gabe Hrynick. Their research is on the Peabody’s Northeast Archaeological Survey conducted partially in Down East, Maine in the late 1940s. I won’t try to summarize their work here, but will instead refer you to a blog they contributed a couple years ago. Their work in July focused on fully documenting one site, Thompson’s Point. A real plus to hosting researchers is that they do some of the collections documentation work for me – I am looking forward to receiving a copy of all the item photographs they took!
“Normal” at the Peabody Institute also requires our volunteers to be around. We have all missed them this past year and are thrilled to welcome back our regular collections volunteers (and new ones!)
I don’t know how the next few months will look – mask or no mask, virtual or in-person – but it has been a real pleasure to jump back into the hectic schedule of the Peabody. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
In July, I start to think about the upcoming fall course Human Origins. Last year I spent most of the summer retooling the course into an online experience. I owe a lot to the advice of my spouse, who passed along many of her experiences teaching online in spring 2020. I was pleased with the result—an iterative, assignment driven course, taught exclusively online, that even managed to keep some hands on activities. In fact, I plan to keep many elements of the online course—students in the fall will use Padlet for many of their assignments, we will dedicate at least two weeks to flint knapping, and we will keep the three major themes: pseudoscience, human evolution, and race. I will continue to look for ways to decolonize the syllabus as well. Considering the frequency of new discoveries (Google “Dragon Man,” for example), the focus is more on how to think about human evolution, rather than the details. The frequent new discoveries in the field continue to challenge the two competing models of human evolution, making us wonder, maybe we really need a new theory?
I hope that we can revisit 3D printing again in the fall. Once many of the skeletal elements of Homo naledi became available on Morphosource, 3D printing became part of the course. For a few years, we visited the campus makerspace and looked at prints of Homo naledi’s more unusual features, including the hand and femur. In fall 2019, students worked in teams to 3D print their own miniature versions of fossil human skulls, learning details about each find and species as part of the assignment. Those miniature 3D prints got me thinking about earlier models and teaching tools for this subject, and my own first interests in human evolution.
My first inkling that human evolution was something to be interested in came from a mid-1970s rebroadcast of a documentary called Natural History of Our World: The Time of Man (first aired, December 14, 1969). I wanted to watch this for two reasons: 1) Richard Basehart, who played Admiral Nelson in one of my favorite TV shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, provided the narration, and 2) I wanted to know more about the fossils shown in the teaser ads! I think my parents were a little baffled, but they let me stay up and watch it. I don’t remember much about that show, but it included some pretty incredible shots of volcanic activity and, of course, Basehart’s distinctive voice. Not long after that, my dad brought home a set of the Time Life nature books, with the 1970 edition of Early Man right on the top (it looks like Early Man was first published in 1965, but there were many reissues). That book captivated me! Books on dinosaurs, fossils, and evolution (for someone who was a kid, or perhaps anyone, really), were in short supply in the 1970s. I still share that book with students in Human Origins, and we talk about the many errors of the “March of Progress” graphic that launched a thousand memes. For a kid in the ‘70s interested in evolution, that book—authored by a serious scientist, H. Clark Howell—was a treasure.
So imagine my delight when I found a tangible, material version of those fossil people. The discovery was in an unlikely place—the local hobby shop. I was interested in model kits, but the little metal figures of warriors, Vikings, and dragons were especially exciting. These were becoming more popular with the rise of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and various alliances and licensing deals between the D&D publishers and companies like Grenadier who made these miniatures, or minis. There among the heros and monsters of D&D (think of the current TV show Stranger Things), were some old stock made by a company called Squadron Rubin. These were figures of all the fossil humans found in the pages of the Time Life Early Man book, and the color cards even referenced the book! Some Googling indicates that artist, sculptor, and businessperson Raymond Rubin was behind these figures. The main figures made by Squadron Rubin were of historical soldiers, spanning the Picts to Vietnam and every period in between. The idea was that you could buy these, glue as necessary, and paint following the color chart provided, building up your army. Eventually Rubin collaborated with others to launch Grenadier, the company that dominated the metal miniature business for a while. I wish I knew more of the story behind how the world of metal miniatures intersected with human evolution, but I was happy that it had!
The Squadron Rubin fossil people are 1:32 scale, so most are around or just under 2 inches tall. And, they aren’t frenzied savages like the “cavemen” depicted by Frank Frazetta or other artists around the same time. The artistic recreations in the Early Man book supplied the inspiration, and the figures are usually just posing, often in male-female pairs. I’ve managed to locate examples of Squadron Rubin Neanderthals, Australopithecines, and Cro-Magnon people, and I suspect there were other species depicted as well. Occasionally, they turn up on eBay.
The Squadron Rubin figures, along with the many other depictions of fossil humans in popular writing, TV ads, comic books, movies, artwork, and sculptures give us a glimpse into thinking about human evolution and fossil people through time. I often ask the Human Origins students to find and research examples of how fossil humans were depicted in popular culture. Are the treatments sympathetic, savage, sexualized, or something else? Often this has to do with ideas about how closely modern humans are linked to these ancient people. The recognition of genetic connections between modern humans and Neanderthals in 2011 marked one shift in our relationship to “cavemen.” Once we understood there was a connection between us and them, depictions of ancient people began to shift, becoming more sympathetic and sensitive to our ancestors. But, it depends a lot on the artist, medium, and specific circumstances.
Over the last couple months, I was fortunate to take two online professional development courses – Decolonizing Museums in Practice and DAM for GLAM. These classes covered very different topics but overlapped in some really surprising ways.
The Decolonizing Museums class is directly applicable to so much of the work that I do every day. We have taken steps at the Peabody Institute to incorporate decolonizing into our collections management policy, researcher access policies, and NAGPRA implementation. I am proud of that work, but also wanted to take a step back and immerse myself in the scholarship behind this approach to museum management.
The class was filled with fascinating, thought-provoking, and occasionally uncomfortable readings that stretched my assumptions and gave me a new framework to view my role, as a white settler female, in managing an archaeological collection full of Indigenous material culture. The instructors and my classmates could not have been better. We represented a wide variety of museum roles and perspectives from across three different countries. We were all open and honest about when we were challenged by the readings and I found listening to others work through their decolonizing journey could be enlightening about my own.
Fortunately for me, one of my classmates was local to the Boston area and we were even able to meet up in person to discuss what we had been learning. She works with the collections at the Boston Children’s Museum. We bonded over our shared decolonization journey, but also our overall museum experiences, and an interest in knitting. We also discovered a collections link between our respective institutions and could seamlessly begin to support each other in repatriation consultations.
I loved the course.
DAM for GLAM was completely different. DAM = Digital Asset Management. GLAM = Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. This course walked me through what a DAM is and what it can do for cultural institutions. Basically, a DAM is a system to track the digital surrogates of the physical items in the collection and the born digital materials that derive from them (think image of an item in the collection, a scan of an excavation map, digitized archives, a video of a presentation, or a course catalog). This course was less intuitive for me, but ultimately really valuable as I had previously struggled to even understand what a DAM was.
During the course, we were asked to use the collections that we were affiliated with as examples to answer the teacher’s prompts. As the questions were regularly about data management, access, and use rights, I would always answer them through a decolonizing lens. It was really helpful at times to apply the slightly more abstract concepts from the decolonizing class to something as practical as metadata. It forced me to think about how challenging the data management will be to make digital surrogates available to tribal partners, researchers, and educators.
I made some positive professional connections in that class as well through conversations about digital repatriation. I think I helped some people understand that making digital copies of everything that will be repatriated so that you still have access to a version of the item doesn’t really jibe with the idea of repatriation. If a tribe asks us to destroy digital copies of repatriated items (images or 3-D scans), the Peabody will abide by that request. Their cultural authority does not end at the physicality of the item, it encompasses the totality of the item. I am grateful for the opportunity to conduct these thought experiments and share with others.
While both classes were really valuable experiences, I want to discourage any of you out there from taking two courses at once while working a full-time job… just sayin’…
Three distinctive oil paintings attributed to artist Henry Inman (1801-1846) are among the collections of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. These paintings are part of a larger group of portraits created by Inman to produce the hand colored lithographs that appeared in the three volumes of The History of Indian Tribes of North America (1836-1844) by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. Specifically, the Peabody paintings depict Petalesharo (90.181.10), Ki-On-Twog-Ky, or Cornplanter (90.181.11), and Mohongo and Child (90.181.12). The source material for the Inman paintings were original works created principally in Washington DC by portrait painter Charles Bird King (1785-1862). The bulk of the King originals were destroyed in a fire in 1865.
Today, original editions of the McKenney and Hall volumes and individual lithographs are valuable and highly sought after, but at the time the project was not a financial success. Many of the Inman portraits (at least 100 or more) were given to the Tilestone and Hollingsworth Paper Company of Milton, MA, who had supplied paper for the book project. The families of Edmund Tilestone and Amor Hollingsworth made a gift of the paintings to the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1882. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Harvard museum sold many of the Inman paintings in their collection, ultimately retaining twenty-five.
Comparison with the list of Harvard’s original holdings indicates that the three Inman portraits at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology did not come from that source. The frames also are quite different; the paintings at Harvard have simple wood frames, with descriptive plaques affixed, while those at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology have ornate frames with gold leaf. In correspondence on file, former museum director Richard S. MacNeish told then director James Bradley that the paintings were part of the original gift from Robert S. Peabody. Stebbins and Renn (2014:288) report that Harvard received 107 of the Inman paintings from the Tilestone and Hollingsworth heirs, but that Inman had originally painted 117 and the whereabouts of the remaining paintings is unclear. It is possible that Robert S. Peabody acquired the three paintings when they were exhibited in Philadelphia.
The paintings reflect the classical style of portraits painted in the nineteenth century, and do not attempt to portray people in an imagined “primitive” setting as the photographs of Edward S. Curtis do at the end of the century. Clothing and personal items reflect the blend of traditional and Anglo-European attire resulting from varying levels of cultural assimilation. History and Social Sciences instructor Marcelle Doheny uses the paintings in her senior elective, Race and Identity in Indian Country, and they were part of an independent student project in 2015-2016 that examined Anglo-European portrayals of Native Americans.
The biographical notes that accompany the McKenney and Hall publication provide additional details about the lives of these individuals, at least as documented by the editors. Mohongo’s (1809-1836) story is particularly striking, as she was one of a group of Osage persuaded to make a European tour in 1827. While in Europe, she gave birth to twins, but only one survived. The tour organizer, who had brought the Osage to Europe to perform as a Wild West Show, was arrested for debt in Paris, leaving the rest of the party to fend for themselves. Ultimately, the Marquis de Lafayette learned of the situation and arranged for passage back to North America. During the sea voyage more members of the party perished, but Mohongo and her child survived, ultimately arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, where Charles Bird King painted their portrait. We believe that the peace medal worn by Mohongo depicts Andrew Jackson, who was president at the time. Mohongo and her child made their way back to Missouri. The book, An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827-1830: Three French Accounts edited and translated by William Least Heat-Moon and James K. Wallace, documents the episode.
Several exhibits—for example, the Indian Gallery of Henry Inman, which toured museums from 2006 to 2012—have assembled small collections of the extant Inman paintings, but the examples at the Peabody have never been included, likely because curators and art historians have not known about them.
Christie’s East. 1981. American Paintings and Watercolors of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries (auction catalog). New York.
Ewers, John C. 1954. Charles Bird King, painter of Indian visitors to the nation’s capital. Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1953. Pp. 463-473. Publication 4149. Government Printing Office, Washington DC.
Gerald Peters Gallery. 2008. Henry Inman, Twenty-four Indian Portraits (catalog). New York.
Gerdts, William H., and Carrie Rebora. 1987. The Art of Henry Inman. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Stebbins, Theodore E., Jr., and Melissa Renn. 2014. American Paintings at Harvard, Volume 1: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826. Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press, New Haven.
Viola, Herman J. 1976. The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King. Smithsonian Institution Press and Doubleday & Company, New York.
Viola, Herman J. 1983. Indians of North America: Paintings by Henry Inman from the D. Harold Byrd, Jr. Collection. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. One recommendation included in these guidelines was for “social distancing” – a term referring to the conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully hinder the community transmission of the virus.
While schools, companies, and various workplaces determine the best possible options to both adhere to these guidelines as well as provide the appropriate support to their staff, students, and customers – many have chosen to close their doors. Some institutions and companies have shut down indefinitely, while various schools and universities have moved to remote teaching, where students complete their classes online and stay at home. Universities and colleges all over the country have moved courses to online platforms. Undergrads are being told to move out of their dorms and off campus for the remainder of the semester.
Phillips Academy (PA), a New England boarding school and the Peabody’s parent institution has instituted similar measures, following the directives issued by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
A local restaurant closes their doors in light of “on-site eating” bans over COVID-19
Now many would say they like working from home and actually get more done, but it is not the case for everyone. The Peabody staff are doing what they can to continue their museum work from home. For the Peabody collections team, it is very difficult to continue much of the work they do every day at the institution, as much of the collections and material cannot leave the building. While inventory, rehousing, and cataloguing of the collection is put on hold, our staff is editing object photographs, digitizing documents, transcribing collection ledgers, writing blogs (like this one), and more.
Outside of my remote-work, I am wondering like many others who are stuck at home – what else can I do with the rest of my week? By being at home, we miss out on the daily interactions with our coworkers, colleagues, and classmates. Our experiences with each other fuel our creativity and critical thinking, and are important for much needed collaborative efforts. Through “social distancing” we are recommended to not take part in every day, public activities such as eating out, going to the store, or visiting a museum or historical site with our friends and family.
But don’t let social distancing doom your week and weekend! Museums have found a way to bring some of their collections to their visitors. So worry no more! You can view that Van Gough from the couch!
I was happy to enjoy a little culture and education in my off-time while at home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring virtual tours and online exhibits to a global audience.
The first museum I “visited” was the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. As a student, I had visited this museum on a class trip many years ago and I was interested in the exhibits they provided online. This exhibit was a detailed history on the building of the museum titled, From Station to the Renovated Musée d’Orsay. This endeavor was a groundbreaking project for Paris as it was the first time an industrial building had been restored to accommodate a major museum. The virtual exhibit showcases the early building plans and images of the Orsay train station and hotel from the 1900s as well as images of the museum and its galleries after the renovation project in the early 2000s. Explore this virtual exhibit here!
I visited a second virtual exhibition, this time, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibition is called, Fashioning a Nation. This exhibit features drawings from the Index of American Design, a collection of more than 18,000 watercolor pictures of American decorative art objects. This exhibition explores the American fashions from 1740 to 1895, giving insight into the character and quality of American life from the colonial period to the Industrial Revolution. Click here to explore this exhibit!
If museums aren’t your thing, explore a historic site!Open Heritage – Google Arts & Culture offers iconic locations in 3D, using 3D modeling techniques for you to explore. You can learn about the tools of digital preservation and how people all over the world are preserving our shared history. One site I visited was the Mesa Verde National Park. This site is home to Native American cliff dwellings in southern Colorado that span over 700 years of Native American history (600-1300 CE). An expedition was led by CyArk in February 2017. CyArk is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the digital documentation and preservation of historic sites. The organization documented the Balcony House at Mesa Verde using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and terrestrial photogrammetry. Combining these two technologies is what creates the 3D model of a site. To explore the 3D model of the Balcony House at Mesa Verde, click here!
Unfortunately, not all popular museums and galleries are included on Google Arts & Culture’s collection website, but some museums are offering virtual tours and online visits on their own websites, such as the Louvre in Paris, France. To see more of Google Arts & Culture’s collection of virtual museums and exhibits, visit their collection website. Explore and enjoy your visit!
We were delighted that Dominique, Maxine, and Mia Toya were able to visit this fall and spend a week making traditional Pueblo pottery with students in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes. By our reckoning, this is the fifth year that the Toyas have visited PA. Each visit brings lots of excitement in Thayer’s classes, as well as raw materials from New Mexico, including hand-dug clay, polishing stones, micaceous slip, and fuel for the open air firing.
Dominique, Maxine, and Mia are talented artists and educators from the Pueblo of Jemez, also known as Walatowa. Dominique is known for her micaceous spiral vessels, Maxine makes beautiful hand painted figurines of owls and town criers, and Mia makes vessels adorned with butterflies on their lids. All of their pieces are made and fired using the traditional techniques of Pueblo pottery making and include their own distinctive innovations. Collectively they have won numerous distinctions and regularly show their pieces at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market and other juried venues. They also are terrific educators with a passion for sharing Pueblo pottery making.
The Peabody and PA have a long history with the Pueblo of Jemez. From 1915 through 1929 the Peabody sponsored Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, one of the ancestral communities of Jemez. In the 1990s Peabody personnel were involved in repatriation of ancestors and funerary objects from Pecos and began the Pecos Pathways program, a forerunner of today’s Learning in the World programs.
We are very fortunate that several donors and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee have helped us acquire some of the Toyas’ stunning pieces and provide underwriting for their visits. We are so grateful for the time that the Toyas have dedicated to working with PA students and faculty!
One of the early topics covered in the interdisciplinary course Human Origins is science vs. pseudoscience. Students watched a short video by Craig Foster, who talks about his experience attending a Bigfoot research conference. Archaeology has long contended with claims for ancient aliens, lost continents, and cryptids, like Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Abominable Snowman. While seemingly fun and harmless diversions, these things can muddy thinking about what science is and how it is done, and contribute to misperceptions about the accomplishments of indigenous people. The nineteenth century Moundbuilder Myth suggested that the ancient earthen monuments of the Ohio Valley had not been built by the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans, but rather by a mysterious lost race. This was used to justify the United States’s expansion westward, as exhibited in the doctrine called Manifest Destiny. If Native people were not responsible for creating the Ohio Valley monuments it called into question their rightful occupation of this territory and empowered American expansion.
Paranormal and cryptid researchers often use technology and techniques that approximate science. They represent an investigation of the unknown and the possible. During class we discussed perceptions of science and philosopher Karl Poppers’s recognition that falsifiability is the hallmark of scientific investigation. The classic example is Arthur Eddington’s check of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein had noted that it should be possible to observe the gravitational deflection or bending of starlight during as eclipse; if the starlight wasn’t deflected, it meant that his postulates had been proven false. Eddington made a series of photographs during the 1919 eclipse that demonstrated that the Sun did, in fact deflect starlight. Ancient aliens, Bigfoot, and Lost Tribes can never be subject to real scientific investigation like this because the claims can never be tested and proved false.
We revisited Foster’s video and his thoughts on the Bigfoot adherents. Why do people believe these outrageous claims? For one, it has to do with context. If you spend time with other Bigfoot believers it reinforces your own thinking. We also discussed belief as a continuum. Some people don’t believe in cryptids or aliens, but are willing to consider the possibility of ghosts. Foster also notes that we are all susceptible to pseudoscientific claims and that the people who believe are perfectly rational and pleasant individuals who will remain unconvinced by arguments or contradictory evidence.
During class we also examined a cast of a jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki, a very large primate known from around 9 million years ago in parts of Asia; paleontologists believe Gigantopithecus became extinct around 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus is often offered as the real creature behind cryptids like Bigfoot and Yeti. As the claim goes, perhaps the large ape has persisted in remote areas into modern times. Relatively harmless thinking, right? But if we accept claims like this, we are effectively denying Darwin’s theory of evolution. And if we believe that evolution isn’t operating it opens the door for a host of other, more insidious thinking, especially ideas about race.
If you want to learn more about archaeology, science, and pseudoscience please attend our inaugural Peabody Lecture in Archaeology & Education, featuring archaeologist and author Ken Feder. Feder will talk about his newest book, Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and other Strange Sites in North America. Ken will sign copies of the book after his talk. 4-6pm, Saturday, October 19, 2019, Breed Memorial Hall, Tufts University, 51 Winthrop Street, Medford MA. The event is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP: https://events.attend.com/f/1383789424#/reg/0/
My name is Ryan Collins, and I am an Archaeological Anthropologist specializing in Ancient Maya Culture. I recently earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University where I also instruct courses (as well as at Northeastern University and Lesley Art + Design) in Archaeology, Anthropology, Latin America, and Material Culture Studies.
I am also fortunate enough to have two roles with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. First, I am the Transcription Project Associate, working through the museum’s original bound ledgers to create a digital inventory. While there are several subjects of interest that I want to explore from the Ledger Transcription Project (including the stories of somewhat mysterious artifacts), the subject of this post will focus on my role as the Lead Archaeologist with Mansion House Excavations happening on Phillips Academy’s Campus during the Summer Session with the Lower School Institute. The Mansion House excavations happen in collaboration with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology which houses recovered artifacts as well as materials that once belonged in the late 18th-century building.
The Mansion House at Phillips Academy Andover is a site of significant historical importance in the local community. Built during the Revolutionary War in 1782 (though fully completed in 1785) it was home to Phillips Academy Andover’s founder, Judge Samuel “Esquire” Phillips Jr., and his family until 1812. During this time Judge Phillips, his wife Phoebe Phillips, and their family were known to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere to the students of the academy while also hosting notable political figures of the day like President George Washington.
With the decline of Phoebe Phillips’ health in 1812, the Trustees of Phillips Academy purchased Mansion House converting it into an Inn and Tavern. As an Inn and Tavern, Mansion House became a central meeting place for students and faculty of the academy as well as for residents in Andover. Over the years Mansion House hosted notable guests including Emerson, Webster, President Andrew Jackson, and Mark Twain among many others. Although, when looking through the guest ledger on the date of his stay, Mark Twain’s signature is absent having mysteriously been cut out.
The history of Mansion House and its guests is enough to capture the attention of archaeologists. However, beneath Mansion House’s rich past is an enduring mystery – who burned it down? On the very early morning of November 29th, 1887, around 2:00 am the tenants were awoken by thick smoke coming from a fire in the rear base of the house near a pile of woodchips. A second fire was discovered shortly after in a third-floor room at the front of the house. Despite the best efforts of the local fire brigade and a galvanized town, Mansion House could not be saved. As chronicled by the Andover Townsman on December 2nd, 1887, Mansion House did not collapse, but it “slowly melted” into its foundations.
Most sites and buildings that archaeologists explore are little more than skeletons of their former selves. This reality puts limits on the archaeological record (often refuse in this context) and on the questions that archaeologists can ask about a site to broad notions of process or change over time. With Mansion House, a question of this variety would be: How did Mansion House change over time? What traditions are evident in the material remains of the site? However, because Mansion House burned into its foundations, we have access to an event, a specific moment in time. In this way, the materials students recover from Mansion House will help then share different informed stories about the site, its residents, and life in the 18th and 19th centuries. (IMAGE 4)
In 2018, our excavations confirmed the location of Mansion House by finding one of its (at least) 6 chimneys and the remains of an iron furnace. This finding not only establishes a more precise understanding of where Mansion House’s foundations are currently situated but it allows us to explore the material remains that have sat untouched for 132 years. With luck, this year’s investigations will allow us to understand even more about life in Mansion House during its final days. While the mysteries around the long-ago fire are unlikely to be solved, more insight will undoubtedly be learned about Phillips Academy and the local Andover community. Excavations at Mansion House will reopen in July of 2019.
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.