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!

 

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.

Peabody lessons are the dumps, litter ally.

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

In the last two weeks, we have had three major Nor’easters here in New England. Fortunately, it has been while students are on break and has not slowed down the creation of new lessons for spring term.

“A man never lies in his garbage heap” – Franz Boas.

Last term I was approached by Emma Frey, faculty in history, to create a single period activity that would introduce her 9th graders to the concept of reading objects as text and use them to tell a story. As Emma and I talked and brainstormed, we decided on an existing lesson that I had created years ago for our Archaeology Explorers and how we could flesh it out so that it better met Emma’s class goals and objectives.  The activity is a garbology lesson called Trash Talks!

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Two bags of clean trash that students will analyze.

In the activity students are divided into three groups and are given a bag of clean trash. While working together to sort and identify the trash, each group also compiles a biography of the person(s) who created the trash. They will be asked to make observations and inferences about the trash and what it might reflect about a person, such as their gender, age, activities, etc.

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An example of how students might mark down artifacts in their trash bags to better understand what they show about the life of someone.

While the trash is “modern” the principles that students use to analyze the trash are the same as the ones that archaeologists use to study cultures of the past.

I am very excited to run this lesson with students and to see how they interpret the trash!

Changing Roles and Responsibilities of Museums

The past five years have been a busy time for museums- most notably in the image department.  Following a number of high profile controversies, a lot of people–audiences, and museum professionals alike–asked what role museums play in our society?  Here are a couple of recent articles dealing with this subject head on.

Why Museum Professionals Need to Talk About Black Panther

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Killmonger in the Museum (Photo courtesy of article)

Last month saw the release of Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Black Panther.  Besides being a fantastic movie, this film offers a unique chance to open dialogues on a large scale about many topics- least of which are museums as mechanisms of colonialism.  This article discusses how and why museum professionals especially should look at their roles in this and the effects they have on the audiences we try to reach.  The piece ends by laying out suggestions for how museums can move forward incorporating and working towards more diverse and open dialogues between communities.

Two Museum Directors Say It’s Time to Tell the Unvarnished History of the U.S.

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Gover and Bunch at Symposium (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine)

This article opens with the quote, “history matters because it has contemporary consequences,” and it just gets better from there.  Directors Kevin Gover (National Museum of the American Indian) and Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture) participated in a day long symposium titled, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” in which they talked about confronting the historic and continued racist ideologies that are entrenched in contemporary American society and the role of museums.  They specifically discuss the example of the concurrent rise of confederate statues and racist mascots.

How the Dana Schultz Controversy- and a Year of Reckoning- Have Changed Museums Forever

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Election protest (photo courtesy of Quartz)

Chronicling a series of high profile controversies, this article looks at the combination of factors that have led to these, as well as the changes they are bringing to museums and their operation.  It also discusses why museums have become ground zero for explosive cultural encounters stating, “We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become the places where these issues get played out.”

Native Voices, Accurate History Forge Deeper, Better Understanding of American Indians in Nations Schools

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Students using NK360 (photo courtesy of Smithsonian Insider)

This article showcases the role museums have within their respective walls and how they are branching out to have far reaching impacts in classrooms all over the nation.  Similar to classes taught at the Peabody by Curator of Education, Lindsay Randall, this article follows the creation and implementation of National Museum of the American Indian’s newest initiative, Native Knowledge 360. NK360 is a “long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculum in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country.”   This program works with the inclusion and cooperation of Native communities and educators as well as provides educational materials for teachers.

 

 

Cats in the Collections

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!

A JAGUAR!

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An adorable jaguar cub who would love to live at the Peabody and get belly scratches. Look at those mitts!!! By User:MatthiasKabel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8837354

A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.

The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.

This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.

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Map showing the Nicoya cultural region. By Rodtico21 (Own work)[CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.

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Image of a complete vessel. Notice the holes in the side of the legs.  By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.

The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.

If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.

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So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!

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Scary lion from the 1995 movie Jumanji.
Sometimes the Peabody seems like it’s playing its own version of the game Jumanji, with all the random artifacts that mysteriously present themselves to staff members.

 

 

 

A Life in Beads

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

I recently received two requests from history faculty for our class on Westward Expansion. Unfortunately, we recently determined that the majority of the objects used for that class should be further investigated to see if they are potential NAGPRA objects – specifically items of cultural patrimony.  Which meant that if I was to fulfill the requests of these teachers I needed to come up with a new activity FAST! I had less than two working weeks to formulate and flesh out what the seventy-minute class would do.

While I was scrolling online for ideas my colleague Samantha Hixson mentioned a Plains dress that we had – thus giving me an “A HA!!!!” moment.  I had seen a lesson related to a Plains dress from the National Museum of the American Indian. That got me thinking and served as a foundation for my own lesson.

I decided to use multiple objects from the Peabody Institute’s collection to understand the long standing close connection that Plains tribes had to their surroundings and communities through traditions. Through the lens of one aspect of life – clothing – the impact that Westward Expansion had on tribes will be more clearly defined.

In addition to the dress I also selected a pair of beaded moccasins, one of the muslin pencil drawings (reproduction), a defleshing tool, as well as a bison skin rattle (reproduction). The class begins with students wandering around the room, simply exploring the objects scattered about before working together to dive more deeply into the material culture.

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Students look at a reproduction of one of the Sioux pencil drawings in our collection.

Some of the questions students are asked are basic observational ones: “what material is the dress made from.” Others begin to stretch their understanding of the process of making clothing: “what role did men and boys have in the creation of the dress and shoes.” We also delve into why decorations are important, not only in the culture we are studying, but our own as well.

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Students answering questions about the material culture.

We then pause as a class to talk about traditions and what they mean to us personally. We talk about the positive influence they have on us and how they bring us closer together as a community (Head of School Day was a favorite tradition that was mentioned. One can tell that the speculation amongst students of when it will be called is going strong!!).

We then discuss how the actions of white settlers and the government destroyed the traditions of Plains tribes and how this affected communities. This was a very emotional part of the class for many students. It is certainly one thing to read about atrocities in the past through the emotional barrier of a textbook – and quite another to “see” it when looking at the clothing that a real person wore. And based on an email I received from one of the faculty asking for more resources for students to further investigate the impact on tribes and how they are dealing with it today, it is a lesson that has already had a lasting impact on the students.

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Lindsay Randall pointing out details in the clothing.

But I do not want to end my post on such a heavy note, so I will tell you about a great way that everyone at the Peabody supports the work of each other. For the first class Samantha sat in on the activity and was VERY helpful. While she did answer some of the student questions – which was very nice and I do not mean to diminish how helpful that was – but more importantly SHE WAS WEARING QUILL EARRINGS!!!!! And in the lesson I mentioned QUILLING!! So I may have made asked her to take them out so that I could show them to students.

She also noticed that I mention elk tooth beads in my lesson and shared with me that students had recently discovered one in our collections! SCORE!!!! Collaboration for the WIN!

Decoding a woven language

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Cloth was the books the Spanish could not burn.

During Fall Term I worked with Meg Bednarcik and Nick Zufelt – both Instructors in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science – to create a class that would focus on the computer science concepts of looping and parameters.

We decided to utilize the extensive Guatemalan textile collection at the Peabody, as they are brightly colored and engaging and most have repeating, or looping, motifs. We also liked the idea of incorporating clothing made and worn exclusively by indigenous women into a subject where they are woefully underrepresented.

Eighteen huipils (wee-peels) were pulled for the class, with the images of another twelve scanned. A huipil is a traditional Maya women’s shirt.

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The first activity was a matching game to show students how huipils had silent information encoded into them about the wearer’s home community. Each village has its own distinctive design. The students were given twelve cards with images of other huipils in our collection and asked to match them to huipils that were laid out in the room. The following images are from three villages, highlighting how the differences between villages, as well as the variation within a particular village.

Huipils from San Mateo

Huipils from San Ildefonso

Huipils from Almolongo

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Students participating in the village sorting game.

Then students worked with either Meg or Nick to find designs that had looping designs, or nested loops. Then they worked on creating parameters for the designs they had found.

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Meg Bednarcik points out looping patterns to her students.

The third activity was asking students to identify certain motifs that are common in Maya imagery. Some, such as a deer, were more literal then others, such as the feathered water serpent or portals.

And as you learn in the write up bellow by Meg, this class served as the starting point for a term long project the students will be working on:

My AP CS A students ventured to the Peabody Institute to learn of Guatemalan huipils and the stories these women’s clothes tell of personal identity. The students will complete follow-up assignments to program their own design defining their personal identity here at the academy and beyond utilizing programming concepts learned in class such as objects and repetitions. Though many students were shocked to be at the Peabody for a CS class, they left reflecting on the many ways these programming ideas apply to other aspects of our world. I am eager to continue to utilize these resources at our fingertips to allow students the space to ponder their place in our interconnected world beyond PA, and consider the beneficial impact their work as computer scientists can have on others outside of the classroom.

~ Meg Bednarcik, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science

This has been one of the most interesting and fun classes for me to develop. I really enjoyed working with and learning about part of our collection that is underutilized. But most of all, I have been thoroughly engrossed by the current action Maya women are taking to ensure that their designs are protected and not appropriated. Based on the information I gleaned from my research, I included a huipil from Santiago Sacatepéquez, which is the only community so far that has been able to give legal protection to their woven intellectual property.

To learn more about huipils and their images, visit Guatemala City’s Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing website.

 

Below are symbols found in some of the huipils in the Peabody’s collection:

Serpent motif – geometric designs known as “kumatz’in”. “The Kaqchikel term kumatz means snake, or the feathered serpent.

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 Deer – Deer held particular significance in Maya mythology and the Dance of the Deer, originating from pre-Conquest times, is still performed at festivals today.

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The Double Headed Eagle – The double headed eagle in Maya mythology represents the Great God with two faces, one looking to good and the other to evil, or to heaven and earth. Double-headed birds are motifs frequently used for decorating ceremonial garments. The image to the right outlines the shape of the double headed eagle.

XZX   cxzc

Sky bands – represents the path of the sun with the Xs formed in the “empty” space refers to the end of the solstices.

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Offering plate / Portal – “portal” or “door” was the Maya name for the entrance into the “other world” (spirit world). The dot in the center represents the door through which an ancestor can travel.

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The Star That Proceeds The Sun – This motif has been a part of Mesoamerican cosmology since Olmec times. It can be seen in celestial bands along with the sun, the moon, and particularly Venus. It is also featured in codices, such as the Popol Vuh.

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Bird – At the beginning of the rains, and when maize is sowed, they can be seen in large quantities on the rivers and lakes.

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Sun – A sun is embroidered around the neckline. If a woman in the village just became a widow, she would wear her huipil without the sun around the neck, because she would have lost her sun

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Lightning – Vertical zigzag lines are associated with rain and lightning.

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Lion / Jaguar – The animal has been given a mane, indicating European influence. The cougar or American lion has no mane.

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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.

Computer science, binary searches, and a card catalog

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

When you think of the binary search algorithm you immediately think an archaeology museum is the perfect place for students to get a hands on example. Right?

Well it certainly was not what students in Nick Zufelt’s Computer Science 500 class expected when they showed up at the museum. To many of the students who had been to the Peabody with their history or science class to look at objects, it was a bit perplexing how they could be combining archaeology with computer science.

What many do not know is that the Peabody has many other resources that PA faculty can tap into.  Mr. Zufelt discovered something that Peabody Museum still had that no other place on campus (not even the OWHL!) still had: our card catalog.

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The card catalog at the Peabody Museum

When Nick first came up with the idea to use our card catalog in an interactive lab activity for his students, we were ecstatic. We love when Peabody resources are utilized for learning in such out of the box ways.  The card catalog was a perfect hands on example for students to understand the binary search algorithm.

To those who are not familiar with this concept (and I was certainly one of them!) Nick began the class with this simple introduction:

When you look up a word in the dictionary, do you start at page 1, look for the word, then move onto page 2, etc.? No, of course not. You have a more sophisticated way of searching through the massive list of words. This activity hones in on the algorithm underlying this process: the binary search algorithm. The basic idea is: chop in half, go to the half that will have your item in it; repeat.

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Nick Zufelt, computer science faculty, explaining the project to the students

Each student was then given a page listing 23 different cards from our card catalog system and told to pick one of them. Then they had to find the card and write down the process of how they found it, but in a manner that a computer could follow.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “wow that seems like a pretty easy project….” WRONG!

While this activity may strike us as simple, it actually turned into a battle of the wills for many students as they struggled throughout the period to create a very simple process that was also accurate. And when some students had a friend try their process, they often found that what they had devised was incorrect (Arrrgggg!!! The FRUSTRATION!!!!)

This type of learning helps to make abstract concepts more accessible for students as they begin learning something that forces them to think in a completely new and different manner.

Mr. Zufelt has already talked about bringing future students back for the activity and we look forward to working with him and his students on this and other computer science adventures at the Peabody!

NOTE: Despite still having a card catalog, the Peabody library is completely cataloged in the system used by the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Our librarian Mary Beth Clack is currently updating records to make monographic series more accessible.

Dipping into Trade Connections

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Recently the History and Social Sciences Department has implemented significant changes to their History 100 curriculum, required of all ninth graders. One of the new features of the curriculum is the inclusion of “dips” or week long periods where students can delve more deeply into a subject. This allows students to practice historical literacy skills in a more targeted manner, while also offering the opportunity for more hands-on and experiential learning.

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Students looking at a mock excavation site from Andover, MA to learn how to “read” objects as text.

That’s where the Peabody comes in.

Both the Education and Collections programs at the Peabody have teamed up with the History and Social Sciences faculty to offer a week long intensive investigation of trade networks in the Americas. The focus of the week is to learn how to read objects as primary sources and to look for patterns and similarities between cultures to learn about the connections between the groups. The cultures that students will be focusing on are the Hopewell, Pueblo, Maya, and Moche.

For an entire week each Winter and Spring terms the majority of ninth graders will descend upon the Peabody to work extensively with our collections from the four cultures. The objects will be set up in “stations” according to their cultural groups and working in teams, students will rotate through each station examining the object and collaboratively answering questions.

Afterward, the teams will get images of all the objects and will be asked to sort them – using any criteria they want – before sharing their decisions with the class. Looking at objects creatively in this manner has often helped archaeologists to make connections that they might have missed otherwise.

One example of a trade connection is our cylinder jar from Chaco Canyon, which shares its shape with cylinder jars produced by the Maya. Many of the Maya cylinder jars held drinks made from cacao, and so it was thought that perhaps chocolate residue might be found in the ones from Chaco Canyon. And it was!!!

We look forward to working with students and faculty on this amazing adventure! (Although you will probably find us drinking soda or other caffeinated beverages after as we recover from the onslaught of the entire Junior class.)