In late January, the Peabody Institute hosted a special school group visit of students at Cape Cod Academy. Why is this school group more special than any other? Well, it actually had a lot more to do with the teacher – Alex Hagler.
Alex has been a part of the Peabody’s extended family for nearly 13 years. They started as a volunteer in 2009 and have worked at the Peabody in several capacities: work duty student, volunteer, and temporary employee. Alex has been kind enough to contribute to the blog in the past and you can read their thoughts in a student reflection and retrospective submission from several years ago.
Now, Alex is a Latin teacher at Cape Cod Academy and introduces archaeology to their students as part of the curriculum. One of the best places for that, of course, is here at the Peabody Institute. Alex, and a co-teacher, brought six students to explore our TARPS mock excavation exercise and take a tour of the collections spaces. The students asked fabulous questions and learned important lessons about archaeology and Native American culture.
Welcoming Alex back as a teacher with their own students was a powerful “full circle” moment for us here. It is so rewarding to have an ongoing relationship with the students and alumni who connected with the Peabody while here at Phillips Academy.
If you are one of those students who enjoyed your time at the Peabody – reach out! We would love to connect with you again.
An important part of the Peabody’s educational mission is to support the expansion of archaeology-centered teaching into new areas. While we have primarily focused on how to integrate archaeology into high school and college level education, we have not engaged in sustained efforts for lower grades. We recently had an opportunity to change that.
This month I helped Dr. Bethany Jay of Salem State University to outline a new education course that she will be teaching focused on subject matter knowledge listed in the MA frameworks for History and social sciences from prek-8th grade.
The course will help future teachers explore the political, economic, and cultural development of the United States with an eye towards social justice. As such, Indigenous people Africans/African Americans, and women will figure prominently in the course discussions of those who impacted American history. Students in the class will see how these groups influenced and were affected by the changing political, cultural, and economic landscape..
We decided to have the class begin with a project focused on rethinking how the First Thanksgiving is taught in elementary classrooms, with a particular focus on centering Native voices. Using resources from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, exploring Indignous place names in Massachussetts, and finding age appropriate and accurate literature, such as Chris Newell’s book If You Lived During the Plimoth Thaksgiving, students will create multiple lesson plans reflecting the standards of the grades they intend to teach.
There was a lot of material for us to work with when we got to the section on ancient cilviliations and how archaeologists develop theories regarding past cultures – a particular focus of 4th grade. To ensure local connections, we decided to incorporate the paleo-indian Bull Brook site located in Ipswich MA in the discussions.
We also outlined part of the course that would discuss both slavery and contributions of women, using material culture, but that section still needs more work. However, I’m thinking many of the lessons that the Peabody uses could be scaled down to be age appropriate for the elementary level.
It was a lot of fun to work with Dr. Jay on the creation of this class and I cannot wait to collaborate on the second half and to hear how it goes!
Over Thanksgiving break, I was catching up on some news and saw an article that caught my eye – Smithsonian African American Museum Launches Online Interactive Access. First, a headline like that will always catch my attention. Second, it stirred a memory of an email exchange that I had with a registrar from the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) back in July.
The Peabody Institute is proud to have a handful of items on loan to the NMAAHC to tell the story of Lucy Foster, a free Black woman who lived here in Andover from 1771-1845. Lucy’s story is part of the Slavery and Freedom exhibition. This loan has been active since 2019 and will continue until at least early 2023 (and may be extended!).
A few months ago, a registrar from the NMAAHC asked for permission to include the items on loan from the Peabody in their new digital initiative, the Searchable Museum. The Searchable Museum offers rich interactive, digital experiences based on the NMAAHC’s inaugural exhibitions, historical collections, narratives, and educational resources. The Slavery and Freedom exhibition was the first to be developed as a digital experience. I gladly granted permission to include Lucy Foster and her story.
While I was excited to see items from the Peabody as part of this incredible resource, I was also quickly drawn into the rest of the content. I especially enjoyed learning about the Point of Pines Slave Cabin. In 2013, a team from NMAAHC traveled to Edisto Island, South Carolina and began the meticulous process of dismantling and relocating a cabin that had been occupied by Black families from the 1850s until the 1980s. The cabin is a vehicle to tell the story of the people who lived there, the power of land ownership, the architecture of slavery, and modern housing discrimination.
The Searchable Museum is well organized and information is presented in clear terms – I strongly recommend that you all check it out!
The way the Peabody Institute is supporting collections-based research is changing.
We are committed to involving Native American and Indigenous nations, communities, and groups in research efforts involving collections held by the Peabody (archives, photographs, and items), including decision-making about the appropriateness of research activities and analysis. As of November 2021, consultation with an authorized tribal representative is a required part of any application for access to collections. This is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (September 13, 2007), specifically Article 11, which states that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
This approach stems from the Peabody Institute’s commitment to practice ethical management in all aspects of the Peabody’s collection, and our response to the UN Declaration, which requires member states to:
provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
Preference will be given to research projects that are conducted by descendant communities or at the written request of those communities. The Peabody encourages researchers to foster their own relationship with geographically and culturally affiliated descendant communities. In cases where relationships have not been, or cannot be, established, the Peabody may assist with limited guidance on consultation on a case by case basis.
Researchers must submit a completed Collections Research Request Form to the Curator of Collections for evaluation. Non-invasive techniques including, but not limited to, 3D scanning, pXRF, and x-ray, as well as invasive techniques, including, but not limited to, radiocarbon dating, compositional analysis, DNA, and isotopic analysis require the completion of the Analysis Request Form.
Prior to consultation, the Peabody Institute is able to confirm or deny the presence of the requested information and respond to general questions about the proposed research material. In some cases, a list may be provided to the researcher to assist them in conducting an effective consultation. However, no direct access or detailed information will be shared without appropriate community authorization.
The Peabody Institute recognizes that this is a shift in traditional museum research access practices. Our goal is prioritize Indigenous voices in any use of Indigenous cultural heritage and to make certain that research is conducted collaboratively with descendant communities. All questions or comments can be sent to the Curator of Collections.
Well, we did it. After about four years of focused work, the Peabody Institute collections team has finally completed the inventory project.
This project has been a labor of love (and frustration, and tears, and headaches…) over the years. And I am thrilled to share that the last drawer was inventoried last week!
The project was originally designed back in 2016 to gain full physical and intellectual control over the collection. We knew that the Peabody Institute was home to thousands of items that had not yet been cataloged and were therefore inaccessible to researchers, classes, and tribal partners.
Over the course of the project, we more than doubled the catalog records in our internal database, counted just over 500,000 individual items, and rehoused items from over 2,000 wooden drawers into archival boxes.
I considered linking to all the past blog posts about this project, but honestly, that got ridiculous pretty quickly! Instead, I will direct you here to find everything tagged as part of the reboxing project to learn more about our process.
A massive thank you must go out to everyone who was a part of this incredible project. This includes all Peabody Institute staff – including those who have had to move on over the years – our volunteers, and dozens of work duty students.
Our deepest appreciation also goes our financial supporters – the Oak River Foundation, the Abbot Academy Fund, and Les ’68 and Barbara Callahan for their generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the Institute’s collections.
Several months ago, I was connected with a PA alum who wished to donate a piece of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry to the Peabody Institute. It is a gold pendant in the shape of a frog with a slightly unclear origin. It had been passed down within the family and was variably attributed to the Maya, as well as cultures in Panama and Columbia. The owner had the pendant appraised for insurance purposes in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Each appraisal identified a different culture of origin and left me a little confused.
Now, admittedly, I know relatively little about Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry and was out of my depth to evaluate this potential donation. Thank goodness for networking!
My first step was to reach out to a couple members of the Peabody Advisory Committee who have expertise in Mesoamerica and Peru. Even if they could not identify the cultural origin of the pendant, I knew they could point me in the right direction. In collaboration with the Peabody’s director, Ryan Wheeler, it was decided that I should reach out to a professor emeritus, Dr. John Scott, at the University of Florida for evaluation. That was a solid plan.
Lots of photos were taken of every part of the frog pendant.
The final piece of the puzzle was to determine if the frog was actually made of gold. Again, that is outside of my expertise and I needed to find some help. Fortunately, Andover is home to several amazing jewelry stores. The wonderfully helpful Vice President of Service at Royal Jewelers, Dina, came to my rescue. She hooked me up with a jeweler who had technology to identify the metallurgic components of the pendant without causing any damage. Technology is great!
The result is that the frog is a mixture of gold and copper that is typical of tumbaga. Tumbaga is the name for a non-specific alloy of gold and copper that is very common in Lower Central American manufacture. The frog is 1,200-500 years old and probably originated in the Central Highlands or Atlantic Slope of Costa Rica.
The next step is to present all this information to the Peabody Collections Oversight Committee (PCOC) in October. The PCOC will then vote on whether or not to formally accept it into the collection. Hopefully, this frog will be making an appearance in a classroom soon!
Note – if you would like to learn more about Latin American art, check out some of Dr. Scott’s publications:
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!
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’…
This month marks the 103rd birthday of Richard “Scotty” MacNeish (1918-2001) – past Director of the Peabody Institute, unconfirmed winner of the 1938 Golden Glove award (a regional amateur boxing title), member of the National Academy of Sciences, and all-around remarkable 20th century archaeologist. When starting to pull this post together, I found this quote describing MacNeish and could not resist including it here:
A strange, bifurcated goatee decorates his chin, and there is a shimmering reddishness about his hair and face. He has spent, literally, more than 20 years in the field — longer than any other archaeologist. He has published more than 400 books and articles. Despite two heart bypass operations, he retains the pounding mental metabolism of a furious shrew. (“Bones to Pick Archaeology” by Richard O’Mara in the Baltimore Sun, May 16, 1996)
Ok, in my first draft of this blog, I listed information about MacNeish’s professional positions and tried to summarize his career. That turned into something far too long and meandering to share. So, instead, I will point you to the wonderful short biography from the Peabody Institute archival catalog records and the much more in-depth biographical memoir from the National Academy of Sciences. I will use this space to highlight his impact at the Peabody Institute and my daily work.
Throughout his career, MacNeish sought the intertwined origins of agriculture and civilization. He excavated in North America, Peru, Mexico (Tamaulipas, Tehuacán, Coxcatlan, and Palo Blanco), Belize, and China while searching for the early domestication of corn and rice. Because of this particular interest, the Peabody Institute is home to a number of plant remains and botanical specimens. Some of these tiny early maize cobs are an important part of a much larger story on the origin of modern corn. I have a love/hate relationship with these specimen. They are so fascinating but also so delicate – I want to share them, but decades of storage without climate control have left them brittle. Gentle handling is required for sure!
MacNeish kept EVERYTHING from his research and excavations – a double-edged sword for collections management. This applies less to the object collections (MacNeish was not always allowed to retain the artifacts he excavated in foreign countries) but very much applies to his archives. His archives include everything from thank you cards to financial records to drafts of publications to excavation images. With over 100 boxes of archival material, I am confident that I can find the documentation that anyone is looking for – but I am regularly daunted by volume of material.
If all of that wasn’t enough, MacNeish continues to influence how the Peabody Institute’s collection grows. We recently received archival gifts from his associates Jane Libby and Dr. James Neely documenting their work with MacNeish and beyond. Once these collections are processed, I will be happy to share the relevant finding aids. Well, I haven’t even mentioned MacNeish’s reputation as a passionately supportive teacher – or what his archives reveal about his feelings toward those who disagreed with him – or his reputation as a flirt. Alas, we must draw a line somewhere in this conversation. Clearly there is so much to say about Scotty MacNeish! I wish I had been fortunate enough to meet him before he passed, but I am fortunate enough to work in his shadow at the Peabody.
You have probably heard of radio-carbon (C14) dating. An invaluable tool for contextualizing the past, C14 dating is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by measuring stable and unstable (radioactive) isotopes of Carbon. Developed by University of Chicago physical chemist Willard Libby in the 1940s, C14 dating was a game-changer for the field of archaeology. Libby received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960.
Instead of relying solely on relative dating – the basic concept that an object found below another is older than one found closer to the surface – archaeologists gained the ability to specifically identify a year range for organic artifacts. The Peabody Institute was a contributor to this work through past curator, Frederick Johnson, but that is a story for another blog.
Lately, I have been working to facilitate C14 dating on bone artifacts from Pikimachay Cave in the Ayacucho Valley of Peru at the request of the 2019 Cordell Fellow, Juan Yataco. Juan is revisiting work done in the Ayacucho Valley by Scotty MacNeish. Back in the 1970s, MacNeish made some pretty bold assertions about the dates of human occupation in that region. At the time, the C14 dates from animal bones supported his claims, but other archaeologists doubted whether those bones were associated with human occupation.
While Juan’s specialty is stone tools, he also wanted to use improved technology to obtain an updated date for Pikimachay Cave. Unfortunately, the first bone sent for testing failed to yield an appropriate collagen sample and could not be tested. A second bone is on its way now. Both bones were modified by humans and will provide a fascinating glimpse of the past. Fingers are crossed for a better outcome this time around!