The collections team remains busy at the Peabody during the summer time, following an already packed school year. Instead of working with PA students, we spend much of our time working to catalog the collections and hosting outside researchers.
The summer has started off strong with one of the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award recipients , John Andrew Campbell. John is documenting artifacts from the period of first contact between Native Americans and European settlers along the maritime region of eastern Canada and northern New England. ”What does that mean?,“ you may ask.
Basically, John is identifying copper, glass beads, and glazed ceramic artifacts that were found intermingled with traditional native tools and artifacts. The first appearance of these ”foreign” materials indicates that contact between the cultures had been made. Their use and modification by tribes is the direct result of trade with the European settlers and can be revealing of those early interactions.
The Peabody is John’s first stop for collections research as he begins to build data for his dissertation work at Memorial University in Newfoundland. He will be visiting for most of June and documenting hundreds of items.
The rest of the summer is chock full of research appointments and we are happy to share our collections to contribute to the field of archaeology!
Drawers pulled for research
Researcher John Andrew Campbell recording details about objects in the Peabody collection
On Monday May 22nd students and teachers from Brookwood School came to the Peabody Museum to kick off their “Steep Week.” During Steep Week, students immerse themselves in an intensive program related to an area of interest, in this case archaeology.
When the students arrived they were very proud to announce that archaeologists “DON’T DIG DINOSAURS!” Clearly their two teachers (one of whom is a trained archaeologist) had worked VERY hard to prep them for their visit to the Peabody, as well as for the rest of the week’s activities.
The students began by learning how to “read” modern trash to make a biography about an individual based solely on the objects that the person had thrown away. The clean trash that the students looked through was mine that I had split into three different bags related to different activities that I do: kayaking and running, cooking, quilting and reading. The group that had the container with an old Doritos bag declared that their person (me!) was a guy who was either “failing at adulting” or “had student loans” – very interesting assumptions they were making!!! They were then shocked to learn that the person who had the Doritos was also the same person who had run a half marathon and made quilts. This allowed us to have a great conversation about assumptions that we make and how that can impact our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The next two activities were mock excavations of a prehistoric site as well as a historic one. Both helped the students prepare for the real archaeological dig that they were going to conduct on their school property later in the week, particularly the historic example, since they had already been looking at old maps of the school’s property to see what they could learn about it before putting a shovel into the ground.
Students looking at a mock excvation unit that has evidence of pottery making
Students working in the “lab” to identify artifacts found from the mock Katherine Nanny Naylor site
The rain mostly held off for the group and we were able to conclude the day with a fierce atlatl competition!
“Our introduction to Archaeology at the Peabody Museum at Phillips Academy, Andover successfully prepared our students to investigate archaeological problems at a high level by concentrating on the conceptual basis of archaeological thought and filtering it through readily understandable, local examples. Our students enjoyed themselves while having their minds opened to a different way of investigatory thought that they relied on heavily to ask questions and achieve understanding.” – Mike Wise, Brookwood teacher
Did you know that the Peabody curates ancient poop?
Coprolites are the fossilized remnants of excrement – animal or human. While it may sound gross, curating these materials is invaluable for the archaeological community. You may be asking yourself ‘what could you possibly learn from poop?!’ and while I understand your incredulity, allow me to share the incredibly fascinating information that you can learn.
Coprolites are the snapshot of one day of one individual’s life thousands of years ago. They can reveal what that person ate – whether or not that food was cooked first, was that food local to the area or the product of trade, what time of year that food would be available. Is there evidence of disease or illness? Did different individuals from the same site have radically different diets? If so, what does that say about social status? Coprolites are also viable sources of ancient DNA!
The Peabody curates only a couple dozen coprolites in the collection. And we are always thrilled when researchers come to get the scoop on the poop!
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.
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.
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.
Most of the Peabody staff recently traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia to take part in the 82nd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). While at the conference, we each had our own role. In addition to helping to staff the Peabody table in the exhibitor hall, collections assistant Samantha Hixson and I had the privilege of a collections tour at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Laboratory of Archaeology (LOA) at the University of British Columbia.
The MOA is a unique institution that houses ethnographic objects from around the world, with an emphasis on material from the Pacific Northwest. The vast majority of these pieces are on display in open storage. That means the galleries are essentially storage spaces with thousands of objects presented to the visitor with little interpretative text.
Basketry display at the MOA
Totem poles at the MOA
Display of a fish mask at the MOA
Collections storage at the MOA is impressive and elaborate. Each object has its own individually crafted mount and locations are tracked with barcodes. The Laboratory of Archaeology on the other hand has very little to no exhibition space. They carefully photograph every object for inclusion in their online catalog and individually bag and label each artifact. Their storage is no less impressive as artifacts are arrayed on compacting storage shelves with room for growth. This is the type of collections storage that I aspire to – but we have a long way to go!
Example of individual object storage at the MOA
Example of individual object storage at the LOA
Collections storage at the MOA
Touring the storage spaces at these institutions was incredibly helpful as Samantha and I brainstorm to reimagine collections storage at the Peabody. We are very grateful for the time spent and information shared with us – well worth the trip!
Last week, the Peabody had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Paulette Steeves as she examined portions of the MacNeish collection. Dr. Steeves is currently a Lecturer of Indigenous archaeology and anthropology and the Interim Director of the certificate program in Native American Studies at UMass Amherst. Her research focuses on the peopling of the Western hemisphere, but not through the traditional Bering Strait theory.
Dr. Steeves uses indigenous theory and methodology to explore sites in the Americas that date back as far as 60,000 years ago. This is actually a big deal and an anti-establishment approach to the subject. Dr. Steeves is looking into the materials collected by Scotty MacNeish during his work in the 1960s in Peru and Mexico for additional evidence. MacNeish was also a proponent of the idea of early colonization and much of his collection has remained unanalyzed for decades.
Dr. Steeves was thrilled to see the collection and to meet MacNeish himself on her visit. We look forward to hosting her again for many research visits to come!
The bulk of the Peabody’s collection is stored in the basement. It has been challenging over the years to control the temperature and humidity in the basement – an essential factor in maintaining an artifact collection. A small fluctuation of both temperature and humidity is normal and expected as seasons change. However, extreme variation lead to damage – bone can become fragile, ceramics can develop weak-points, and even stone tools can become brittle.
For the past four years, I have been tracking the environment throughout Peabody and noticed these strong fluctuations. By taking readings of the temperature and humidity in all our storage spaces once an hour (through the use of a datalogger), I determined that the influx of outdoor air through these poorly sealed windows is large contributing factor. There is only one way to fix this.
In collaboration with the Office of Physical Plant on campus, we are implementing a plan to mitigate some of this fluctuation. Contractors are working to seal the windows in the basement to stop outside air from sneaking into the storage.
This will stabilize the environment and lead to fewer changes in both temperature and humidity. The first step on the road to environmental control!
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.
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!!!
Chaco Cylinder Jar
Maya Cylinder Jar
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.)
Thanks to Catherine Hunter, Peabody Museum research associate, our full basketry collection of 329 is inventoried and described. In September, Catherine turned over 7 binders of material including research into known artists, glossaries, information on weaving techniques, and a basic description of each basket. This massive project took Catherine nearly a year!
The next phase is to photograph each of these gorgeous baskets and improve their storage and accessibility. Last week, Marla Taylor, Samantha Hixson, and Catherine took a trip to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University to examine their basketry storage. The visit was full of inspiration and incredibly helpful as we continue to work on this project.
Keep your eyes peeled for the inclusion of these amazing baskets in our online collection database!
Catherine Hunter with some of the Peabody’s baskets
Catherine Hunter, Samantha Hixson, and Marla Taylor visit the Harvard Peabody basketry collection.
My name is Samantha Hixson and I am the new collections assistant here at the Peabody. I come to you from New Mexico where the weather is warm and has left me completely unprepared for New England winters (although Marla and Lindsay promise that they’ll get me through it).
I have previously worked at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It’s these places that got me excited to work within museums, focusing specifically on Native American collections. So you can imagine how excited I was when I was hired to work at the Peabody, it’s the perfect job for me! I’ve also had some other very interesting archaeological/ethnographic experiences, but those are for other posts.
I’ve started getting my feet wet in a couple projects already (with the promise of a lot more to come) and am most excited about the re-housing of the collection as well the Adopt A Drawer program. I think it’s great that these collections are getting new homes and more personal interactions, however brief.
If you’re in the neighborhood of the museum, come stop by; I’d love to meet you!