The Shadow of Scotty MacNeish

Contributed by Marla Taylor

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 was also particularly interested in excavating sites that would push back the archaeological framework for understanding when people arrived in the New World.  I think it appealed to his pugnacious disposition to tell everyone else that they were wrong.  His work is proving relevant as Indigenous scholars push to rewrite the archaeological understanding of the Americas.  I love this aspect of MacNeish’s work and hope that more people will come to utilize these collections.

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 archivesHis 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.

C14 Dating the Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

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.

This profile is an example of relative dating – more recent objects are closer to the surface while older material is deeper.

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!

Home to Cape Cod

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Sometimes it can take years to repatriate ancestors and funerary belongings back to Native American tribes.  And sometimes, it can take just a few weeks. 

On November 9th, the Peabody partnered with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (PMAE) of Harvard University to repatriate ancestors and belongings to representatives of the Wampanoag Confederacy.  From start to finish, this process took about six weeks – a credit to the partnership work with the PMAE and our established relationship with the Wampanaog.

We are always happy to see ancestors return home and have the opportunity to share that with so many wonderful partners.

Representatives of the Wampanoag Confederacy, the Peabody Institute, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard pose for a socially distanced photograph

Reflections on Repatriation

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Most of my time lately has been spent on repatriation work.  This work isn’t something that I can share lots of details about, but it is probably both the most challenging and rewarding part of my job. 

The Peabody has always had a commitment to working with tribes and Indigenous peoples to ensure that ancestors, funerary belongings, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are repatriated in a respectful and timely fashion.  I am fortunate to inherit that past work and a strong institutional reputation for fairness and responsibility.  It is a high standard that I constantly strive to uphold.

In late October, I was able to take part in the 6th Annual Repatriation Conference sponsored by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA).  This conference was a focused on the 30th anniversary of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  It was fabulous to learn about the work of other institutions and tribes, share strategies to overcome challenges, hear about success stories, and be inspired by so many other dedicated professionals. 

I was the most impacted by a wonderful presentation on decolonization by the Director of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, ME and the staff of the Museum of Us in San Diego, CA.  The incredible work they have done, and continue to do, to address the inherently colonial nature of a museum interpreting the material culture of minority and Indigenous communities is inspiring.  Listening to their presentation and thinking about the work we do at the Peabody, I was pleased to identify so much overlap.  The thought we have put into the decolonizing process manifests itself in our collections policies, NAGPRA policy, how we approach education, and approach research inquiries.

I take this part of my job very seriously.  My work can’t erase past mistreatment of these ancestors and belongings, or redress colonial wrongs, but I can make progress.  The changes that I am part of will hopefully become the foundation of a stronger reputation for caring, meticulousness, and a progressive attitude toward repatriation.  Decolonization work is anti-racism work.

In mid-November, a colleague and I will be presenting to the NAGPRA Community a Practice (a group of scholars and NAGPRA practitioners from museum and tribes) on the topic of decolonizing collections care.  I am excited to share my ideas with this group and get feedback.

The process of decolonization will probably never end and there will always be more to learn.  I look forward to the challenge!

This artwork was created especially for the 6th Annual Repatriation Conference by George Curtis Levi, who is a member of the Southern Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma and is also Southern Arapaho. This ledger art painting depicts how repatriation builds community and strengthens culture. It was painted on an antique mining document from Montana that dates from the 1890s.

Back to Work!

Contributed by Emily Hurley

It’s been almost two months now since John and I have been back at the Peabody alternating weeks of work. In order to save time while we are in the Peabody, we are using that time exclusively to inventory drawers and spending our weeks at home updating the database with the drawers we inventoried the previous week. Now that we’ll be back in the Peabody more regularly, our work from home duties have shifted to more database work. In his post from last month’s newsletter, you can see all the hard work John’s been doing at home so now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish from home so far.

Marla has kept everyone busy with various projects since we started working remotely in March. For me, that included digitizing photographs, creating condition reports for textiles, digitizing ledger books, and photographing site records. In total, while working remotely, I was able to digitize nine boxes of photos, complete 120 condition reports, digitize 1,700 ledger entries, and photograph 354 site records.

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2019.0.706 – A goat on a mountainside in the Ayacucho Valley. (I think this goat is so cute!)

The majority of my time working remotely has been spent scanning and editing photographs of various archaeological projects from the collection. The photos I digitized were from archaeological excavations in Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Connecticut. Perhaps my favorite photos to work with were the ones from the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project in Peru. This project, directed by Richard MacNeish, was meant to investigate the origin of agriculture and its relationship to the development of civilization in New World Centers. The Ayacucho Valley was subsequently excavated between 1969 and 1975, which produced the hundreds of images that I’ve been working on. Many of the photos are of cave excavations, others show sweeping views of the Peruvian highlands complete with mountains and wildlife, and there’s the occasional photo of the archaeologists acting silly.

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2019.0.743 – Archaeologists overlooking the Ayacucho Valley

Since we’ve been back at the Peabody, John and I have been working hard to make up for lost time on the inventory project. So far we’ve been making great progress as we’ve been able to inventory over 60 drawers since being back. Empty wooden drawers are once again piling up like crazy!

Working from home for the past few months has been an interesting experience. It’s been great saving so much money on gas and I loved being able to make myself gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch every day, but I’m very happy to be back working with the artifacts. Hopefully someday soon we’ll all be able to enjoy being back at the Peabody full time!

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If you’re in need of some grilled cheese inspiration here is one of my favorites—olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, arugula, and manchego cheese! (I only had pita pockets at the time but I think a nice sourdough would be great)

SAA Announces New Peabody Award

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

In August, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) announced its newest education award, the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology Award for Archaeology and Education.

SAA_logo

The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology Award for Archaeology and Education recognizes the excellence of individuals or institutions in using archaeological methods, theory, and/or data to enliven, enrich, and enhance other disciplines, and to foster the community of archaeology education practitioners. The Peabody Award will spotlight these contributions and promote teaching ideas, exercises, activities, and methods across the educational spectrum, from K-12 through higher education and public education.

Peabody Advisory Committee member and recent chair Dan Sandweiss ’75 proposed the award to the PAC and SAA. Both organizations agreed that it was a great opportunity to honor those involved in archaeology and education, joining the Journal of Archaeology & Education as another important tool for creating community among those engaged in these endeavors.

One important criterion is that nomination documentation must include materials—like activities or lesson plans—that can be shared with the broader community via SAA’s website.

The award description indicates that anyone may submit a nomination and that nominees do not have to be members of the SAA. Both individuals and programs are eligible. The award committee offered this list as examples of activities that might distinguish a nominee, including archaeology service learning programs, popular archaeology writing, adult or youth training programs, lessons or lesson plans for K-12 educators, archaeological outreach programming, oral history projects, lifelong learning classes or programs, archaeology camp experiences, and collaborative work with other educators or institutions around archaeological pedagogy.

The deadline for submitting a nomination is December 1, 2020 and submission information and guidelines are on the SAA website for the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology Award in Archaeology and Education. Peabody director Ryan Wheeler is serving as the SAA’s Teaching Awards committee chair and can be contacted with questions about the Peabody Award.

Artifacts Return

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Last fall, the Peabody loaned ten objects to the Addison Gallery of American Art here at Phillips Academy.  They spent nearly a year there for the exhibition A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th Century America.

Due to public health concerns related to COVID-19, both the Peabody and the Addison have been closed to visitors since mid-March.  But, the behind the scenes work never ends.  The Addison regularly exhibits works of art on loan from other institutions and actively loans its own collection to museums around the world.  Returning these objects during COVID shutdowns has been a logistical challenge for our friends, and we were happy to coordinate with them to return the materials back across the street to us.

When the objects from the Peabody went to the Addison, a professional fine arts shipping company took care of packing and moving everything.  To come home, the Addison staff did the packing themselves – and they are awesome at it!

 

It is now up to me to put these artifacts back into our storage areas – a job I am happy to do!  Typically, we would use many of these in the upcoming school year for classes, but this year is different.  Like most other institutions, any of our classes will be taught online.

But I know that I will be happy to see Champ the auk back at home in his case every time I come into the Peabody.

Diggin’ In: Digital Speaker Series

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Part of the missions of both R.S. Peabody Institute and the Massachusetts Archaeological Society is to engage and connect with all who are interested in archaeology. Since we are unable to do this in person, both institutions are excited to announce our joint digital speaker series: Diggin’ In.

This series show cases live presentations with archaeologists from across the United States who will take questions directly from you!

Different topics will be covered during each 30 min episodes, which start live at 1:30 pm (EST) every other Wednesday and then will be posted to YouTube afterwards.

Sign up through the following emails to get on the ZOOM invitation list:

 rspeabody@andover.edu or info@massarchaeology.org 

While we are excited to welcome all our speakers digitally to our campus and community, we are particularly pleased to have Dr. Meg Conkey and Dr. Kristina Douglass join us.

In addition to her work at University of California, Berkeley and in France, Dr. Conkey is also a current member of the R.S. Peabody’s advisory board.

And while Phillips Academy might be unfamiliar to some of our speakers, that is certainly not the case for Dr. Kristina Douglass who graduated from PA in 2002. It will be fun to welcome her “home” even if it is remotely.

Our complete slate of speakers are as follows

Episode 1

Paleolithic Cave Paintings

Dr. Margaret Conkey

Wednesday June 24, 2020

Episode 2

Strawbery Banke Museum

Dr. Alix Martin

Wednesday July 8, 2020

Episode 3

Community and Resilience 

Dr. Kristina Douglass, ‘02

Wednesday July 22, 2020

Episode 4

LiDAR and Archaeology

Dr. Katharine Johnson

Wednesday August 5, 2020

Episode 5

Archaeobotony

Dr. William Farley

Wednesday August 19, 2020

Episode 6

Archaeogeology

Dr. Suanna Selby Crowley 

Wednesday Sept. 9, 2020

Episode 7

 pXRF Studies of Glass

Grace Bello

Wednesday Sept. 23, 2020

Episode 8

National Parks

Dania Jordon

Wednesday Oct. 7, 2020

Episode 9

Underwater Archaeology

David Robinson

Wednesday Oct. 21, 2020

Episode 10

Bull Brook 

Jennifer Ort

Wednesday Nov. 11, 2020

Movie Magic – sort of

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Before COVID-19, the Peabody Institute kept our social media presence to Facebook and Twitter.  But this seemed like the perfect time to expand to Youtube. This is definitely a new medium for me and I was puzzled for a few days as to how I could contribute to this platform.  And then inspiration struck.

Phillips Academy is home to two cultural institutions – the Robert S. Peabody Institute and the Addison Gallery of American Art.  Our friends at the Addison created a delightful short stop-motion video about the work of a registrar and shared it on Facebook.  I thought it was fabulous.  And I also thought, I can do that!

Well, that started a project that took about a week of evening shoots after the kids went to bed, and an additional couple weeks of sound design (maybe I shouldn’t admit that it took that long…).  I wrote a short script and then cannibalized my boys’ Legos to recreate the Peabody staff and create sets.  I regret not taking a picture of the carnage to our play room to share, but I am relieved that it is all cleaned up now.

Framing and filming the stop-motion required a level of patience and detailed focus that was challenging for me at times but necessary to make the film work.  It is hard to remember to account for everyone and everything in the scene, but not to move it too much to ensure it was fluid.  It was pretty fun to hide details in the background too.

Adding the voices and music was a whole separate task.  I fully credit my husband with the patience to become my sound engineer.  He took all the lines, including those contributed by our 5 year old, and music and ensured that everything synced with the video – and made sure we weren’t breaking any copyright laws with the music use…

I think the end result is pretty great.  Viewers learn about what the Peabody does every day, from my perspective, and get to escape for about 3 minutes.

Enjoy Raiders of the Peabody Institute Collections!

#Museumathome

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In our new normal, museums around the world are finding new and clever ways to engage with people at home.  I wanted to share with you some of my favorites.

Our friends at the Addison Gallery of American Art, also here at Phillips Academy, have gotten creative with Legos and stop-motion animation.  Registrars: The Movie was the best 2 minutes of my day and I hope it makes you smile too!

Mona Lisa

A fabulous trend on Instragram are people dressing themselves and their homes like art.  The creativity is impressive!  Discover the trend through #gettychallenge, #betweenartandquarantine, and #covidclassics.

Gerbil art museum
Gerbil art museum

Do gerbils appreciate art?  I don’t know, but I stumbled across this article about some art lovers who decided to find out.  By all accounts, the gerbils had a positive experience with their private tour!  And I hope you do too.

My favorite museum distraction is following the National Cowboy Museum on Twitter.  Head of Security, Tim, has taken over their social media and has the best dad jokes around.  Wonderfully refreshing and clever, Tim’s tweets bring a smile to my face every day – #HashtagTheCowboy.  I can’t wait to find a reason to travel to Oklahoma City, OK and visit.

Thanks, Tim