Category Archives: Collaboration

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.

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Canadian researcher visits to examine Strong collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Dr. Laura Kelvin, a post-doctoral researcher from Memorial University of Newfoundland, visited the Peabody in October.

Dr. Kelvin is contributing to the Avertok Archaeology Project, a subproject of a larger collaboration between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government representing the Inuit of Labrador – Tradition and Transition.  This community-based archaeology program aims:

  • to locate, excavate and learn more about the original Inuit settlement of Avertok which underlies the present Hopedale community, and other nearby sites,
  • communicate findings to the community and use the research to facilitate knowledge transfer between youth and elders in Hopedale
  • to undertake a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Moravian Cemetery in order to identify the locations of all graves, enabling the community to properly mark and care for the cemetery.

During her visit to the Peabody, Dr. Kelvin examined the William Duncan Strong collection.  Strong was part of the Rawson-MacMillian Sub-Arctic Expedition that the Field Museum in Chicago sent to northeastern Labrador in 1927-1928.  In the early 1930s, Warren K. Moorehead (then Director of the Peabody) orchestrated a trade with the Field Museum to acquire approximately 350 artifacts from this expedition.

A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.
A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.

Dr. Kelvin spent a week photographing all of these artifacts – even 3D scanning some! – for inclusion in a developing community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of the Hopedale area.  She will record traditional community knowledge of the artifacts and provide local access to the images through the network.  Follow the project on their facebook page!

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
r.ed holding a sherd that will be part of the upcoming exhibit

r.ed in residence: r.ed monde visits the Peabody

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Exhibits and exhibitions are not the focus of the Peabody.  However, once in a while a unique opportunity presents itself.

Visual artist Angela Lorenz (’83, P’14) reached out in early 2017 to suggest a collaboration with the Peabody. Angela’s newest art book, r.ed monde in r.ed engender.ed, explores the world around us through pointy-shapes and r.ed.

After spending decades in a drawer in the artist’s studio, r.ed steps out on a journey of self-identity.  r.ed identifies with pointy-shaped objects and images from around the world – many of which are similar to pieces in the Peabody’s collection.

Angela and I surveyed collection and collaborated to create r.ed in residence: r.ed monde visits the Peabody. This short exhibition will have an opening reception on Saturday, October 21st from 1-4pm.  Angela will discuss r.ed and her work from 1-2pm and be available to talk with visitors. Refreshments will be served and we will have hands-on activities for all ages.

Come by to explore a new way to examine archaeological artifacts through the lens of contemporary art!

Summer collaboration with Salem State University

more excavating
Excavating at RNH

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The Peabody Museum once again partnered with Dr. Bethany Jay, professor of history at Salem State University, to run the graduate summer institute class, Preserving the Past: Using Archaeology to Teach History.

The week long class focuses on how archaeology can be used in middle and high school classrooms as a way to talk about minorities who are often left out of the historical record.  Each day was focused on a different minority group such as Native Americans, women, enslaved people, and free blacks.

Each day gives students background content to ground them in the topic, a tour of a historic or other site, and hands-on lesson plans. This year’s lesson plans included the Peabody’s “Maps and Dreams,” which utilizes Native American petroglyphs as well as a map in Phillips Andover’s Knafel Map Collection and “Little Spots Allow’d Them,” which focuses on the archaeology of the Royall House and Slave Quarters. They also were able to see the mock excavation activity about Katherine Nanny Naylor which the Commonwealth Museum hosts as part of their Archaeology of the Big Dig.

The last day is always the highlight of the class. Dr. Nate Hamilton of University of Southern Maine generously lenthis time and expertise to the class, allowing the students to participate in a real excavation at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers MA.

Also this summer, Dr. Brad Austin of Salem State University brought his class Teaching Difficult Topics: Native American History to the Peabody. The class spent the day working with the Peabody’s History 300 lessons “alterNATIVE uses” and “Trail Where They Cried.”

In “alterNATIVE uses” students examine both a stone and metal projectile point to better understand how iron and trade affect both Native and European communities during the 1600 and 1700s. Each student was given a replica stone and metal projectile point along with the lesson plan.

Brad Austin's class working on analyzing points in the 'alterNATIVE uses' lesson
Brad Austin’s class working on analyzing points in the ‘alterNATIVE uses’ lesson

In the “Trail Where They Cried” the students learned how to make the complex history of Cherokee Removal more accessible to students through a Choose Your Own Adventure style activity.

Both activities were a big hit and the students have asked to use more of the Peabody’s teaching resources.

The Peabody Collaborates with the Robbins Museum on NAGPRA Inventory

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Robbins Museum
Robbins Museum

On Monday July 17 the Peabody staff joined volunteers at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleboro, MA to help with an ongoing collections inventory project. The Robbins Museum is an all-volunteer organization that is currently working on their NAGPRA obligations and repatriation. In addition to Ryan, Marla, Samantha, and Lindsay, others who came out to help were professional archaeologists with ties to the Robbins Museum along with Jim Peters, Massachusetts Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Mashpee Wampanoag tribal member who is also part of the Wampanoag Repatriation Confederacy.

The Robbins and Peabody museums are working together on the repatriation of related collections from the Mansion Inn site, split between the two institutions. The site, located in Wayland MA, was excavated by J. Alfred Mansfield and Leslie Longworth, members of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (the parent institution of the Robbins Museum) in 1959; Doug Byers and Fred Johnson of the Peabody also became involved with the site at that time. For that reason, both institutions have collections and have decided to work together as the process moves forward.

Throughout the day everyone worked diligently in an effort to create a streamlined checklist that will assist with the transfer of custody of the human remains and associated funerary objects. It was a very eventful and fun day and we look forward to working with the Robbins Museum again on the process!

Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.

Report from the Advisory Committee on Archaeology, 1914

This blog represents the ninth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled of the Peabody 25 tag!

Bureaucracy and oversight committees are not modern phenomena.  In the earliest years of the Peabody, contemporaneously known as the Department of Archaeology, the work done was overseen by a subcommittee of the Trustees of Phillips Academy. However, the Trustees recognized the limitations of their own knowledge in the world of archaeology and appointed a Special Advisory Committee on Archaeology in 1914.

The special committee was tasked with assessing mundane logistical needs of the Department as well as providing direction and feedback on proposed research.  Composed of five prominent anthropologists; Franz Boas, William Henry Holmes, Roland Dixon, Hiram Bingham, and Frederic Ward Putnam, the committee made the following suggestions:

  1. Install a synoptic exhibit, strictly limited in size and scope, of the life of man from geological time to the beginnings of history
  2. Limit public lectures to no more than 4 each year
  3. End formal classes in archaeology for the students at Phillips Academy and instead encourage individual students as their interests dictate
  4. The work of ‘research’ should include two separate divisions; one to investigate large definite problems of archaeology, and the other to aid competent archaeologists in the execution of such of their plans
  5. Appoint a small permanent advisory committee of experts of easy access, whose duty it shall be to report to the Trustees upon all plans for exploration, organization of study collections, museum research, and publication.

These recommendations were received with mixed feelings by curator Warren K. Moorehead.  He appreciated many of the committee’s suggestions, but strongly objected to the creation of a permanent oversight committee.  Convinced that they would meddle in his research plans and enmesh him in red tape, Moorehead clearly expressed his displeasure:

August Blog scans004

Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.
Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.

 

 

However, the committee composed of Dixon and Bingham, existed for several years.  They limited Moorehead to his ongoing work in Maine and simultaneously decided to embark on an expedition in the Southwest.  This decision directly led to the appointment of Alfred V. Kidder as the Director of Southwest Explorations and his seminal work at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico.

More to Xi’an than terracotta warriors

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

In June 2017 I had the opportunity to visit China in preparation for a potential student trip—part of the Phillips Academy Learning in the World program. My traveling companions included Anne Martin-Montgomery and Jingya Ma, who aided in developing the itinerary, which delves into China’s ancient past. With a dizzying number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (52 on the list, with even more proposed sites), our goal was to create a student travel experience that blends adventure, archaeology, and learning.

One destination was Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. Xi’an boasts lots of historical and archaeological sites, most notably the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang. The mausoleum is best known for Emperor Qin’s terracotta army, which doesn’t disappoint. Pictures don’t do it justice and it is fun to look at the sea of soldiers lined up, ready to march up ramps and out the false doors. The site—located in Bingmayong outside of Xi’an, was mobbed with visitors, all ready to pose for a selfie with some of the emperor’s immortal warriors. Xi’an, however, includes other ancient sites, which can be found in other suburbs like Bànpō.

Bànpō Neolithic Village is tucked into a neighborhood of this Xi’an suburb. It was found in the 1950s during construction for an industrial site, and if you peek over the fence today you will see a factory complex, including a billiard table manufactory.

Image of interior, Banpo excavation hall, with features like the moat and postholes from structures.
Interior of Banpo excavation hall–the moat is in the foreground, posthole outlines of structures can be seen as well.

Bànpō was the oldest site on our itinerary, dating to the Neolithic Yangshao culture, with occupation going back to 6,500 years ago. Like Emperor Qin’s mausoleum, the excavation site is covered by a fairly substantial structure, so visitors can observe the outlines of houses, the moat, burials, and in place features. Exhibit halls showcase artifacts from the site, along with dioramas of Yangshao life. Markings on the early pottery from the site have suggested to some precursors to the writing systems known from the Bronze Age.

At the rear of the museum property are the remains of the Bànpō Matriarchal Clan Village, which apparently offered a living history interpretation of Neolithic life. This has been replaced with a newer area that showcases Neolithic activities on the weekend, including thatching your hut, fire making, and other early technology and skills.

Marxist ideology has heavily influenced the interpretation of Bànpō, emphasizing that this was a matriarchal culture. This is not surprising, since in Marxist thought matriarchal clan based society was a hallmark of early stages in a unilinear social evolution that moved inevitably toward patriarchal family based society. These ideas have been largely abandoned today, though the site is replete with signage that emphasizes this interpretation.

Image of Peabody director Ryan Wheeler with reconstructions of Banpo woman and man.
Ryan Wheeler with Banpo woman and man.

A cute 2015 graphic novel style guide book tells the story of the site and the Yangshao culture. The matriarchal focus is still there (one of the main characters is Bànpō girl), but there is lots of accessible info on foodways, pottery making techniques, and the layout of the village.

We are looking forward to visiting Bànpō again and catching some of the Neolithic lifeways demonstrations. Interactive and hands on activities have become the norm in US museums, but we encountered few such programs in China.

Summer time = Research time

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!

Steeped in Archaeology

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

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.

 

The rain mostly held off for the group and we were able to conclude the day with a fierce atlatl competition!

IMG_0131
A little rain could not sop us from our 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

 

 

 

Fossilized Feces

Contributed by Marla Taylor

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.

A coprolite from an unknown site in Arizona.
A coprolite from an unknown site in Arizona.

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!