Category Archives: Collections

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes

Hi, my name is Rachel and I was hired in August as the Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I am originally from upstate New York although for part of 2016 and the majority of 2017 I did work primarily in Virginia. For my first blog post I wanted to give a brief overview of my daily activities.

The main goal of the project I was hired to do is to conduct a complete inventory and rehousing of the collections at the Peabody. This is a task that has never been done before. Currently, the majority of the collections are housed in the wooden drawers that were brought into the Peabody in the 1930s. In each drawer, collections objects are housed in tan artifact boxes.

This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.
This is an example of what drawers look like before I work on them. All of these brown boxes hold artifacts.

Every day I take the objects out of the tan box and record information about them such as what the object is, what its catalog number is, how many there are and their current location. I then record all of this information into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, put the objects back into their tan box and put them into the new gray (or blue, depending on who is asked) archival box. Currently I am working on drawers containing collections from Massachusetts.

These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.
These artifacts have been rehoused and placed in a gray archival box rather than the original wooden drawer.

This type of work is something I have done since 2013 when I was a graduate student at SUNY Albany. It is work that I genuinely enjoy doing, which makes getting up in the morning and coming to the Peabody a whole lot easier. It is always amazing to handle various collections. Doing so has helped me to learn so much more than I ever thought I could about material culture from all over the United States. I know working at the Peabody will help push that knowledge even further. It’s such a great experience to be able to work on a collection from Massachusetts one day, then move to a collection from Ohio or Indiana or even the Yukon the next day.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.eduor 978 749 4493.

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

Back in the Peabody archives

I was so pleased to learn this summer that the Oak River Foundation had decided to fund another year of the archives project at the Peabody! This continuation of the project will allow me to focus on the photographic and map collections, excavation records from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project and the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project, among others. I also hope to begin developing sustainable digitization workflows for some of the archival material, help with reference requests, and continue an oral history project about Scotty MacNeish. I am very happy to be back at the Peabody, continuing this work.

This black and white photograph depicts two sons of Hugh Raup, who participated in the Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition of 1944.
A photograph from the archives that caught my eye: Karl and David Raup (sons of Hugh Raup) with fish caught in stream. Big Arm, Kluane Lake. 8/21/44. Andover-Harvard Yukon Expedition.

Since starting back up here in early September, I have mostly been working on organizing and inventorying internal museum records like loan, exhibition, and NAGPRA records. These records might not have huge interest for outside researchers (and, as is common for institutions, are typically restricted for 25 years after creation for privacy concerns), but are important for staff members in the course of day-to-day collections management and ongoing repatriation efforts. Now that I am more familiar with the museum’s institutional history, I am finding that I can categorize material more quickly – I don’t have to repeat the learning curve of my first year.

On a personal note, I spent most of the summer between Boston (where I live) and western Massachusetts, where my sister and I own what used to be our grandparents’ house. My French, North African-born grandmother met my American grandfather (from a Scottish family who emigrated to the Boston area in the 1920s) during World War II while he was stationed in Algeria. The house is full of photographs, letters, books, and interesting objects documenting their lives – essentially, my family’s archives. I also spent two weeks working at the Phillips Academy Archives and Special Collections, helping Director of Archives and Special Collections Paige Roberts prepare for an upcoming move of the collections associated with the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library renovation. So, I didn’t stray too far from the work I do here, even while I was away.

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

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!

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!

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Oak River Foundation continues support of Peabody collections

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In 2016, the Peabody Museum received a generous grant of $100,000 from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill., to support work pertaining to the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

The grant was spread across two years and initially supported the work of an archivist to whip the Peabody’s 100+ years of archives into shape.  With that funding, Irene Gates was able to share archival collection records online and process over 140 linear feet of material.  She also created three finding aids to the material belonging to prominent directors of the Peabody’s past.

The second year of funding is designated to supporting the work of a temporary inventory specialist – Rachel Manning.  Rachel will be spending her time inventorying drawers of artifacts and rehousing them into archival boxes as part of our larger collections storage project.  While she only began her work in early August, Rachael has already been making steady progress.

Rachel inventories a drawer from Massachusetts.
Rachel inventories a drawer from Massachusetts.

And we are pleased to announce that the Oak River Foundation has stepped up again and provided additional funding for Irene to return and spend another year in the Peabody archives!  This second year will facilitate processing the remaining 150 linear feet of material as well as addressing the photographic and map collections.

Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for their continued generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

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!

Bushels of Baskets

Though the Peabody is small by museum standards we are mighty, especially when it comes to our baskets.  With close to 400 baskets, the Peabody collection covers all major geographical regions and tribal communities of North America, and spans over 200 years.  Baskets from notable artists like Molly Neptune Parker (Maine) and Clara Darden (Louisiana) help to support and curate these artists’ work, and are examples of continued and evolving traditions within Native communities.

One of my first large projects at the Peabody was to completely catalog, inventory, and rehouse this great collection.  The purpose of this was twofold:

First, it was important to consolidate our records regarding these baskets.  Museums are full of information, and it’s usually in five different places! By gathering what we know, and putting it all in one place, we not only gain better control over this knowledge, but we make it more accessible to museum staff, researchers, and students.  The convenience of this newfound accessibility encourages more use in the classroom and more research by professionals, giving these baskets the attention they deserve.

Secondly, by revamping the basket organization and rehousing, we are better able to care for these objects and their specific needs.  Although baskets aren’t usually as fragile as most people fear, they still require some TLC.  By creating storage mounts that are custom designed to each basket, we are able to provide more support to the object, especially when it is being moved and shifted around during handling.  Within our ethnographic storage, space is at a premium, so another byproduct of the rehousing was the space it opened up.  We were able to clear seven shelves!

basket elf
Basket Elf in natural habitat

Happy baskets, happy collection staff.

 

To see previous work done with the baskets by Catherine Hunter, check out these previous blogs!

Language of Baskets

Baskets Explored

Thank you, Irene

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Next Thursday  marks the final day at the Peabody for Temporary Archivist, Irene Gates.  Irene was hired for a year to tackle the organizational challenge that was the Peabody archives and she has succeeded beyond our expectations.

Irene carried out a full collections survey and created 65 collection level catalog records – 33 of which are now available via our collection online.  She wrapped her arms around the archives of previous director (and the man who saved everything) Richard ‘Scotty’ MacNeish and processed 92 linear feet of material.  You can see the incredible finding aid for MacNeish’s material here.

In total, Irene has processed 140 linear feet of material, developed 3 finding aids, and written policies and procedures.  Her work has directly benefited the accessibility of collections, the efficiency of current museum functions, and our transparency as an institution.

Irene’s quiet and steady presence will be missed around the Peabody and we have been incredibly fortunate to call her colleague and friend over the past year.  Wishing her the best of luck in her next adventure!

Irene Gates
Irene Gates

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

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!