A New Purpose for the Peabody Collection Drawers

Contributed by Emma Cook

The Peabody is continuing to undergo its Inventory and Rehousing Project to make way for more sustainable storage in the future. As a result, the Peabody Collections Team is giving away their original wooden drawers as the Peabody no longer has any use for them.

The wooden drawers were a part of the original storage for the Peabody collections, housing over 600,000 artifacts. The wooden storage originated in the early 1930s consisting of bays, shelves, and drawers. Currently, about 30% of the collection has been rehoused from its original storage. This means there are many drawers becoming available and many more to come in the future!

Those who have taken drawers have re-purposed them into various things ranging from tea trays to accent walls! Below are some examples of how our drawers were reused by friends of the Peabody.

Peabody Drawers used for storage

Peabody drawers stained and painted

Jewelry, wall storage and table made from Peabody drawers

If you have re-purposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at ecook@andover.edu.

Peabody at the Addison

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The Addison Gallery of American Art is across the street from the Peabody at Phillips Academy.  While I am happy to gently tease that the Peabody is cooler, the Addison is a pretty amazing institution as well. Founded in 1931, the Addison’s collection of American art is one of the most comprehensive in the world, including more than 20,000 objects spanning the eighteenth century to the present. I strongly recommend that you take the time to check out their awesome collection online.

Several months ago, Gordon Wilkins, the Robert M. Walker Associate Curator of American Art, requested a loan of several objects from the Peabody for an exhibition. We were thrilled to be able to help out and loan ten objects to the Addison for their show A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America. The exhibition considers how the evolution of the European-American understanding of the natural world fundamentally altered the ecology of North America. From the Puritans’ seventeenth century “errand into the wilderness” to the present, the perceived dichotomy between man and nature has defined the European-American experience in the so-called “New World.” A Wildness Distant from Ourselves focuses on the nineteenth century, an era that witnessed both the extreme exploitation of the land and its peoples and the birth of a modern conservation movement.

I have been over there to check it out, and the exhibition looks great! It is wonderful to see the objects from the Peabody seamlessly integrated with other examples of American art to contribute to an important story.

If you are in the Andover area, I strongly recommend taking in the exhibition. And don’t miss the opening reception on Friday, October 4th from 6-8pm.

Wild Ride No More

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Cups and Coaster
The collections environment before and after rehousing in archival boxes

Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.

Temp and RH graph for John August 2019
Environmental Stats for April

First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.

Layerd Storage
Layered Storage

The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.

 

Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.

Sachet
Silica Gel Sachets

The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.

 

Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey re-examined

Hello! We are Arthur Anderson and Gabe Hrynick, faculty at the University of New England and University of New Brunswick, respectively. Much of our fieldwork together is in far Down East, Maine on Cobscook Bay in Washington County. We’ve been lucky enough to make a few visits to the Peabody over the last few years to get an understanding of the collections housed there from this area. Now we’re excited to be back for an extended visit to explore these collections further! The Peabody’s collections are particularly important to our research because in many cases they may be all that’s left of sites that have eroded due to rising sea levels and increased storm magnitude.

The Peabody collections from Cobscook Bay are almost all the product of the Northeastern Archaeological Survey from the late 1940s to the middle 1950s. The project was initially led by Robert Dyson, future director of the Penn Museum, but effectively taken over by Theodore Stoddard, the most consistent member of the crew over those years. In addition to NAS members from the Peabody, Stoddard worked closely with avocational archaeologists in the area. The most prominent of these was Isaac W. Kingsbury, a Hartford internist who summered in Perry, Maine and seems to have been a local point of contact for the survey crew, and even occasionally published his findings in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. One of the most interesting aspects of our research in the Peabody Collections has been reconstructing the work undertaken during those years largely from charming and expansive correspondence between Kingsbury and Stoddard to better understand the context of their records and collections. It’s also a lot of fun to read their accounts of the joys and challenges of working in an area that we love. We can commiserate with their complaints of construction on US Route 1 almost every summer and the barrage of mosquitoes and black flies. We certainly identify with ‘day book’ entries recounting their discussions of the latest archaeological publications on the long drive there. Unfortunately, Frank’s Restaurant in Freeport is long gone, so we can’t comment on their lunch recommendations.

In addition to better understanding the NAS collections, we’ve been looking for some very specific artifacts within it. Our current project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, focuses on the very earliest period of European interaction with Maine and the Maritime Provinces. This is often referred to as the Protohistoric period. By examining old collections for things like glass trade beads, early iron axes and fragments of copper kettle that we have much more context for and information about than they did in the middle of the 20th century, we hope that we can better understand the period and potentially re-locate sites we know to have Protohistoric components thanks to the Peabody collections.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey
Why not write the entire provenience on every object?

Sharing our collection – Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In September 2018, Catherine Hunter, Research Associate, presented a paper to the 2018 Symposium of the Textile Society of America (TSA).  The symposium was an opportunity to publish a portion of the Native American basketry collection at the Peabody Institute.  Held in Vancouver, BC, the symposium was a dynamic event with over 400 participants and Catherine was one of 120 individuals presenting their research.

Catherine’s paper, Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley, 19th-20th Century: Gertrude ‘Cosie’ Hutchings Mills, Tourists and the National Park Service, is now available via Digital Commons at the University of Nebraska.

For more about the basketry in the Peabody’s collection, take a look back at Catherine’s past contributions to our blog: The Language of Baskets, The Language of Weaving, California Basketry Exploration

New Acquisition: Toya Collaborative Pottery

The Peabody Institute is pleased to share our latest acquisition, a piece of pottery made by Dominique and Maxine Toya, Pueblo of Jemez. Dominique and her mom Maxine have had a long relationship with the Peabody, first visiting campus in 2014 to share their work in the world of Native American art. Since then they have visited campus in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and plan on returning in fall 2019 to conduct a week-long seminar with students in Thayer Zaeder’s studio pottery classes. We have been lucky to work with Mia Toya, Dominique’s sister, and friend Nancy Youngblood from Santa Clara Pueblo.

Dominique is a 5th generation potter, who combines traditional forms, materials, and methods with exciting innovations in decoration and design. We have two of Dominique’s melon swirl vessels with micaceous slip, courtesy of Marshall Cloyd (PA Class of 1958). Dominique has won numerous awards, including Best of Classification at the Heard Indian Market (2008); Best of Classification at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (2009), Best of Show at the Eiteljorg Indian market in Indianapolis in for a collaboration with Jody Naranjo (2010); and numerous distinctions at the Santa Fe Indian Market; Dominque is currently vice chair of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, host of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Maxine is a talented artist and educator as well, specializing in hand-painted figurines. She studied with Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Three pottery figures and vessels, including painted owl figurine, the collaborative piece by Dominique and Maxine, and a swirl pot by Dominique.
Owl figurine made by Maxine Toya (left); collaborative pottery, Dominique and Maxine Toya (center); micaceous swirl bottle by Dominique Toya.

Dominique and Maxine have recently begun to combine their talents, with Dominique contributing her beautiful vessels and Maxine painting them with human and animal figures. This piece, like all of their creations, is made from local New Mexican materials, hand decorated and polished, and open fired.

Image of Pueblo potters with ceramics instructor and blog author.
From left to right: Maxine Toya, Thayer Zaeder, Mia Toya, Ward Weppa, Barbara Callahan, and Dominique Toya.

The Toya pottery collaboration is thanks to a generous gift from Barbara and Les Callahan (PA Class of 1968). Many thanks Barb and Les for this beautiful addition to our collection!

Halfway there…and funding for the finish!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I am thrilled to share that we have officially inventoried half of the collection!

As of mid-June, the collections team has inventoried 1,079 artifact drawers – half of the 2,159 that hold our collection.  Those drawers translate to 243,967 individual artifacts that have been counted and rehoused in the process!

A massive “thank you” goes out to all of the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the inventory so far: Rachel Manning, John Bergman-McCool, Emma Cook, Annie Greco, Alex Hagler, Quinn Rosefsky, and dozens of work duty students.

With excitement and deep gratitude, we also announce that funding has been secured to complete the inventory by our target deadline of December 31, 2020.

The Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Illinois has renewed its support for a temporary inventory specialist for another two years.  Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for its continued generosity and commitment to the Peabody’s goal of improving the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

But that is not all!

Barbara and Les Callahan have agreed to provide critical funding to extend the appointment of our current inventory specialist – John Bergman-McCool.  Les graduated from Phillips Academy in 1968 and is an active volunteer on campus. Barbara has served on the Peabody Advisory Committee since 2013.  Both have been steadfast advocates and supporters of our mission and we cannot thank them enough for providing this deeply meaningful gift.

We hope these acts 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.

Calling All Volunteers!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a museum? The Peabody, like many museums, has a small force of volunteers who dedicate a few hours each week to helping our staff further our work. We are currently looking to expand this group of volunteers.

Our volunteers have assisted us with a huge number of projects. We currently have one volunteer who works with our textile collection. In a museum setting, it is very important to protect artifacts from pests that can occasionally work their way into the building. Our textile artifacts are particularly susceptible to the damage from carpet beetle and clothes moth larvae. An infestation of these pests can completely destroy a textile collection without proper intervention and pest management. In order to stay on top of any potential pest problems, one of our volunteers systematically goes through our textiles and inspects them for evidence of damage, insect excrement, and live specimens. This involves vacuuming the textiles, inspecting them, and putting them through a freezing process designed to kill living pests. Once this two week process is completed, the textiles are removed from the freezer, isolated, and then inspected again for any signs of life. Once we are satisfied that pests are not present, the objects are returned to the collections storage space. Our volunteer has done an excellent job with this, and has made significant process on this project.

Our other current volunteer is a P.A. alumnus who works on a wide variety of projects. One of the most important projects is our complete inventory of the collection. We hope to renovate the Peabody in the next few years and before we do that, we need to have a completed inventory of our collections. This involves inventory of our storage drawers and recording information about collections, including objects present, count, geographic origin, and current storage location.  Volunteers can help with this most important project.

In addition to helping out with the inventory, volunteers help out as needed across the Peabody. Other projects include organizing portions of the archives for researchers, pulling out and putting away objects for classes, creating labels for our artifact boxes, and transcribing catalog cards into a digital system. There is never a shortage of work to be done at the Peabody!

If this sounds like an opportunity that you would be interested in, feel free to contact me with for more information at rmanning@andover.edu. I would be glad to speak to anyone about potentially volunteering for us!

Fowled in Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

This skeleton is from a site near Glorieta, New Mexico – just southeast of Santa Fe – and collected by Alfred Kidder during his work at Pecos Pueblo.

As discussed in a previous blog, The Macaw Factor, the presence of macaws in the southwest is certainly note-worthy.  These birds have a natural habitat approximately 1000 miles to the south and were clearly transported to the region as status symbols.  They may have been kept for their feathers or displayed as a sign of wealth and connections.

Two scarlet macaws
Scarlet macaws

As we continue to move through the collection, who knows what we will find next!

Further reading:

Hill, Erica. “The Contextual Analysis of Animal Interments and Ritual Practice in Southwestern North America.” Kiva 65, no. 4 (2000): 361-98. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30246334.

Wu, Katherine J. “A Macaw Breeding Center Supplied Prehistoric Americans With Prized Plumage.” Smithsonian.com, August 13, 2018.

 

Half-Life: Radiocarbon Dating Tehuacán Carbon Samples

Contributed by Emma Cook

In my last blog I discussed soil analysis and its importance in dating and understanding a site. Another form of analysis used in the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was a process called radiocarbon dating, a technique developed by University of Chicago physicist Willard Libby. Carbon samples were collected during excavation and sent for carbon dating to be used for the Tehuacán Chronology Project.

There are two techniques for dating in archaeological sites: relative and absolute dating. Relative dating, in a stratigraphic context, is the idea that objects closer to the surface are more recent in time relative to objects found deeper in the ground. This relates to the law of superposition, which in its plainest form, states soil layers in undisturbed sequences will have the oldest materials at the bottom of the sequence and the newest material closer to the surface. Although this form of dating can work well in certain cases, it does not work for all.

Jars of Carbon Samples from various sites in the Tehuacán Valley.
Jars of Carbon Samples from various sites in the Tehuacán Valley.

Many sites include soil layers that have been disturbed and this can happen several ways. Natural disasters, such as floods, can erase top layers of sites. Rodents can move around layers in a site as they burrow underground, sometimes moving items from one context to another. Even current human activity can change the stratigraphy of a site through construction, post holes, and pits.

This takes us to our second dating technique. Absolute dating represents the absolute age of a sample before the present. Examples of objects that can be used to find absolute dates are historical documents and calendars. However, when working in an archaeological site without documents, it is hard to determine an absolute date. If a site has organic material present, radiocarbon dating can be used to determine an absolute date. Radiocarbon dating is a universal dating technique that is used around the world and can be used to date materials ranging from about 400 to 50,000 years old. Radiocarbon dating may even work on very recent materials.

Part of this carbon sample sent to Isotopes lab for radiocarbon dating.
Part of this carbon sample sent to Isotopes lab for radiocarbon dating.

Organisms such as plants and animals all contain radiocarbon (14C). When these organisms die, they stop exchanging carbon with the environment. When this occurs, they begin to lose amounts of 14C overtime through a process called radioactive decay. The half-life of 14C is about 5,730 years. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of stable and unstable carbon in a sample to determine its absolute date. As a result, the older the organic material, the less 14C it has relative to stable versions of the isotope.

The carbon samples recovered from the Tehuacán Valley were collected specifically with this in mind. Many of these samples had labels or notes stating that some of each sample was sent to labs for radiocarbon testing. The carbon samples are organic material and their properties of radiocarbon were used to determine the age of the material, which in turn, helped date each site.

Map of the Tehuacán Valley and some of the sites the carbon samples came from.
Map of the Tehuacán Valley and some of the sites the carbon samples came from.

The following sites are represented in some of the jars of carbon samples I catalogued from the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project.

Site Number                        Site Name                     Radiocarbon years

Tc 35                                         El Riego                                 6800 to 5000 B.C.

Tc 50                                         Coxcatlan Cave                  5000 to 3400 B.C.

Tc 307                                      Abejas                                     3400 to 2300 B.C.

Tc 272                                      Purron Cave                          2300 to 1500 B.C.

Ts 204                                     Ajalpan                                     1500 to 800 B.C.

These results were published in Volume Four of MacNeish’s Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation and can be found on Page 5. MacNeish and Tehuacán Chronology Project director, Frederick Johnson, selected carbon samples to be sent for testing, which resulted in the determination of 218 radiocarbon dates. Johnson played a prominent role in radiocarbon dating, serving as the chair of the Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 set up by the American Anthropological Association. This project not only produced a chronology for the Tehuacán sequence of excavated sites, but later contributed (along with 400 additional radiocarbon dates) to the chronology for all of Mesoamerica. The dates, however, were made within the first two decades of radiocarbon dating and lack the accuracy and precision now available with newer techniques, especially with the older dates.

To read more about the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project and the Tehuacán Chronology Project visit Internet Archive.

Further Reading

Libby, Willard F. Radiocarbon Dating, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1955. Print.

MacNeish, Richard S. et al., The Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation. Vol. 4. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 1972. Print.

Stromberg, Joseph. “A New Leap Forward for Radiocarbon Dating.” Smithsonian.com, October 18, 2012. Web. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-new-leap-forward-for-radiocarbon-dating-81047335/

Taylor, R.E. and Ofer Bar-Yosef. Radiocarbon Dating: An Archaeological Perspective. 2nd ed., Routledge, New York, NY, 2016. Print.