We are pleased to announce that the Peabody has installed an interactive artwork by Jonny Yates (aka Jonny White Bull). Jonny is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and lives in McLaughlin, South Dakota. He is a talented jewelry maker, stylist, and chef, known for his own version of General Tso’s Chicken, burger dogs, nachos with homemade chips, and other delicacies.
The piece, titled lalá, or grandfather, in the Lakota language, is a reference to Jonny’s ancestor Sitting Bull, who is depicted here. Jonny is the consummate “maker,” who loves creating carved and painted bone jewelry, drawings, and three-dimensional pieces made from cardboard, milk jugs, and other found materials.
Jonny invites everyone to spin his kinetic artwork and reflect on your own ancestors. You can find lalá in the Hornblower Gallery on the first floor of the Peabody.
CONTEMPORARY ART AT THE PEABODY
Jonny Yate’s piece joins a small but growing collection of contemporary Native art at the Peabody. When possible, the Peabody has purchased and commissioned artwork from Native artists with the support of donors and members of the Peabody Advisory Community. Artists with work in the collection include Dominique Toya, Maxine Toya, Bessie Yepa, Jeremy Frey, and Jason Garcia. These artists highlight some of the unique relationships that have developed between the Peabody and Native artists over the years. As an example, the Andover community has been fortunate to have several visits by Pueblo potters Dominique, Maxine, and Mia Toya over the years. During these visits, the Toyas share traditional pottery methods with students in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes. They are very talented artists and quite passionate educators. You can read more about their most recent visit here.
Hanging Jonny’s kinetic artwork presented a unique challenge; how could we make the piece available for a hands-on experience for students and visitors while keeping it safely installed. Research institutions, such as the Peabody, do not normally put collections on display, so we carefully considered our options. We chose to use cleats to secure the piece to the wall and a makeshift security clip to keep the piece from sliding out of the cleat. In place of a detailed narrative of the installation process, here are a series of photos of how we chose to approach the process. We hope you come by sometime and experience it for yourself.
Several months ago, I was connected with a PA alum who wished to donate a piece of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry to the Peabody Institute. It is a gold pendant in the shape of a frog with a slightly unclear origin. It had been passed down within the family and was variably attributed to the Maya, as well as cultures in Panama and Columbia. The owner had the pendant appraised for insurance purposes in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Each appraisal identified a different culture of origin and left me a little confused.
Now, admittedly, I know relatively little about Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry and was out of my depth to evaluate this potential donation. Thank goodness for networking!
My first step was to reach out to a couple members of the Peabody Advisory Committee who have expertise in Mesoamerica and Peru. Even if they could not identify the cultural origin of the pendant, I knew they could point me in the right direction. In collaboration with the Peabody’s director, Ryan Wheeler, it was decided that I should reach out to a professor emeritus, Dr. John Scott, at the University of Florida for evaluation. That was a solid plan.
Lots of photos were taken of every part of the frog pendant.
The final piece of the puzzle was to determine if the frog was actually made of gold. Again, that is outside of my expertise and I needed to find some help. Fortunately, Andover is home to several amazing jewelry stores. The wonderfully helpful Vice President of Service at Royal Jewelers, Dina, came to my rescue. She hooked me up with a jeweler who had technology to identify the metallurgic components of the pendant without causing any damage. Technology is great!
The result is that the frog is a mixture of gold and copper that is typical of tumbaga. Tumbaga is the name for a non-specific alloy of gold and copper that is very common in Lower Central American manufacture. The frog is 1,200-500 years old and probably originated in the Central Highlands or Atlantic Slope of Costa Rica.
The next step is to present all this information to the Peabody Collections Oversight Committee (PCOC) in October. The PCOC will then vote on whether or not to formally accept it into the collection. Hopefully, this frog will be making an appearance in a classroom soon!
Note – if you would like to learn more about Latin American art, check out some of Dr. Scott’s publications:
Like for so many of us, this summer has been a rather abrupt transition back to “normal” at the Peabody.
I returned to the office full time in July and had to hit the ground running to help support the other Peabody staff, welcome researchers, jump back into giving tours, and provide back up for Summer Session activities. It has definitely been a transition, but it feels good to have students, researchers, and volunteers back at the Peabody!
For the entire month of July, the Peabody hosted the Summer Session class Dig This! This Lower School initiative takes a closer look at different global case studies from across the ancient world to hone skills and understanding as a historian and archaeologist. Students then get to take part in excavating the lost Mansion House of Phillips Academy – the home of Samuel Phillips. It is always great to see these students get excited about archaeology every summer!
Beyond that, it was a joy to welcome our Cordell Fellows for 2021 – Dr. Arthur Anderson and Dr. Gabe Hrynick. Their research is on the Peabody’s Northeast Archaeological Survey conducted partially in Down East, Maine in the late 1940s. I won’t try to summarize their work here, but will instead refer you to a blog they contributed a couple years ago. Their work in July focused on fully documenting one site, Thompson’s Point. A real plus to hosting researchers is that they do some of the collections documentation work for me – I am looking forward to receiving a copy of all the item photographs they took!
“Normal” at the Peabody Institute also requires our volunteers to be around. We have all missed them this past year and are thrilled to welcome back our regular collections volunteers (and new ones!)
I don’t know how the next few months will look – mask or no mask, virtual or in-person – but it has been a real pleasure to jump back into the hectic schedule of the Peabody. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
Over the last couple months, I was fortunate to take two online professional development courses – Decolonizing Museums in Practice and DAM for GLAM. These classes covered very different topics but overlapped in some really surprising ways.
The Decolonizing Museums class is directly applicable to so much of the work that I do every day. We have taken steps at the Peabody Institute to incorporate decolonizing into our collections management policy, researcher access policies, and NAGPRA implementation. I am proud of that work, but also wanted to take a step back and immerse myself in the scholarship behind this approach to museum management.
The class was filled with fascinating, thought-provoking, and occasionally uncomfortable readings that stretched my assumptions and gave me a new framework to view my role, as a white settler female, in managing an archaeological collection full of Indigenous material culture. The instructors and my classmates could not have been better. We represented a wide variety of museum roles and perspectives from across three different countries. We were all open and honest about when we were challenged by the readings and I found listening to others work through their decolonizing journey could be enlightening about my own.
Fortunately for me, one of my classmates was local to the Boston area and we were even able to meet up in person to discuss what we had been learning. She works with the collections at the Boston Children’s Museum. We bonded over our shared decolonization journey, but also our overall museum experiences, and an interest in knitting. We also discovered a collections link between our respective institutions and could seamlessly begin to support each other in repatriation consultations.
I loved the course.
DAM for GLAM was completely different. DAM = Digital Asset Management. GLAM = Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. This course walked me through what a DAM is and what it can do for cultural institutions. Basically, a DAM is a system to track the digital surrogates of the physical items in the collection and the born digital materials that derive from them (think image of an item in the collection, a scan of an excavation map, digitized archives, a video of a presentation, or a course catalog). This course was less intuitive for me, but ultimately really valuable as I had previously struggled to even understand what a DAM was.
During the course, we were asked to use the collections that we were affiliated with as examples to answer the teacher’s prompts. As the questions were regularly about data management, access, and use rights, I would always answer them through a decolonizing lens. It was really helpful at times to apply the slightly more abstract concepts from the decolonizing class to something as practical as metadata. It forced me to think about how challenging the data management will be to make digital surrogates available to tribal partners, researchers, and educators.
I made some positive professional connections in that class as well through conversations about digital repatriation. I think I helped some people understand that making digital copies of everything that will be repatriated so that you still have access to a version of the item doesn’t really jibe with the idea of repatriation. If a tribe asks us to destroy digital copies of repatriated items (images or 3-D scans), the Peabody will abide by that request. Their cultural authority does not end at the physicality of the item, it encompasses the totality of the item. I am grateful for the opportunity to conduct these thought experiments and share with others.
While both classes were really valuable experiences, I want to discourage any of you out there from taking two courses at once while working a full-time job… just sayin’…
What is now called Andover, North Andover, and parts of Lawrence, Massachusetts were once Cochichawick. This is the Indigenous name for the place where many of us work and live. The name persists in Lake Cochichewick in North Andover, Essex County’s largest lake. Indigenous leader Cutshamache transferred the land to English colonists, not through a deed, but rather in an agreement ultimately attested before the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:
At a General Court, at Boston 6th of the 3rd m, 1646 (in the Gregorian calendar, May 16, 1646)
Cutshamache, sagamore of the Massachusets, came into the Court, and acknowledged that for the sum of 6 pounds & a coat, which he had already received, he had sold to Mr. John Woodbridge, in behalf of the inhabitants of Cochichawick, now called Andover, all his right, interest, and privilege in the land six miles southward from the town, two miles eastward to Rowley bounds, be the same more or less, northward to Merrimack River, provided that the Indian called Roger & his company may have liberty to take alewifes in Cochichawick River, for their own eating; but if they either spoil or steal any corn or other fruit, to any considerable value, of the inhabitants there, this liberty of taking fish shall forever cease; and the said Roger is still to enjoy four acres of ground where now he plants. This purchase the Court allows of, and have granted the said land to belong to the said plantation forever, to be ordered and disposed of by them, reserving liberty to the Court to lay two miles square of their southerly bounds to any town or village that hereafter may be erected thereabouts, if so they see cause.
Cutshamache acknowledged this before the magistrates, and so the Court approved thereof, and of the rest in this bill to be recorded, so as it prejudice no former grant.
The story and its protagonist feature prominently in Andover’s 1895 town seal, where we see Cutshamache holding the coat, part of his payment for the land. Cutshamache appears frequently in the seventeenth century records of the English colony in Massachusetts, ranging from his involvement in the Pequot War to skepticism about missionary John Eliot’s preaching (see Drake 1856). Frank Speck (1928:141), in his discussion of the Punkapog Band of Massachusett, mentions that “the name and pronunciation of Kitchamakin or Cutshamekin are still remembered.” For us, his involvement in selling a large portion of Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence to John Woodbridge sometime in the early 1640s is of greatest interest. Local histories, in books, articles, and now online, frequently repeat the story, and tweak it to fit whatever narrative is being told. In some cases, the currency is converted into modern dollars (a pretty complicated exercise), and in other variants, Cutshamache is described as a Pennacook leader (see the Wikipedia entry for the Town of Andover). The latter makes sense, since the Pennacook, helmed by their leader Passaconaway, are associated with the area around Andover. However, Cutshamache does not appear to have been Pennacook, but was rather a Massachusett leader who lived in what is now Dorchester. The General Court statement clearly identifies him as such. But, this is puzzling, since Dorchester is pretty far from Andover. So what’s going on?
Many authors suggest a family connection between Passaconaway and Cutshamache, possibly based on Sidney Perley’s assertion (1912:35), though I have found no primary sources to support this and this suggested link may just be a way to help explain Cutshamache’s involvement in the sale of the Andover lands. Passaconaway does seem to have created alliances through marriage that crosscut ethnicity and relied more on cultural similarities, creating a heterogeneous coalition distinct from the more homogenous Massachusett (see Cook 1976:29; Stewart-Smith 1998:24-25). What’s more intriguing is the sale of Haverhill in 1642 by Native leaders Passaquo and Saggahew required the consent of Passaconaway (in fact, his consent is mentioned twice in the text of the deed). See the original document and transcript on the Essex National Heritage Area website. The General Court acknowledgment of the Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence sale does not mention Passaconaway, suggesting several possibilities. Perhaps Cutshamache’s less formal court appearance resulted in an omission. But, the court statement includes considerable detail, including the preservation of land and fishing rights for Roger and his company, Indigenous residents of the area.
Archaeologist Eric Johnson (1999:155), in his book chapter on Native political geography, provides a different way of thinking about Indigenous groups in the area during the seventeenth century that helps inform Cutshamache’s sale of Cochichawick. Johnson says, “What does a map of bounded tribes imply about political organization? It implies stasis and homogeneity, both within and among political units.” He attributes this to the desire of colonial European observers to describe unfamiliar people and places in a familiar way—through the lens of political organization in seventeenth century Europe. This plagues our understanding today—we want carefully delineated maps that show the boundaries of Indigenous lands, matching those of city, county, and state political entities. Johnson (1999:158) argues for a different model to understand the geography of the area that takes into account the dynamic and heterogeneous polities. Further, he suggests that groups in the region consisted of autonomous communities that regularly underwent expansion, contraction, and internal upheaval, depending on a variety of socio-political strategies at play among leaders and group members. Alliances, often transitory, could result in confederacies of autonomous groups, as well as splintering and new alliances. Confederations were based on real and fictive kinship relationships between principal leaders and those of local communities; autonomy of local communities varied greatly depending on the leadership qualities of the principal leader, overall group size, geographic distances between communities, and genealogical connections (Johnson 1999:161). Within this context, Kathleen Bragdon (2009:206-209), in her second book on the Native people of the Northeast, points to connections between Indigenous communities across the region, stating, “linkages between the Pennacooks and Pawtuckets of the Merrimac drainage of what is now northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, show connections ranging as far south and east as Natick and Charlestown. Other historical evidence shows marriage ties between Pennacooks and Pawtuckets with Niantics and Wamesits as well.”
Intertribal relations just at the time of European conquest illustrate the linkages that likely characterize the area. After the devastating epidemic of 1619, Indigenous allies of the French raided the lower Merrimack. Passaconaway was the Pennacook sachem at the time. His Pawtucket counterpart, Nanepashemet, was killed around present-day Medford or Malden and his widow assumed the role of sachem. Two of her sons married Passaconaway’s daughters, cementing the Pennacook-Pawtucket alliance. According to historian David Stewart-Smith (1998:24-25), Passaconaway (also called Papisseconnewa) was acknowledged as the leader of Pawtucket, Agawam, and Piscataqua, though each group retained local leaders as well. He explains that it is helpful to think of the larger tribal designations as “aggregations of allied family territories,” including Pennacook, Pawtucket, Massachusett, Nipmuc, and others (Stewart-Smith 1998:28). The divisions were not hard lines, but rather fluctuated with marriages and other connections.
Historian Peter Leavenworth (1999:277) explains the ways in which Pennacook-Pawtucket lands moved into English ownership in the seventeenth century, principally through legal means, but also via violent incursions. He also documents important instances where Indigenous people resisted land loss. Leavenworth describes a violent attack against the Pennacook during King Philip’s War (1675-78), but helps us understand that the extensive transfers of land, through deeds or appearances in the General Court like Cutshamache’s, occurred during the 1640s, following the smallpox epidemic of 1633-34 and decisions by Passaconaway, including the belief that Indigenous people could share land with the English. According to Leavenworth (1999:281), there were serious misunderstandings in terms of what was happening, especially as these more informal land “sales” occurred: English colonists believed they were buying large tracts of land, while the Indigenous “sellers” believed they retained their usufruct rights. This is reflected in Cutshamache’s sale of Cochichawick, which references Roger and his group’s continuing rights to at least some small part of the landscape and fishing rights (check out this interactive map site that shows Rogers Brook in Andover, namesake of the seventeenth century Indigenous inhabitant). Leavenworth also documents an interesting shift in acceptable payment—at first the English were buying land for clothing, tools, ornaments and other trade goods, but apparently by 1650, the Indigenous people of the area would only accept currency. Cutshamache’s sale involves both—6 pounds in money, and a coat (interestingly, an earlier order by the General Court in 1642 directed that a coat be given to Cutshamache, perhaps the coat referenced in the 1646 appearance?).
So, there’s a lot to unpack in Cutshamache’s sale of Cochichawick. Most notable are the traditional cultural patterns that involved seasonal movements, settlement, and marriage that linked widely dispersed groups versus our modern desire to have Indigenous people fit into neat territories that align with historical and modern municipal, county, state, and national boundaries. It’s also impossible to think about this outside the devastating disruptions wrought by European incursions and the attendant diseases and demographic shifts (Strobel 2020:71-75). For example, Daniel Gookin, one of the English colonists, recorded 3,000 Pawtucket men in the earliest days of European conquest, but by 1674, the tribe had been reduced to “not above 250 men.” Within this milieu—traditional Indigenous practices, the disease and disruptions brought by the English, and attempts to adapt—land moved from Native to European hands.
For an Indigenous perspective, check out the detailed histories, timelines, and more on the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag’s website. Here you can learn about the modern day Massachusett, their history, as well as ongoing initiatives, like work on the newly created Massachusetts state seal commission. If you would like to learn more about the Abenaki tribes in nearby New Hampshire and Vermont, start with the website of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki. There you can learn about history and contemporary initiatives of the Abenaki, who have close ties to the Native inhabitants of the Andover area.
References Cited and Further Reading
Bragdon, Kathleen J.
2009 Native People of Southern New England 1650 – 1775. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Cook, Sherburne F.
1976 The Indian Population of New England in the Seventeenth Century. University of California Publications in Anthropology Vol. 12. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Drake, Samuel G.
1856 Biography and History of the Indians of North America, from its first discovery. Sanborn, Carter, and Bazin, Boston.
Johnson, Eric S.
1999 Community and Confederation: A Political Geography of Contact Period Southern New England. In The Archaeological Northeast, edited by Mary Ann Levine, Kenneth E. Sassaman, and Michael S. Nassaney, pp. 155-168. Bergin & Garvey, Westport, CT.
Leavenworth, Peter S.
1999 “The Best Title That Indians Can Claime:” Native Agency and Consent in the Transferal of Penacook-Pawtucket Land in the Seventeenth Century. The New England Quarterly 72(2):275-300.
1912 Indian Land Titles, Essex County, Massachusetts. Riverside Press, Cambridge (for Essex Book and Print Club).
Speck, Frank G.
1928 Territorial Subdivisions of the Wampanoag, Massachusett, and Nauset Indians. Indian Notes and Monographs No. 44. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York.
1998 The Pennacook Indians and the New England Frontier, circa 1604 – 1733. PhD dissertation, Union Institute, Cincinnati OH.
2020 Native Americans of New England. Praeger, Santa Barbara CA.
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 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 archives. His 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.
When thinking about the collections held by the Peabody Institute, I often also think of Warren K. Moorehead. Regular readers of the blog (I know there are a few of you out there!) are certainly familiar with his name and how tightly he is intertwined with the Peabody. To recognize Moorehead’s 155th birthday this week, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of his story.
Throughout his career, Moorehead was a prolific writer, excavator, and collector. His large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations included the Arkansas River Valley, northwest Georgia, the Southwest, and coastal and interior Maine. His work directly contributed to expanding the Peabody’s collection by approximately 200,000 objects.
However, it must be acknowledged that Moorehead’s field and collection techniques are quite shocking by modern archaeological and museum standards. Early in his career, particularly in Ohio and Georgia, Moorehead would use horse drawn plows to cut into carefully constructed mounds. Often, his work was destructive yet superficial – he would level or bisect the mounds and collect what was of interest to him with relatively little note taking.
Moorehead was also a dealer – he regularly facilitated trades between institutions and with private collectors to fund his own work or to “remove duplicates.” Definitely something that would never be done now. And, it created lots of headaches.
It is perplexing to me that Moorehead was able to see the injustices done to contemporary tribes, but continue to be seemingly unaware that the material that he avidly collected and traded was connected to those same people. I firmly believe that Moorehead is an excellent candidate for a riveting biography. Anyone out there have the time to write it??
In January, the HVAC system in one of our collection storage areas malfunctioned. Repair work required that the system was turned off for several days. During this time, we monitored the objects for any changes. One vessel caught our eye.
Thanks to Marla’s experience with the collection, she noticed that previously documented spalling due to salt efflorescence was likely developing further (see figure). A quick look at older photographs confirmed that the damage had indeed progressed. The vessel was stored on open shelving and an inspection of the area around the object determined that no fragments had fallen completely off. We decided to rehouse the vessel in a box to buffer it against changes in environment during the current or future failure of the HVAC system.
Since I’ve encountered salt efflorescence a few times, I thought I’d add a bit more information. Porous materials, like bone, ceramic and stone, can absorb salt from various sources. Once inside, salts can be dissolved by moisture in the air through a process called deliquescence. Eventually, the water evaporates and the salt recrystallizes. In very porous objects, the salt crystals form on the surface. In objects where the surface is less porous than the underlying body, recrystallized salt can generate massive forces than can spall or pit the surface (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). In worst case scenarios objects can disintegrate.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, salts can enter porous objects through groundwater or seawater in buried or submerged contexts (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 page 1). They are a major source of salt in archaeological collections such as ours. In the case of ceramics, food and water stored in objects during their pre-burial use life can also leave salt residues (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2). Salts can be introduced to ceramics during manufacture through additives that modify the clay body and through water (Source: Minnesota Historical Society Page 2, Source: Digital Fire). Even clay itself can be salty. When I lived in Arizona, I can remember hearing a potter discuss that they would check their clay by tasting it to make sure it wasn’t too salty.
After ceramic objects are recovered during excavation, salts can continue to be added in archaeological labs and museums. Hydrochloric acid has been used to remove calcium carbonate, an insoluble salt that adheres to ceramics during burial that impedes analysis. An unintended result of this process creates calcium chloride, a soluble salt, which is absorbed into the ceramic matrix (Source: The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works- Studies in Conservation Page 172, Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 06/05 Page 2). I would be highly doubtful of repairs that were done years ago. Without detailed treatment records, who knows what glues were used and what contaminants they might introduce.
Deliquescence and evaporation of soluble salts can be greatly diminished by keeping the storage environment below 60% relative humidity and by reducing humidity and temperature fluctuations (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3). However, there is a continued danger of efflorescence. Display cases and storage shelving made from wood have the potential to release acetic acids. This volatile organic compound has the potential to interact with soluble salts leading to precipitation even in controlled storage environments (Source: ICOM Committee for Conservation Page 640).
There may not be quick or inexpensive solutions to mitigate efflorescence. Our current plans for renovation of Peabody collections spaces call for the replacement of wood drawers and cabinets, but this is expensive. In regards to removing salt from objects, the traditional method is through a desalination wash or soak, wherein the object is immersed in distilled or deionized water until the salt level is reduced. This is a complicated process and shouldn’t be done without involving a conservator. Desalination risks removing important residues and compounds that can reduce the usefulness of the objects for future analysis and weaken the object (Source: NPS Conserv O Gram 05/06 Page 3).
Here at the Peabody we’ve taken steps to remove salt through dry brushing, environmental controls, and monitoring. In the future, we have plans to improve our storage space so that these issues will no longer be a concern.
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.
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!
Contributed by Marla Taylor and John Bergman-McCool
Every museum is full of stories and story-tellers. Our recent work in the inventory process has uncovered an old story that always gets my attention (Marla’s). But, before I begin, I must give credit to Eugene Winter, the Peabody’s late Curator Emeritus, who was a story-teller extraordinaire – I am sharing a shortened version of his memories. (Another time, I will tell you about the time Gene cooked his lunch in an active volcano or walked on a whale. The man was full of stories!)
In 1986, Gene welcomed a man named George McLaughlin into the Peabody. McLaughlin claimed to be creating a handbook on archaeology for the local Boy Scouts and was looking to photograph objects in the Peabody’s collection. As a teacher himself, Gene was happy to encourage this project and made arrangements for McLaughlin to return a couple weeks later to access the collection.
However, McLaughlin instead returned the next day and told the administrative assistant, Betty Steinert, that Gene had authorized him to examine the collection – alone. Over the next three days, McLaughlin helped himself to an unknown number of objects from the collection.
Less than a week later, Gene received a call from security at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. A man matching McLaughlin’s description had stolen artifacts from a grad student’s work area and ran out of the museum before he could be caught. Because McLaughlin had now crossed state lines, the FBI became involved.
Gene and Betty remembered that McLaughlin had used the Peabody’s phone to call his wife about being late for dinner. This crucial piece of information allowed the FBI to locate McLaughlin’s home. Fortunately, McLaughlin was arrested soon after these incidents and all materials in his possession were seized.
In total, McLaughlin victimized six institutions in New England and stole thousands of artifacts valued at over $800,000 in 1986 ($1.9 million in 2020 dollars). He intermingled the artifacts based on his own system and systematically removed their catalog numbers (often the best clue to their original home). By so drastically removing the objects from their context, it was a challenge to return the objects to their appropriate homes.
McLaughlin had kept his own version of a ledger identifying the objects and where they came from. And fortunately, Gene was able to recognize a dozen or so very specific objects from the Peabody’s collection. The FBI left it up to the victimized institutions to divide the material in McLaughlin’s collection. The Peabody ended up with nearly 1600 objects from McLaughlin.
Ultimately, McLaughlin was sentenced to a three year suspended sentence and four years of probation. He was also fined $10,000 and ordered to pay a small restitution to each institution.
And therein lays the origin of the Peabody’s FBI collection.
Having come across these materials during our inventory and rehousing project it was time for them to be cataloged by myself (John). One challenge confronted us: McLaughlin had removed any identifying numbers applied by the museums and applied stickers with his own numbers. As the objects were cataloged, a careful inspection was made for remnants of original numbers not completely obliterated during the removal process. There were many with tantalizing hints of legible numbers. In the end though, there were just a few objects with numbers clear enough to associate with our museum’s ledger.
The remaining majority of objects needed new numbers. As mentioned above, McLaughlin had organized the objects and transcribed them into a ledger of sorts. His ledger was too general to make a one-to-one comparison with our own museum’s ledger, but it served as the outline of our numbering system. We added our own prefix, indicating that these objects were stolen and returned by the FBI and followed that with the McLaughlin number. In that way the objects will always carry that part of their strange history.