Category Archives: Collections

Macaw feather from the Peabody collection

The Macaw Factor

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky

This blog represents the sixth 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 for the Peabody 25 tag!

Overview of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Overview of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

At the Robert S. Peabody Museum, it seems as though there is almost no limit to the range of phenomena one can explore. When the topic Chaco Canyon was suggested, I thought looking at trade routes would be interesting. It quickly became clear that what I was about to enter was the world of a great culture which I thought had mysteriously “disappeared” about 800 years ago. What I quickly learned was that these people, the “Ancestral Puebloans,” had not disappeared. Research has shown that the Puebloans had adapted to climate change in the area by dispersing. “Today, twenty Puebloan groups in New Mexico, as well as the Hopi in Arizona, claim Chaco as their ancestral homeland and are tied to this place through oral traditions and clan lineages. A number of Navajo clans are also affiliated with Chacoan sites through their traditional stories.” (National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/chcu/faqs.htm)

Chaco Canyon, located on a section of the Colorado Plateau in northwest New Mexico, was home to the Chacoan culture which flourished from AD 1000 to 1150. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the people who lived there were very sophisticated. They used astronomical alignments, geometry, and impressive building techniques, allowing for multi-storied masonry houses.  They had a complex road system stretching hundreds of miles, linking Chaco to other communities. One of their buildings, four or five stories high, Pueblo Bonito, contained about 650 rooms.

Plan view of Pueblo Bonito
Plan view of Pueblo Bonito with the earliest construction highlighted in red. The locations of the elite burial crypt, room 33, and the three rooms with dated macaw samples are highlighted. From Adam Watson and colleagues’ article on Chaco macaws in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 112(27): http://www.pnas.org/content/112/27/8238)

The Chacoans traded with people in the Mongollon and Hohokam regions to the south and with people from Mexico and Central America.  Long-distance travel by Ancestral Puebloan people was common and among the goods they acquired were turquoise, seashells, copper and chocolate, none of which were found locally. They also traded for scarlet macaws, a bird with a natural habitat 1000 miles to the south.

 

The Robert S. Peabody Museum has several “modern” macaw tail feathers in its collection, one of which is shown below. Preserved feathers  from 1000 years ago would be quite rare.

Scarlet macaws measure about thirty-two inches long, of which more than half is a pointed tail. They can live up to seventy-five years and eat mostly fruits, nuts and seeds. We know macaws, essentially large parrots, as intelligent birds that are quick to echo our deepest secrets using speech, a magical quality, especially because macaws have no vocal cords. That parrots are rated among the top five in the animal world for intelligence and cognition should come as no surprise. It is likely that the people of Chaco Canyon would have been awed by such an animal.

Scarlet macaws are native to the gulf coast of Mexico, Central America, and South America. The question to ask is for what purpose macaws were brought back to Pueblo Bonito?

Thirty four macaws were recovered from Pueblo Bonito and other sites in Chaco Canyon. Room 33 (see illustration above) was used as a burial crypt for 200-250 years. Macaws were found in rooms 38, 71, and 78. Archaeologist Adam Watson and his colleagues postulated that scarlet macaws were a powerful cosmological symbol and that their presence from the early tenth century reinforced and stimulated a rising social inequality. Those who possessed the birds had access to key cosmological beings and forces as well as links with far distant cultural groups. There is little doubt that the ability of the birds to speak played into this perception.

What is currently exciting is how recent radiocarbon dating of scarlet macaw skeletons from Chaco Canyon has given further insight into the question of their presence. What has been shown is that, based on acquisition and control of valued items such as chocolate and macaws, an elite class at the top of a social and political hierarchy dominated Chacoan life. (Watson et al. 2015)

What the elites achieved and their importance is amply demonstrated in their “great houses” and the acquisition of “exotic” goods from distant regions (ibid.) Included in these exotic goods were macaws. Feathers from macaws were found on prayer sticks, costumes, and masks. According to Watson and his colleagues,“…the flight of or just the appearance of certain birds or the use of their feathers is believed to motivate the fall of rain or snow, as well as the seasons, the sunshine, and the heat.”

Originally, it was believed that trade in items such as macaws at Chaco dated from around AD 1040. With radiocarbon dating done in 2010 on skeletal remains of the macaws from Pueblo Bonito, the dates of the florescence have been moved back to AD 775-875.

Whether or not the macaws were brought back to Pueblo Bonito in single journeys or in successive stages has been debated extensively. Some have raised the possibility that macaws were also bred locally in Chaco Canyon itself, although the arid region is not a natural habitat for such birds. The discovery of breeding pens, perches, bones, and eggshell fragments has led to speculation about on site breeding, but evidence suggests such macaws did not reach maturity.

“There are no indications that the people of Pueblo Bonito bred scarlet macaws. Only one of the sample birds was of breeding age and none were exceptionally young. There is also no mention of eggshells in any of the excavation notes, although one room where many of the bird remains were found was probably an aviary.” (“Scarlet macaws point to early complexity at Chaco Canyon.” A’ndrea Elyse Messer, 2015: http://news.psu.edu/story/361255/2015/06/22/research/scarlet-macaws-point-early-complexity-chaco-canyon).

One of many phenomena to explore at the Peabody, the scarlet macaw feathers represent a tangible example of extensive trade routes present in the New World prior to European contact.

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Updated Collections Online

The Peabody is excited to share our updated collections website!

Curious about the scholarly depth of the Peabody collections?  Looking for material from a particular site for your research?  Interested in simply browsing through the artifacts?

The site’s new and improved format is more user-friendly and provides easier access to our object records.  Enter a key word to search, browse a full list of sites, and click through random images of artifacts.

In addition to a streamlined interface, the updated website also includes information about the archival collections housed at the Peabody.  Temporary Archivist Irene Gates’s recent blog post  highlights the completion of the first step in processing our archives.  Or, explore the archival collections here.

While we do not yet have our full collection online, we add new records regularly – so come back often.  I hope that you enjoy exploring the Peabody’s collections as much as I do!

The Peabody Collection Online is made possible in part by a grant from the Abbot Academy Association, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

Archives collection records now online, and MacNeish archives open for research

Collection records for the Peabody’s archival collections are now online, via the museum collections management database’s online portal: take a look.

I am also very happy to announce that the processing work on the MacNeish archives is complete and that this material is now open for research. These archives have been processed as two collections, the Richard S. MacNeish papers and the Richard S. MacNeish records. The papers were donated by MacNeish in 2000, shortly before his death, while the records resulted from his directorship of the Peabody, 1968-1983, and had not left the museum since then. A finding aid with a folder-level inventory can be accessed via the link at the bottom of each collection record. There is parallel content in the two collections, so researchers are advised to consult both.

Here is one of my favorite photographs of MacNeish, from his papers – I think it exemplifies what an adventurer he was.

Richard MacNeish in canoe in the MacKenzie River, Canada, during his survey work in the 1950s
Richard MacNeish in canoe in the MacKenzie River, Canada, during his survey work there in the 1950s

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.

Dr. Steeves examining the collection

Dr. Paulette Steeves is ‘decolonizing the past and present of the Western hemisphere’

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Last week, the Peabody had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Paulette Steeves as she examined portions of the MacNeish collection.  Dr. Steeves is currently a Lecturer of Indigenous archaeology and anthropology and the Interim Director of the certificate program in Native American Studies at UMass Amherst.  Her research focuses on the peopling of the Western hemisphere, but not through the traditional Bering Strait theory.

Dr. Steeves uses indigenous theory and methodology to explore sites in the Americas that date back as far as 60,000 years ago.  This is actually a big deal and an anti-establishment approach to the subject.  Dr. Steeves is looking into the materials collected by Scotty MacNeish during his work in the 1960s in Peru and Mexico for additional evidence.   MacNeish was also a proponent of the idea of early colonization and much of his collection has remained unanalyzed for decades.

Dr. Steeves was thrilled to see the collection and to meet MacNeish himself on her visit.  We look forward to hosting her again for many research visits to come!

Pottery, Shells, and Maine

This blog represents the fourth 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 for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by: Lindsay Randall

Peabody curator Warren K. Moorehead, beginning in 1915, excavated in the Castine area of Maine in search of sites related to the Red Paint People. Moorehead believed the Red Paint People to be an ancient culture that was distinct from the more recent Algonquian tribes that still live in Maine today. He recognized a number of unusual artifact types found in Red Paint cemeteries and the liberal use of red ochre in burials, hence the name Red Paint. Ideas about the origins and relationships of the Red Paint or Moorehead Burial Tradition (as it is now called) are changing and often still hotly contested by archaeologists and tribes today. The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine presents a timeline of contemporary Wabanaki peoples in Maine, demonstrating continuity of modern American Indians back to the earliest occupation of the state.

Map showing the location of Castine, ME.
Map showing the location of Castine, ME.

While Moorehead’s Castine investigation did not locate Red Paint site, numerous shell heaps were found. One of the most amazing sites to be excavated was located on the property of Professor Edmund Von Mach. Von Mach was an instructor in art and fine arts at Harvard, Wellesley and other schools in the Boston area and published books on painting and art history. He gained some notoriety during and after World War I for encouraging Americans to support the German cause and his book Official Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the War was withdrawn due to inaccuracies by the publisher.

Portrait of Edmund Von Mach
Portrait of Edmund Von Mach

Von Mach’s politics aside, the shell heap was a very impressive monument, measuring approximately 660 feet long and having a depth between 3 and 5 feet. The vast majority of the shells present were quahog clams, quite common to the area.  Given that a total of twenty four hundred artifacts were recovered, combined with the sheer expanse of the heap and its numerous layers, it is believed that the site was a permanent settlement used by tribes about 2,500 years ago.

Image of Whaleback Shell Heap in Maine, similar to the Von Mach Shell Heap
Image of Whaleback Shell Heap in Maine, similar to the Von Mach Shell Heap

Throughout the summer, several hundred people visited the site to see what unique pieces of the past were being unearthed. Some of the most interesting artifacts discovered were fragments of pottery.

Four pottery pieces from the Von Mach Shell Heap collection at the Peabody Museum.
Four pottery pieces from the Von Mach Shell Heap collection at the Peabody Museum.

The pottery is unusual in New England as the soil conditions are very acidic and often deteriorate fragile artifacts. Ceramic specimens are more common in other parts of the country, like the American Southwest.

The only reason that the pottery was not dissolved by the acidic soils surrounding it is that the shells were deposited in the same area. Leaching of calcium carbonate from the shells neutralized the harmful acidic soil. Altering the soil matrix in this manner allows for almost unprecedented preservation of sensitive material.

The pottery helps us to learn about technology and artwork in the community. The introduction and development of ceramics into Maine around 2,700 years ago was very important.  It is during this same period that the populations increased and became more sedentary in permanent villages.

The majority of the pottery pieces in our collections are small and fragile, despite being preserved in the shell heaps.  The ceramic pieces also are decorated with stamped and incised lines.  This method of decoration not only reflects the aesthetics of the time, but may have helped reduce air bubbles prior to firing.

Close-up of one of the incised pottery fragments
Close-up of one of the incised pottery fragments

Interestingly, archaeologists are now investigating the language that we use to describe archaeological sites. In her 2014 PhD dissertation at UMass Amherst Katie Kirakosian looks at the terms used by archaeologists like Warren Moorehead and his contemporaries to describe shell-bearing sites like Von Mach’s and how these terms have influenced our thinking about the sites and the people that made them. Kirakosian concludes that use of terms like “shell midden” to describe these sites (and, by extension, their Native constructors) denies their complexity and can result in a narrow and biased narrative.

For more information see Moorehead’s book: Archaeology of Maine

 

Contractors carrying in drywall

Upgrading the storage environment

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The bulk of the Peabody’s collection is stored in the basement.  It has been challenging over the years to control the temperature and humidity in the basement – an essential factor in maintaining an artifact collection.  A small fluctuation of both temperature and humidity is normal and expected as seasons change.  However, extreme variation lead to damage – bone can become fragile, ceramics can develop weak-points, and even stone tools can become brittle.

For the past four years, I have been tracking the environment throughout Peabody and noticed these strong fluctuations.  By taking readings of the temperature and humidity in all our storage spaces once an hour (through the use of a datalogger), I determined that the influx of outdoor air through these poorly sealed windows is large contributing factor.  There is only one way to fix this.

In collaboration with the Office of Physical Plant on campus, we are implementing a plan to mitigate some of this fluctuation.  Contractors are working to seal the windows in the basement to stop outside air from sneaking into the storage.

This will stabilize the environment and lead to fewer changes in both temperature and humidity.  The first step on the road to environmental control!

Culture Areas of North America-the Peabody’s Stuart Travis Mural

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The central staircase of the Peabody includes a mural of American Indian life and history titled “Culture Areas of North America” by Stuart Travis (1868-1942). Travis was an accomplished and prolific American artist, illustrator, and designer who studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. His works—mostly drawings and watercolors—appeared frequently in magazines, books, and advertisements in the early twentieth century. Travis first came to Phillips Academy in 1928 to create the mural “History and Traditions of the School and Vicinity” in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. He continued to work at Phillips Academy, where he painted a total of three murals; he also designed the stone and wood gate that now leads to the Moncrieff Cochran Sanctuary.

Image of the Stuart Travis mural and central staircase.
Stuart Travis Mural at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Photography by Gil Talbot.

The Peabody mural measures 13’11” by 10’2” and reflects ideas about anthropology and archaeology in the 1930s and 1940s. Major elements include the Maya Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal on the left and a totem pole of the Northwest Coast on the right, with a map of cultures areas of North and Middle America occupying a central position, surmounted by six portraits across the top of the mural. Details and insets abound, illustrating artifacts, archaeological sites, ethnographic items, and scenes from Aztec and Maya codices. Illustrations of artifacts are drawn from the British Museum, the Museum of the American Indian (now the National Museum of the American Indian), the American Museum of Natural History, the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, as well as several other prominent institutions.

Major Maya archaeological sites are labeled on the central map, but the majority of the map surface only depicts watersheds and topography, suggesting that Travis may have planned to add even more detail to the mural. The shadow of a thunderbird is painted over the central map, with a note explaining the widespread belief in supernatural birds in the Americas. Other details include an inset illustrating details of the Cahokia, Etowah, and Hopewell sites—likely a nod to long-time Peabody Director Warren K. Moorehead’s work. In all, there are over 30 American Indian artifacts illustrated (some in low relief), ranging from an example of Mi’kmaq writing on birch bark to a Tlingit “raven hat.” Many of these artifacts were probably drawn from contemporary books and articles on archaeology, while some may have been suggested by Museum staff. Detailed notes about the artifacts were likely included so the mural could be used as a teaching tool for visitors.

Travis dated the mural 1938, but continued with additions through 1942. The mural was restored in 1997 by Christy Cunningham-Adams through the generous support of the Abbott Academy Association.

Clerkin, Jill, 2011, Stuart Travis: Artist and Artisan Mismatched with Time. Andover: The Magazine of Phillips Academy 104(3):28-29.

Falk, Peter Hastings (editor), 1985, Who Was Who in American Art. Sound View Press, Madison, CT.

Detail of breccia

Jacob’s Cavern

This blog represents the third entry in a blog new 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 for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The unassuming and muddled looking object below is a piece of loosely formed breccia from Jacob’s Cavern in McDonald County, Missouri.

Breccia from Jacob's Cavern
Breccia from Jacob’s Cavern

Breccia is a type of rock that is composed of broken fragments of other rocks that have been cemented together by a fine-grained matrix – this process can take thousands of years. While this piece is not yet solid rock, it is on the way.  In this case, the matrix (or glue) is ash from thousands of fires that sustained life in the cavern for hundreds of years.

Acting on a tip from a local named E.H. Jacobs, Charles Peabody and Warren Moorehead traveled to Jacob’s Cavern in April of 1903 to examine the site.  Upon arrival, they found a large rockshelter of limestone with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, and the floor was covered with a thick layer of fine ash up to 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) deep! This ash is most likely the direct result of untold numbers of small fires in the cavern to keep the occupants warm over the years of use.

Peabody and Moorehead excavated the thick layer of ashes in using a careful grid system and uncovered hundreds of artifacts.  The stone tools were primarily projectile points and blades with relatively few large tools like axes.  They also found a ‘considerable’ number of bone needles and awls.  These small bone tools are essential in daily life to create, maintain, and repair clothing and other basic equipment.  The sheer volume of ash and artifacts in the cavern indicates long-term occupation.

All evidence of human occupation – stone and bone tools, food debris – in the cavern was found in the layer of ashes and intermingled with breccia.  And, most notably, many artifacts are visible within the breccia (see the photo below).  This means that they were created, used, and discarded before the formation of the breccia and were left undisturbed for possibly thousands of years.

Detail of breccia
Detail of breccia with stone tools circled in green and bone fragments circled in yellow.

Peabody and Moorehead brought samples of the breccia and hundreds of collected artifacts back to the Peabody in 1903 while excavations continued by Mr. Jacobs for another couple years.  Published in 1904, the report of their work became the first Bulletin published by the Department of Archaeology.  The entirety of this report can be found here.

The work done by Peabody and Moorehead with Jacob’s Cavern became a foundation for later work at the Peabody.  Explore and excavate a little-known site, bring the materials back to Andover for study, publish about that work, and provide invaluable new research and insight into the field of archaeology.

Dipping into Trade Connections

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Recently the History and Social Sciences Department has implemented significant changes to their History 100 curriculum, required of all ninth graders. One of the new features of the curriculum is the inclusion of “dips” or week long periods where students can delve more deeply into a subject. This allows students to practice historical literacy skills in a more targeted manner, while also offering the opportunity for more hands-on and experiential learning.

hist-102
Students looking at a mock excavation site from Andover, MA to learn how to “read” objects as text.

That’s where the Peabody comes in.

Both the Education and Collections programs at the Peabody have teamed up with the History and Social Sciences faculty to offer a week long intensive investigation of trade networks in the Americas. The focus of the week is to learn how to read objects as primary sources and to look for patterns and similarities between cultures to learn about the connections between the groups. The cultures that students will be focusing on are the Hopewell, Pueblo, Maya, and Moche.

For an entire week each Winter and Spring terms the majority of ninth graders will descend upon the Peabody to work extensively with our collections from the four cultures. The objects will be set up in “stations” according to their cultural groups and working in teams, students will rotate through each station examining the object and collaboratively answering questions.

Afterward, the teams will get images of all the objects and will be asked to sort them – using any criteria they want – before sharing their decisions with the class. Looking at objects creatively in this manner has often helped archaeologists to make connections that they might have missed otherwise.

One example of a trade connection is our cylinder jar from Chaco Canyon, which shares its shape with cylinder jars produced by the Maya. Many of the Maya cylinder jars held drinks made from cacao, and so it was thought that perhaps chocolate residue might be found in the ones from Chaco Canyon. And it was!!!

We look forward to working with students and faculty on this amazing adventure! (Although you will probably find us drinking soda or other caffeinated beverages after as we recover from the onslaught of the entire Junior class.)

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Reboxing project – Update

Contributed by Marla Taylor

About six months in and the reboxing project is beginning to take off.  With the help of students and volunteers, 52 drawers have been converted into 86 boxes.  These first months have been spent ironing-out the kinks in the procedure and strategically identifying areas of the collection on which to focus.

The inventories produced from this project have already helped to identify areas of the collection for further attention and have made some objects available for education use.

I am excited to pick-up the pace over the winter!