The Digital Resource Spotlight series will highlight a variety of heritage-based organizations that offer unique activities that educators and parents may want to explore. We hope that you find our compilations helpful as you navigate this new educational landscape.
The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is a premier educational resource for educators looking to incorporate easy, hands-on activities. Many of their lessons can easily be restructured to fit the current online learning model that many private and public schools are adapting to. They are also clear and straightforward, which makes them a perfect tool for the numerous parents who are finding themselves suddenly acting as their children’s teacher.
Their 130 page guide Beyond Artifacts is a trove of useful lesson plans that could readily be duplicated in a students home, with online guidance from the teacher. Want to study archaeology during lunch? They have a Peanut butter and Jelly Excavation lunch, which can even be followed up by a cookie excavation. YUM!!!!
In addition to the broad archaeology lessons they also offer more topical ones focused on prehistoric, historic, and underwater archaeology.
One of my favorite lessons that they ha is one called Stone Silent. It allows student to collect demographic data from a local cemetery. This is a perfect lesson as it will help everyone to get outside (which we all desperately need) while still practicing social distancing since there are probably not many people wandering cemeteries for fun right now.
FPAN has many other resources to offer, so be sure to check out all of them here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. One recommendation included in these guidelines was for “social distancing” – a term referring to the conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully hinder the community transmission of the virus.
While schools, companies, and various workplaces determine the best possible options to both adhere to these guidelines as well as provide the appropriate support to their staff, students, and customers – many have chosen to close their doors. Some institutions and companies have shut down indefinitely, while various schools and universities have moved to remote teaching, where students complete their classes online and stay at home. Universities and colleges all over the country have moved courses to online platforms. Undergrads are being told to move out of their dorms and off campus for the remainder of the semester.
Phillips Academy (PA), a New England boarding school and the Peabody’s parent institution has instituted similar measures, following the directives issued by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
A local restaurant closes their doors in light of “on-site eating” bans over COVID-19
Now many would say they like working from home and actually get more done, but it is not the case for everyone. The Peabody staff are doing what they can to continue their museum work from home. For the Peabody collections team, it is very difficult to continue much of the work they do every day at the institution, as much of the collections and material cannot leave the building. While inventory, rehousing, and cataloguing of the collection is put on hold, our staff is editing object photographs, digitizing documents, transcribing collection ledgers, writing blogs (like this one), and more.
Outside of my remote-work, I am wondering like many others who are stuck at home – what else can I do with the rest of my week? By being at home, we miss out on the daily interactions with our coworkers, colleagues, and classmates. Our experiences with each other fuel our creativity and critical thinking, and are important for much needed collaborative efforts. Through “social distancing” we are recommended to not take part in every day, public activities such as eating out, going to the store, or visiting a museum or historical site with our friends and family.
But don’t let social distancing doom your week and weekend! Museums have found a way to bring some of their collections to their visitors. So worry no more! You can view that Van Gough from the couch!
I was happy to enjoy a little culture and education in my off-time while at home. According to Fast Company, Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to bring virtual tours and online exhibits to a global audience.
The first museum I “visited” was the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. As a student, I had visited this museum on a class trip many years ago and I was interested in the exhibits they provided online. This exhibit was a detailed history on the building of the museum titled, From Station to the Renovated Musée d’Orsay. This endeavor was a groundbreaking project for Paris as it was the first time an industrial building had been restored to accommodate a major museum. The virtual exhibit showcases the early building plans and images of the Orsay train station and hotel from the 1900s as well as images of the museum and its galleries after the renovation project in the early 2000s. Explore this virtual exhibit here!
I visited a second virtual exhibition, this time, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibition is called, Fashioning a Nation. This exhibit features drawings from the Index of American Design, a collection of more than 18,000 watercolor pictures of American decorative art objects. This exhibition explores the American fashions from 1740 to 1895, giving insight into the character and quality of American life from the colonial period to the Industrial Revolution. Click here to explore this exhibit!
If museums aren’t your thing, explore a historic site!Open Heritage – Google Arts & Culture offers iconic locations in 3D, using 3D modeling techniques for you to explore. You can learn about the tools of digital preservation and how people all over the world are preserving our shared history. One site I visited was the Mesa Verde National Park. This site is home to Native American cliff dwellings in southern Colorado that span over 700 years of Native American history (600-1300 CE). An expedition was led by CyArk in February 2017. CyArk is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the digital documentation and preservation of historic sites. The organization documented the Balcony House at Mesa Verde using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and terrestrial photogrammetry. Combining these two technologies is what creates the 3D model of a site. To explore the 3D model of the Balcony House at Mesa Verde, click here!
Unfortunately, not all popular museums and galleries are included on Google Arts & Culture’s collection website, but some museums are offering virtual tours and online visits on their own websites, such as the Louvre in Paris, France. To see more of Google Arts & Culture’s collection of virtual museums and exhibits, visit their collection website. Explore and enjoy your visit!
For any museum institution with a vast collection and storage of artifacts, there is no holiday from IPM work! IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management and focuses on prevention of pests through preventative actions that protect museum collection environments from various pests. Examples of these actions include reducing clutter, sealing areas where pests may be entering the building, removing items that may be attracting pests such as food, and protecting artifacts that have the potential to be food or shelter to pests.
What’s important about this work is the long-term prevention taken to protect collections and their housing space. IPM work is not simply eliminating the pests, but looking at the environmental factors that affect the pest and its ability to thrive in its current conditions. Part of what museum staff do is use this information, and the observations made to locate potential pests, to create conditions that are unfavorable to pests and disrupt their occupied environment.
A large part of what Peabody staff do with IPM work is monitor the collection and building environments and identify potential threats or pests. The most common pests to come across in a museum collection space are various carpet beetles, webbing clothes moths, and case-making clothes moths. The type of pest one may have or attract depends on what is in the collection for the pest to eat. Most insect pests are drawn to animal and plant products such as wool, skins, fur, feathers, hair, silk, paper, horns, whalebone, and leather. As you can imagine, a museum collection looks a lot like a buffet to these insects.
The Peabody uses small insect sticky traps to monitor specific areas of the building for pests. These traps can catch insects and staff can then closely inspect these traps to understand what pests may be a potential threat and where they are occupying in the museum. It is always important to consistently check these traps as well as circulate new ones every so often.
Another form of monitoring for pests is through observation and identification. As staff rehouses and inventories the collections, they complete condition reports and inspections of each artifact that may be threatened by pests. If any evidence is identified on or around the artifact, further pest control must take place. The types of pest evidence that staff is looking for is frass, webbing, larvae carcasses, and live insects. Frass consists of the excrement of an insect and the refuse produced by the activity of the boring insect. Webbing and tubular-looking cases are present for webbing and case-making clothes moths. These are usually present in textiles and are made by these insects when they are larvae. Larvae carcasses are present when the insect sheds its larvae form into an adult. These carcasses are something to look out for with objects and their storage, as it demonstrates that an insect had once been there and the same kind of pest could very likely return. If an insect or evidence of an insect are found, staff then must try to identify which insect is the threat and begin pest control and further prevention from the artifact and surrounding collection.
Artifacts with evidence of insect activity are cleaned and rehoused with new acid-free tissue paper. The box holding the artifact is also cleaned. Once the artifacts are placed back into their box storage, the box is sealed in a large, acid-free plastic bag with little to no air in the bag. The box is then wrapped further in another layer before being placed in the freezer for low-temperature treatment. This type of treatment control helps eradicate pests from the artifact through freezing. After a few weeks of freezing, the artifact is inspected again by staff to determine if there is any additional evidence of infestation. If the artifact has no further evidence of insect activity, the artifact will sit for a few more weeks, sealed in a plastic bag, through a process called bagging or isolation. After another few weeks a final analysis will be given before the artifact is deemed safe to return to its original storage in the collection.
There are several other treatments that are used amongst museum professionals to control pest infestations in their collections. These are heat treatment, the use of pesticides in collection areas, and controlled atmosphere through nitrogen/argon gas, carbon dioxide, and depleting oxygen levels. The treatment that is used on each artifact depends on the artifact’s material. Some treatments cannot be used on all objects and it is important to always keep the artifacts’ well-being in mind.
IPM work requires a careful eye and patience, along with a resilience to properly eliminate pests and protect collections from future threats of infestation. To learn more about Integrated Pest Management visit Museum Pests, a product of the IPM working group.
We have had a tremendous interest in our old storage drawers in the last few months. As collections were rehoused in new cartons, we were able to give away over 100 drawers!
Our last blog featured drawers that underwent cosmetic changes, such as being repainted and stained as well as drawers repurposed into storage, furniture, and a jewelry organizer. You can see these projects here.
We are pleased to share that the Peabody Collection Team has reached their end-of-year goal in rehousing and inventorying 1,444 wooden drawers, which is about 67% of the Peabody’s collection. This means staff is about two-thirds of the way through the entire inventory of the Peabody’s collections!
The vast majority of the old drawers have now found new homes and purposes with many friends of the Peabody. We not only thank you all for your interest and for taking these drawers, but for giving these drawers a new life.
This month’s feature of drawers covers projects both big and small. Our first feature uses the drawers as wedding decorations, creating a photo capture area for guests to take photos and leave a message for the celebrating couple.
Another project is tea trays – a great DIY gift idea for family and friends this holiday season!
An example of one of the larger-scale projects for these drawers is a studio storage wall. This unique idea is fashionable as it is functional – doubling as both a storage space and accent wall for this home studio.
We have also received a lot of interest and support from our fellow Phillips Academy faculty and staff. Some of our wooden drawers have been used for material at the new Maker’s Space for students at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library on campus. Keep an eye out for our next blog update showcasing more of these drawer projects! If you have repurposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Libby, Willard F. Radiocarbon
Dating, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1955.
MacNeish, Richard S. et al., The Prehistory of the Tehuacan Valley: Chronology and Irrigation.
Vol. 4. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 1972. Print.
For the past year and a half, I have spent the majority of my time inventorying drawers as part of the Peabody’s Inventory and Reboxing Project. As exciting as that project has been, every once in a while I have needed to take a break from it to recharge my brain. In order to recharge while simultaneously staying productive, I was tasked with photographing and inventorying the ceramic vessel collection that is housed on the second floor of the Peabody. In order to complete this project, I printed out inventory sheets for the ceramic cabinets in Second Floor Storage and went shelf by shelf making sure each vessel was there and photographing it. This was great because I enjoy photography and try to do it often in my spare time. Once the vessels were photographed, I edited them in Photoshop and then uploaded the finished photos to each object’s catalog record in our museum software, PastPerfect. Editing the photos was very enjoyable for me because I was able to expand my Photoshop skills, which were pretty limited before taking on this project.
The original goal was to take one day a week to do these tasks. However, as the inventory project got rolling and certain collections needed to be cataloged faster than others, the ceramic inventory ended up getting slightly pushed aside in order to accommodate more pressing tasks at the Peabody. The main point of this blog post is this: the ceramic inventory has officially been completed!! Each vessel is logged into PastPerfect and has a photograph attached to it. The other exciting bit of information is that all of these vessels (except for NAGPRA sensitive ones) are available to view in our online catalog which can be found HERE. Take a look at the link to see what I have been working on, and feel free to peruse the online collections even further to see what else is housed at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology!
The past five years have been a busy time for museums- most notably in the image department. Following a number of high profile controversies, a lot of people–audiences, and museum professionals alike–asked what role museums play in our society? Here are a couple of recent articles dealing with this subject head on.
Last month saw the release of Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Black Panther. Besides being a fantastic movie, this film offers a unique chance to open dialogues on a large scale about many topics- least of which are museums as mechanisms of colonialism. This article discusses how and why museum professionals especially should look at their roles in this and the effects they have on the audiences we try to reach. The piece ends by laying out suggestions for how museums can move forward incorporating and working towards more diverse and open dialogues between communities.
This article opens with the quote, “history matters because it has contemporary consequences,” and it just gets better from there. Directors Kevin Gover (National Museum of the American Indian) and Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture) participated in a day long symposium titled, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” in which they talked about confronting the historic and continued racist ideologies that are entrenched in contemporary American society and the role of museums. They specifically discuss the example of the concurrent rise of confederate statues and racist mascots.
Chronicling a series of high profile controversies, this article looks at the combination of factors that have led to these, as well as the changes they are bringing to museums and their operation. It also discusses why museums have become ground zero for explosive cultural encounters stating, “We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become the places where these issues get played out.”
This article showcases the role museums have within their respective walls and how they are branching out to have far reaching impacts in classrooms all over the nation. Similar to classes taught at the Peabody by Curator of Education, Lindsay Randall, this article follows the creation and implementation of National Museum of the American Indian’s newest initiative, Native Knowledge 360. NK360 is a “long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculum in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country.” This program works with the inclusion and cooperation of Native communities and educators as well as provides educational materials for teachers.
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.
Once again DNA analysis of sites is opening up our understanding of how societies operated historically. By testing bone samples from Room 33 in Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon, scientists were able to shed more light on the inner workings of power, class, wealth and status of ancestral Puebloans, and the major role women played within these.
Mound 72 of the Cahokia culture complex, when originally excavated in 1967, was thought to be a shining example of a burial of elite male warriors. Fast forward almost 50 years and imagine archaeologist’s surprise when one third of the skeletons found were in fact female! These findings call into question the idea that Cahokia was a male warrior-led patriarchy.
The excavation of young Hohokam woman’s grave is an example of what the excavators and author call the “Bioarchaeology of care.” The young woman, who lived about 800 years ago had scoliosis, rickets, and tuberculosis. Through looking at this site, archaeologists are able learn more about the community in which the girl lived, and how they supported and cared for her, giving a decidedly human lens to a science that can sometimes become disconnected.