My latest work for the Peabody Inventory and Rehousing Project has led me to Tehuacán, where I have been cataloguing glass jars that contain soil samples. These jars are a part of the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish during the early 1960s. The samples were collected for testing and analysis purposes from the project area. When archaeologists excavate a site, they dig through soil layers formed by the activities of past people. What archaeologists recover from these layers provides clues about what happened at that site from features or artifacts. However, the actual soil is another very important clue for archaeologists, as it can help date sites and tell a lot about the environment of the site during the time the soil layers were formed.
Giving an accurate description of soils help archaeologists better understand what happened in the past at a site. The color and texture of soil can reveal the age of an archaeological site, as well as how the site was used. For example, a circular stain in the soil may reveal a post-hole deposit, indicating that there was once a wooden post that had decayed, leaving a soil discoloration in the ground. Depending on the site, these post-holes could represent a structure or palisade. In addition, studying soil fertility can help archaeologists understand ancient agricultural systems.
Archaeologists use the Munsell Color Chart to help them describe the colors of the soil layers in a standardized way. This system was developed by Albert H. Munsell at what is now MassArt in 1905. Archaeologists compare the soil color in their excavation units to the color chips of the Munsell Chart – similar to the color squares found in hardware stores for paint. Where a color may be brown to one person, it may be gray to another – so it is important that archaeologists use this chart so they can standardize their descriptions.
To describe soil textures, archaeologists and geomorphologists use a soil triangle to help them determine what type of soil they are examining in the field. There are three types of soil components: sand, silt, and clay. Most soils have a combination of these three components and each of these components vary in sizes – sand particles being the largest and clay particles being the smallest. Similar to how the Munsell Color Chart describes soil color the same way, the soil triangle helps archaeologists describe soil texture consistently.
Another way archaeologists analyze their site is through soil stratigraphy. This is the different types of strata, or layers of soil that archaeologists examine to map out the archaeological site over time. Stratigraphy can be used to determine which soil was associated with human occupation and which layers are sterile, meaning the soil is not associated with human occupation and does not contain any archaeological material. Layers that include artifacts and features represent a place where people lived and worked, as archaeologists can see the objects left behind by human activity. Sterile layers such as subsoil, flood sediment, and bedrock are not as distinct, but provide information on a site’s activity or inactivity.
The jars of soil samples were most likely examined after excavation and retained for further analysis. Presently, these soil samples have been rehoused and cataloguing for each of these jars is complete. To learn more about Richard “Scotty” MacNeish and the Tehuacán Archaeological-Botanical Project, visit the Peabody’s online archival collections. The MacNeish archives are available for research, separated into two collections – the Richard S. MacNeish Papers and the Richard S. MacNeish Records.
Birkeland, Peter W. 1974. Pedology, Weathering, and Geomorphological Research, New York: Oxford University Press.
Limbrey, Susan. 1975. Soil Science and Archaeology. London and New York: Academic Press.
Solecki, R. 1951. Notes on Soil Analysis and Archaeology. American Antiquity,16(3), 254-256.
This blog represents the twelfth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
The Peabody Institute holds many collections from across North America. In the early 20th century, institutions often traded objects with one another in order to expand holdings and develop more diverse collections. One of the collections the Peabody received in trade is the William Duncan Strong collection, which consists of objects from Labrador. Strong was a prolific archaeologist and anthropologist who was known for his direct historical approach to studying Indigenous cultures of North and South America.
William Duncan Strong was born in Portland, Oregon in 1899. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he initially studied zoology before switching his focus to Anthropology. While at Berkeley, he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, a well-known American anthropologist who Strong considered a mentor and friend. Strong received his Ph. D. in 1926. His dissertation, titled “An Analysis of Southwestern Society,” was subsequently published in American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. Throughout his career, Strong conducted ethnographic and archaeological studies throughout southern California, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Peru, and Labrador.
The Labrador collection is one of the largest collections housed at the Peabody. It was given to the Peabody by the Field Museum in Chicago in exchange for materials from Pecos Pueblo. The Labrador collection contains many interesting artifacts from the Arctic region. Strong assembled the collection as part of a 1927-28 expedition to the Arctic led by Commander Donald B. MacMillan. MacMillan was known for his arctic cruises, which often included a variety of scientists and observers. Most of Strong’s time was spent in ethnographic research with the Montagnais-Naskapi, but he also found time to excavate several Inuit villages—this is where the Peabody collection originated.
One of the artifacts that I found the most intriguing was what looked like a boat carved out of stone. I asked about what this object was since I had never come across anything like it. I thought perhaps it was some kind of kettle but I was informed that it was actually a lamp called a Kudlik.
These lamps were typically used by people in the Arctic to light and heat their dwellings, to melt snow, and to cook. They were usually made out of soapstone, which was carved into a dish-like object with a shallow perforation in the center. This is where the wick, which was fashioned from cottongrass or moss, would be placed. The surrounding dish was then most commonly filled with seal blubber, although whale blubber was also used in whaling communities. The wick would soak in blubber, which would then allow it to remain lit and provide people with light.
It is always very interesting to see how people in the past used various objects from their environment to create tools that we still use to this day!
Artifact collections are not meant to stagnate – museum collections are meant to be researched, examined, and shared. In a perfect world, all loans are returned promptly and paper-work is meticulous. But, let’s be real, in an institution with 100+ years of history, this is not often the case. Fortunately, some past researchers remember you when it is time to relocate collections.
Circa 1972, Scotty MacNeish sent faunal material from the Ayacucho Valley of Peru to Dr. Kent Flannery of the University of Michigan for analysis. Dr. Flannery is a prominent zooarchaeologist who specializes in investigating the origins of agriculture in Mesoamerica and the Near East. Many know Flannery from his 1976 book The Early Mesoamerican Village and his 1982 article The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. Dr. Flannery completed the Ayacucho faunal analysis and sent data and a written chapter (for Volume I of the Prehistory of the Ayacucho Basin) back to MacNeish. But the artifacts were not returned until July, 2018.
Dr. Flannery, and the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan, shipped us 493 bags and 11 small boxes of faunal material. A loan from 45 years ago, of course, did not have much paperwork, though we did locate the original Peruvian export permits and customs documents. But, all bags and boxes are now inventoried and part of the Peabody collection. The material is from Jaywamachay Cave, Ruyru Rumi Cave, and Chumpas Cave in the Ayacucho Valley.
Boxes returned bones find a new home
The material was largely returned in bags like these
An example of the faunal material from Ayacucho
Why does this matter? These collections can now be made available to a new generation of researchers and are reunited with other materials from MacNeish’s Ayacucho work.
Last week, members of the Peabody staff made their way down to Washington D. C. to attend the 83rd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology! This society is the largest organization for archaeologists who conduct work in North and South America. It was founded in 1934 and had its very first meeting at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Today, the SAA is comprised of over 7000 members. The annual meeting of the SAA lasts for four days. Archaeologists from all over the Americas get together to present papers and posters pertaining to their research, conduct symposiums related to current issues in and directions for the field of archaeology, and many institutions and vendors rent space in the book room to promote their organizations.
This was my primary task at the SAA meeting this year. The Robert S. Peabody Institute had a table in the exhibition hall manned by Peabody staff members. This is a great way for other conference attendees to stop by and talk to us about what is going on at the Institute, find out whether or not we have collections that researchers are interested in, and learn more about our online collections, Cordell Scholarship award and the Journal of Archaeology & Education. There was also an order form for anyone who interested in purchasing our new book, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. All in all, working the table was a great experience. It was awesome getting to talk to fellow archaeologists who might not have ever crossed my path if not for the Peabody table.
In addition to the educational and networking benefits that come along with attending conferences, the SAA is also a great place to get to see former colleagues and friends who have gone their own ways. I had the chance to see so many people that I never get to see anymore because in the world of archaeology, people can work with you one year and then go work halfway across the world the next! People I know came from St. Louis, Albany, New York City, Virginia, New Mexico and even Hawaii! I saw colleagues from my very early days as an archaeologist in New York, as well as friends that I had made working on projects all the way down in Virginia. It was very enjoyable to have my multiple spheres of friends finally collide in one space.
Because the conference was in Washington, D.C., it also provided the opportunity to see museums in the area. The main museum I had wanted to see was the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Unfortunately, everyone else in the city wants to go there too, and even though we tried to grab tickets at 6:30 AM, there were none to be had. I walked the mall with some friends anyway. The weather was gorgeous, passing 80 degrees! The cherry blossoms and sun were out and it was a great day to walk around outside and see the various monuments (which look much better in the sun and heat than they did the last time I was in D.C. in January 2016 with clouds and rain).
I finally made my way to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I’ve somehow never been to this one before, and I’m very glad that I went. The museum had numerous exhibits, including precious gems and rock formations, dinosaurs, a human origins exhibit, an osteology exhibit and even an exhibit showcasing mummies from Egypt. The collection of faunal skeletons in the Osteology Hall was particularly fascinating. It’s amazing to see how similar many creatures are when they are stripped down to just bone.
The four days spent in D.C. for the SAA were amazing and I hope a good time was had by all who attended. It was a nice break from the daily routines I have here at the Peabody!
The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.
When I joined the staff of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology in July 2012 there was major project underway. At the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, then Peabody director Malinda Stafford Blustain had organized a symposium on the history of our venerable institution. Presentations were made by archaeologists, as well as Phillips Academy faculty members, administrators, and alumni, and covered everything from the scientific contributions and the ups and downs of the Peabody to personal recollections. The major theme of that symposium was conveyed in its title, “Rising from the Ashes: Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology.” In 2002 financial issues and lack of connections with our parent institution, Phillips Academy, came to a head and resulted in a potential shuttering of the Peabody. That didn’t happen, and the 2011 SAA symposium was a celebration and reflection on what can be described as a very unusual place: an archaeology museum situated at a storied New England prep school.
Malinda had done the Herculean task of procuring drafts of each symposium presentation and recruited Jane Libby, close friend and colleague of former Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, to help with editing. The plan was to edit, design, and print the volume in-house. Linda S. Cordell, Peabody Advisory Committee member and contributor to the volume, had insisted on peer review; reviewers had been identified and were submitting notes to Blustain and Libby. When I joined the team it became clear that there were several challenges. Some of the contributions needed lots of editing, some were very long, there were over 100 photographs planned for inclusion, and, most notably, we possessed no means to warehouse, market, or fulfil orders. In September 2012 Linda Cordell and I discussed the project and I also spoke with Lynn Baca, then editor at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and John Strand, editor for the American Alliance of Museums. We all agreed that the project had lots of merit, but that there were any number of obstacles to overcome. Institutional histories can be tricky to publish, as they often have a limited audience. Our lack of distribution and fulfillment created problems, as did questions of storage. As a part of Phillips Academy, we have no way to set up a bank account or receive payments. It was clear that we needed a publishing partner and that we needed to do some serious editing.
Our own history provided a clue. In the 1920s Alfred V. Kidder established a relationship with the Yale University Press. Yale published Kidder’s An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology in 1924 (and it has remained in print since that time). Other volumes in Kidder’s Southwest project also were published by Yale, including studies of Pecos Pueblo artifacts, pottery, and volumes prepared by Carl Guthe, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Earnest Hooten. Warren Moorehead used the Yale press connection to bring out his volumes on Etowah and sites in Arkansas and neighboring areas. Some of these Yale titles are still in print, while others are hard to find, even on Internet book searches. The “blue book” series, developed in the 1930s by the Peabody’s Doug Byers and Frederick Johnson, suffered from many of the same problems that we were facing with the new volume: lack of distribution, marketing, and fulfillment logistics. Despite producing some significant work, most of the printed “blue books” are still stored here in the Peabody attic. We’ve had the bulk of this series digitized and made available via InternetArchive. Scotty MacNeish avoided these issues by partnering with academic presses at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan, which brought out his five-volume Tehuacan and three-volume Ayacucho studies in the 1960s through 1980s. This was clearly the solution!
By the end of 2012 I hired writer and editor Sharon Magnuson to help work on the project. She continued to work on editing through the end of 2016. We were able to return substantive review comments to authors, along with copy-edited versions created by Sharon. In 2013 I had conversation with the kind folks at Harvard’s Peabody Museum Press, who were publishing David L. Browman and Stephen Williams fabulous Anthropology at Harvard: A Biographical History, 1790-1940. There were some discussions about publishing our volume as a companion piece and I prepared a prospectus. Time and other commitments didn’t allow that relationship to go forward, but conversations with Harvard’s Joan O’Donnell helped me think through some of the challenges. One idea that Sharon Magnuson and I tackled was to make some of the personal reflection chapters into much shorter essays or sidebars. This helped focus these pieces, and significantly shortened our page and image count. Sharon’s great editorial eye also helped identity a few other issues, including one massive bibliography that had one chapter tipping the scales at over 80 pages! We put it on a diet.
By September 2015 I felt that the book was in pretty good shape and I was on the hunt for a publisher. Early efforts were a bit discouraging and I was prepared to revisit in-house publishing. Marshall Cloyd, Phillips Academy Class of 1958 and long-time member of the Peabody Advisory Committee gave me a pep talk and encouraged me to keep trying. Archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History was kind enough to help me brainstorm ideas about presses that might be interested. It was clear that we needed an academic press that was publishing histories of archaeology and anthropology. I ultimately sent out at least twenty inquiries. I got a lot of rejections! I did, however, have interest from presses at the University of New Mexico and the University of Nebraska. Editor Matthew Bokovoy at Nebraska thought the book might fit nicely in their Critical Histories of Anthropology series. I supplied the manuscript and waited for reviewer comments and a decision from Matt and series editors Regna Darnell and Stephen Murray.
On July 5, 2016 we had two sets of review comments and positive feedback from the press. I prepared a response to reader’s comments, which was due August 1, 2016. The folks at Nebraska got it—we had an interesting story to tell, one that was often central to the history of American archaeology, but one that also was little known. It was summer 2016 and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do. The editors and the twenty contributors alike had lots of constructive comments to address. We needed to cut back on the figures—we agreed that fifty-five was the right number—and we needed to find a way to reintegrate those sidebars that we had created into the regular chapter structure. By September 2016 we had an agreement with Nebraska and were working away on a final draft, which we submitted in January 2017.
Despite the joy surrounding the completion of the manuscript, we must remember the people that we lost during this journey. Linda S. Cordell (1943-2013), who wrote about Alfred Kidder’s contributions at Pecos Pueblo and pushed for a peer-reviewed volume, died March 29, 2013. Gene Winter (1927-2014), long-time Peabody volunteer and honorary curator, passed on February 24, 2014. Gene brought his tremendous knowledge of New England archaeology and institutional history to the volume and I am so grateful that I was able to sit with him and work on revisions to his co-authored chapter. Most recently the world of archaeology lost another bright light in Brian Robinson (1953-2016). Brian passed on October 27, 2016. He and I had had many discussions about Maine archaeology and our decision to affiliate and repatriate funerary objects from the Nevin site to the Wabanaki tribes. The last conversation we had was about his chapter and some final notes from the copyeditor. Linda, Gene, and Brian were kind, generous, and knowledgeable people who made time for the Robert S. Peabody Museum, shared our values and vision, and helped to make us better. You will be missed.
Over the course of 2017 we got to know many people at the University of Nebraska Press. We worked closely with copyeditor Sally Antrobus, as well as production editor Joeth Zucco, who both brought a lot to the volume. Heather Stauffer answered lots of questions and helped keep us on track. I was happy for the opportunity to meet editor Matthew Bokovoy in early December 2017 at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington DC and share just how professional, encouraging, and kind he and his entire staff had been during the publication process.
Marla Taylor, Peabody curator of collections, Irene Gates, archivist, and Lesley Shahbazian, staff assistant, all contributed to the volume, helping to find, re-find, and re-re-find photographs, providing proper citations for archival materials, and helping to obtain permissions. Their help is greatly appreciated!
One final person deserves a special mention. Dr. Peter Hetzler, Phillips Academy Class of 1972, and member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees and the Peabody Advisory Committee, provided much-needed support for publication of the volume. Archaeologist Jimmy Griffin once used the term “archaeological angel.” I can think of no better way to describe Peter!
Copies of the published book arrived at my office on March 5, 2018. It’s a beautiful book with some amazing stories. Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology is a testament to what people did here, from Alfred V. Kidder and Warren K. Moorehead to today’s museum professionals, educators, and students. If you’d like a copy they are available directly from the University of Nebraska Press and on Amazon!
This blog represents the tenth 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 of the Peabody 25 tag!
Contributed by Samantha Hixson
Phillips Academy has had quite a love affair with Stuart Travis. You can see his work all over the campus; At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Paresky Commons, the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Moncrieff Cochran Bird Sanctuary or, more importantly to this discussion, the Peabody. Most people are familiar with Travis’ great mural which flanks the stairwell in our main entrance, but many who come into the building are not aware that one of our two large dioramas was also made by the artist.
The Pecos diorama was commissioned by the Peabody to commemorate Alfred Kidder’s famous excavation in New Mexico and to illustrate stratigraphy, a dating technique he used on a large scale, that would form the bedrock of archaeological research. Douglas Byers, the Director at the time, mentioned the diorama in his 1940 annual report, stating,
“in the week before commencement our Southwestern Hall was opened to the public for the first time. This was subsequently closed because Mr. Travis’ model of Pecos was moved upstairs from the basement and remained uncompleted for several months during which time Mr. Travis was taken from this work to assist in the revision of the biology notebook and other projects. It is a pleasure to report that his work is now finished and the model is enclosed by a case designed and built by the School Carpenter Shop” (p4).
Pueblo Model under construction.
Pueblo Model under construction.
Not only does this passage give insight as to just how involved Travis was with the school as a whole, it also touches upon the history of the Peabody itself.
The Peabody has a history of change and evolution. In its 116-years it has gone through four different iterations of its name and the diorama has been around to see all but one through. At the time of the diorama’s creation the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, as it was known at the time, functioned as a traditional “items on display” type facility. The building was filled to the brim with glass exhibit cases full of objects from the collection, often related to research projects conducted by the Peabody staff.
The Peabody during the Byers & Johnson era.
The Peabody during the Byers & Johnson era.
Indeed, up until the Peabody’s recent past it was an exhibit centered museum, but as our director Ryan Wheeler posted we at the Peabody have entered a new phase in our story and are now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, and the diorama is still right by our side.
The Peabody has a new name! The Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, at their November 5, 2017 meeting, approved the Peabody’s new name. We are now known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Part of our proposal for a name change–included below–addresses the history of our institution’s name, issues of identity, and practical concerns:
Throughout the Peabody’s strategic planning work in 2014 and 2015 there was frequent discussion about the need for focused work on branding. These conversations included Museum personnel, members of the Peabody Advisory Committee, and the broader Phillips Academy community. There was general agreement that one issue was the name Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Discussants pointed out that the name “Peabody” often leads to confusion with the other, larger institutions in Salem, Cambridge, and New Haven, and that the term “museum” is misleading.
The topic of branding was revisited during the Peabody Advisory Committee’s 2016 summer retreat and November 2016 meeting and the group proposed a name change.
The topic of a potential name change has been considered in three ways:
1) Historical— Past names for our institution include Department of Archaeology (1901-1938); Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (1938-1995); and Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (1990-present). The most recent name change occurred in the 1990s and was made to reflect the interest in creating an exhibition driven institution like the Addison Gallery of American Art. That program ended in 2002 with a shift to our current focus on teaching and learning.
2) Identity—Museum personnel and advisory committee members have discussed whether or not we are a museum. For example, Eugene Dillenberg’s 2011 article in Exhibitionist emphasizes exhibitions as the core defining aspect of a museum, with exhibits as the primary mission and goal of the institution. The Peabody’s current mission is to provide archaeological and anthropological learning opportunities to the students of Phillips Academy, returning to Robert Peabody’s original vision for the institution, which was to introduce students to the emerging disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, to conduct scientific research, and to provide a place for student activities. There also was general agreement that it was important to retain the name “Peabody,” despite the proliferation of Peabody museums in New England. The sense was that we would continue to be called “The Peabody” on campus and in the broader Phillips Academy community.
3) Practical—the word “museum” creates considerable confusion as people come here expecting a more typical museum experience. While we are happy to have people come for tours and events (and classes, of course!) we are a pretty disappointing experience to a growing number of casual visitors. As we become more well-known in the area more people have become curious about what is inside the building and come in to find out.
In his gift letter to the Board of Trustees and the Academy administrators in 1901 Robert S. Peabody shared that he did not want to create a museum on campus, but rather to find ways to introduce students to the fields of archaeology and anthropology. We’ve come to recognize the prescience and vision of Peabody’s original idea for our institution. We trust the name change will help avoid confusion and emphasize our commitment to teaching and learning on campus and beyond.
This blog represents the ninth 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 of the Peabody 25 tag!
Bureaucracy and oversight committees are not modern phenomena. In the earliest years of the Peabody, contemporaneously known as the Department of Archaeology, the work done was overseen by a subcommittee of the Trustees of Phillips Academy. However, the Trustees recognized the limitations of their own knowledge in the world of archaeology and appointed a Special Advisory Committee on Archaeology in 1914.
Install a synoptic exhibit, strictly limited in size and scope, of the life of man from geological time to the beginnings of history
Limit public lectures to no more than 4 each year
End formal classes in archaeology for the students at Phillips Academy and instead encourage individual students as their interests dictate
The work of ‘research’ should include two separate divisions; one to investigate large definite problems of archaeology, and the other to aid competent archaeologists in the execution of such of their plans
Appoint a small permanent advisory committee of experts of easy access, whose duty it shall be to report to the Trustees upon all plans for exploration, organization of study collections, museum research, and publication.
These recommendations were received with mixed feelings by curator Warren K. Moorehead. He appreciated many of the committee’s suggestions, but strongly objected to the creation of a permanent oversight committee. Convinced that they would meddle in his research plans and enmesh him in red tape, Moorehead clearly expressed his displeasure:
However, the committee composed of Dixon and Bingham, existed for several years. They limited Moorehead to his ongoing work in Maine and simultaneously decided to embark on an expedition in the Southwest. This decision directly led to the appointment of Alfred V. Kidder as the Director of Southwest Explorations and his seminal work at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico.
This blog represents the eighth 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 of the Peabody 25 tag!
Excavations at the Etowah Mound site in Georgia have revealed a great deal about the Mississippian culture. Based on the archaeological materials found at the site, it is likely that during its occupation about 1,100 to 500 years ago, it was one of the most significant and influential cities in southeastern North America. A hallmark of the Mississippian culture, is the linkage through economics, politics, and other societal influences of large villages, such as Etowah, with smaller communities that surround it.
Due to its historical prominence, the Etowah Mound site is considered an important archaeological site in the United States.
The site has three large platform mounds in addition to a plaza and smaller mounds. The largest of the mounds towered over the landscape, reaching the height of a six-story building. The mounds were used in a variety of ways: platforms that supported buildings, ceremonial sites, as well as burial locations for elite members of the society.
In 1925 the Trustees of Phillips Academy sponsored the first systematic excavation under the direction of Warren K. Moorehead. This three year investigation occurred during a transitional time in the history of archaeology when excavators were moving away from an antiquarian focus on objects and developing more scientifically rigorous methods. Moorehead’s interest in Etowah may have been a reaction to Alfred V. Kidder’s stratigraphic excavations at Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico, where new ideas about chronology and multidisciplinary work were tested.
Despite new methodologies and practices in archaeological investigations, many excavations were still carried out in ways that would make any archaeologist today cringe. The importance of stratigraphy was still not fully understood or appreciated by all archaeologists, including Moorehead, when the Etowah excavations were being undertaken. Modern attempts to sort out and understand Moorehead’s excavations have proved challenging. In their 1996 book Shell Gorgets: Styles of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Southeast archaeologists Jeffrey Brain and Philip Phillips lament Moorehead’s lack of precision, poor recordkeeping, and disregard for context and stratigraphy. Perhaps it’s best that Moorehead announced in 1930 that he had decided “to abandon further field operations and concentrate on a study of type distributions in the United States during the next six years.”
As we reviewed Moorehead’s photographs of the 1925-1928 excavations at Etowah, we were often incredulous about the images of a tractor bulldozing a mound or workers (dressed in 3 piece suits no less!) hacking away at the side of a large mound. We understand today that a great deal of contextual information was lost using these clumsy techniques.
Tractor being used to excavate mound
Digging into the side of a mound
Workers at Etowah
Although these images affect our sensibilities, it cannot be denied that they are also important. These photographs help to document just how much the field of archaeology has changed and grown in the past 100 years. What started out as a gentlemen’s pastime has transformed into a profession associated with state-of-the art scientific techniques and theories that allow investigation of “hidden histories.” We understand that in another hundred years the images of our pristine and scientifically driven investigations might too cause heartburn in those archaeologists looking back on our work!
The site is now a Georgia state park and is designated as a National Historic Landmark (1964) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1966)
Sometimes within our discipline of archaeology and anthropology we are so caught up in they “why’s” of a situation that we sometimes take for granted the “how’s.”
In 1891 and 1892 Warren K. Moorehead (former curator and director of the Peabody) was tapped to lead an excavation of mound sites in Ohio by Frederic Ward Putnam, director of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. These sites, which Moorehead would later name after the land owner Mordacai C. Hopewell, became benchmarks in archaeology, not only for the number of objects found but their scope as well.
In looking through our collection for this installment of Peabody 25 I gravitated towards two copper ear spools from the Hopewell sites. I had seen them used in classes here at the Peabody, including Race and Identity in Indian Country and Trade Connections, respectively, and thought they would be a good starting point for delving into the Hopewell culture complex for this blog entry. What I didn’t anticipate was the interesting rabbit hole these two seemingly innocuous objects would send me down.
Front face of copper ear spool from Hopewell mound.
Two copper ear spools from the Hopewell mounds.
Being a metal worker myself, I was mystified by the complex steps needed to create these ear ornaments–indeed, I was not alone as there are quite a number of articles out there that investigate ear ornaments. But from this question of “how were they made” I quickly jumped to my next question, “how were they worn?”
This question was triggered by the unusual form of these two ear spools. The objects themselves are what is termed “bicymbalic” and are interesting because of their thin inner taper. Typically, one finds “pulley” style ear spools or even “ear flares” if you’re down in Mesoamerica.
Example of Mayan ear flares (photograph by Justin Kerr).
But what really got my gears working was a passing reference that stated that these bicymbalic versions were easier to wear because the hole in the earlobe did not have to be as large as other versions. Upon reading this I was flabbergasted, I just couldn’t get my mind around how one would wear these without having an impressively large hole to fit over them (the diameter measures over an inch!!). So I set about contacting experts. I talked with curators and collections staff charged with housing significant Hopewellian collections around the country about this question, and surprisingly, we were all stumped!
Then I thought outside the metaphorical box. In my youth I dabbled in the piercing arts and once upon a time even had my ears stretched. I decided to reach out to a professional piercer (Noah Babcock of Evolution Piercing in Albuquerque, NM) who had once poked holes in my very own body, to see if he could give me any insight. The turnaround was amazing. Once I sent pictures of the objects he got back to me in a matter of minutes describing in detail how these were worn, and the effect they would have on the wearer as well. For this style of ear ornaments the wearer would have had to have impressively stretched ear lobes that would then be able to fit around the outside flare. Noah went on the explain to me that the unusual taper would have acted as a weight, allowing for further stretching to occur naturally should the individual wear them over an extended period of time. Mystery solved!
While going on this adventure, one started by some of the smallest artifacts in our collection, it really occurred to me how beneficial it can be to look beyond our own institutional boundaries. By opening up dialogues with groups that we normally wouldn’t associate with archaeology or ancient Hopewellian communities, we are able to answer some questions that might have historically been over looked. Is finding out how ancient Native Americans once wore earrings a ground breaking moment in archaeology? Not at all, but was it awesome feeling like Sherlock Holmes for a little bit? Absolutely.
Tune in for our next installment of Peabody 25!
P.S. These mound sites, including Hopewell have been extensively written about. Below you’ll find some great references for not only Hopewell, but research that has been done on ear spools as well.
Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction, edited by Carr, Christopher & Case, D. Troy, 2005. New York (NY): Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
Ruhl, Katharine C. “COPPER EARSPOOLS FROM OHIO HOPEWELL SITES.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, vol. 17, no. 1, 1992, pp. 46–79., www.jstor.org/stable/20708325.
The Hopewell Mound Group of Ohio; Field Museum of Natural History Publication 211, Anthropological Series Vol. VI, No. 5, 1922, Chicago (IL).