Mansion House Excavations

Contributed by Ryan Collins

My name is Ryan Collins, and I am an Archaeological Anthropologist specializing in Ancient Maya Culture. I recently earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University where I also instruct courses (as well as at Northeastern University and Lesley Art + Design) in Archaeology, Anthropology, Latin America, and Material Culture Studies.

I am also fortunate enough to have two roles with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. First, I am the Transcription Project Associate, working through the museum’s original bound ledgers to create a digital inventory. While there are several subjects of interest that I want to explore from the Ledger Transcription Project (including the stories of somewhat mysterious artifacts), the subject of this post will focus on my role as the Lead Archaeologist with Mansion House Excavations happening on Phillips Academy’s Campus during the Summer Session with the Lower School Institute. The Mansion House excavations happen in collaboration with the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology which houses recovered artifacts as well as materials that once belonged in the late 18th-century building.

The Mansion House at Phillips Academy Andover is a site of significant historical importance in the local community. Built during the Revolutionary War in 1782 (though fully completed in 1785) it was home to Phillips Academy Andover’s founder, Judge Samuel “Esquire” Phillips Jr., and his family until 1812. During this time Judge Phillips, his wife Phoebe Phillips, and their family were known to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere to the students of the academy while also hosting notable political figures of the day like President George Washington.

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Mansion House in the 1880s

With the decline of Phoebe Phillips’ health in 1812, the Trustees of Phillips Academy purchased Mansion House converting it into an Inn and Tavern. As an Inn and Tavern, Mansion House became a central meeting place for students and faculty of the academy as well as for residents in Andover. Over the years Mansion House hosted notable guests including Emerson, Webster, President Andrew Jackson, and Mark Twain among many others. Although, when looking through the guest ledger on the date of his stay, Mark Twain’s signature is absent having mysteriously been cut out.

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Signed guest ledger from the Mansion House

The history of Mansion House and its guests is enough to capture the attention of archaeologists. However, beneath Mansion House’s rich past is an enduring mystery – who burned it down? On the very early morning of November 29th, 1887, around 2:00 am the tenants were awoken by thick smoke coming from a fire in the rear base of the house near a pile of woodchips. A second fire was discovered shortly after in a third-floor room at the front of the house. Despite the best efforts of the local fire brigade and a galvanized town, Mansion House could not be saved. As chronicled by the Andover Townsman on December 2nd, 1887, Mansion House did not collapse, but it “slowly melted” into its foundations.

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Mansion House ruins after the fire

Most sites and buildings that archaeologists explore are little more than skeletons of their former selves. This reality puts limits on the archaeological record (often refuse in this context) and on the questions that archaeologists can ask about a site to broad notions of process or change over time. With Mansion House, a question of this variety would be: How did Mansion House change over time? What traditions are evident in the material remains of the site? However, because Mansion House burned into its foundations, we have access to an event, a specific moment in time. In this way, the materials students recover from Mansion House will help then share different informed stories about the site, its residents, and life in the 18th and 19th centuries. (IMAGE 4)

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Summer Session excavation unit

In 2018, our excavations confirmed the location of Mansion House by finding one of its (at least) 6 chimneys and the remains of an iron furnace. This finding not only establishes a more precise understanding of where Mansion House’s foundations are currently situated but it allows us to explore the material remains that have sat untouched for 132 years. With luck, this year’s investigations will allow us to understand even more about life in Mansion House during its final days. While the mysteries around the long-ago fire are unlikely to be solved, more insight will undoubtedly be learned about Phillips Academy and the local Andover community. Excavations at Mansion House will reopen in July of 2019.

#SAA2019 #MeToo

This time of year usually sees a blog post about our attendance at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The meetings are held in late March or April and attract thousands of archaeologists from around the world who share their research, connect with old friends, buy books in the exhibit hall, and generally revel in our discipline. The Peabody and Phillips Academy have a long history with the SAA and its annual meeting. The first ever annual meeting of the Society was held at Phillips Academy in December 1935. Doug Byers, the long-time director of the Peabody, served as the editor of American Antiquity, the Society’s flagship publication. Richard “Scotty” MacNeish was president of SAA.

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Petroglyphs at Piedras Marcados Canyon, part of Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Ryan Wheeler, April 12, 2019.

Peabody personnel have continued to be involved with SAA. Staff members and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee regularly present papers and posters in the annual meeting sessions. Since 2017 we have had a booth in the annual meeting’s exhibit hall to promote the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award, our book Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, the Journal of Archaeology & Education, and generally network with folks in attendance. This year’s meeting was much the same, with lots of comradery with old and new friends, some great New Mexican cuisine, sightseeing at Petroglyph National Monument, and a visit to Albuquerque’s Red Planet Comics, a Native American-owned comic book store.

The difference this year, however, was that our discipline and the Society for American Archaeology have run headlong into issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that have garnered headlines everywhere from the film industry to tech and science sectors, often under the umbrella of #MeToo. These issues have been prevalent in archaeology for decades, and two of the papers in the session that I participated in, Sins of Our Ancestors (and of Ourselves), highlighted the contributions of women in museums and archaeology, and how their voices have often been excluded, their work co-opted, or their names simply excised or omitted from the record.

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Name tag and program book from the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Shortly before the Society’s annual meeting this year news circulated about a Title IX investigation of a prominent archaeologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. According to news stories published at the end of March 2019, the Title IX investigation into sexual discrimination and sexual harassment found accusations from nine women all credible. The professor was denied emeritus status, and students and faculty were advised to alert authorities if the professor was encountered on campus. This professor apparently registered for the SAA annual meeting on-site. Not long after this, at least three survivors encountered him at the conference and reported his presence to the meeting organizers. Michael Balter, a journalist who has reported on #MeToo in science and who was at the conference for a session on this topic, also reported the individual’s presence and ultimately escorted the professor out of the meetings. He, however, returned later.

While the above is troubling, it’s only the beginning of the story. The current furor in archaeology centers on the Society for American Archaeology’s response to what happened at the meeting. The initial response was sluggish at best and often misguided. Michael Balter, the journalist who ejected the professor, was himself kicked out of the conference by the meeting organizers. Ultimately, over 2,300 people (many SAA members) signed an open letter to the Society that castigates the SAA for its response and demands action.

Apologies to the survivors were late in coming and there has been a general disregard for how this event has impacted all survivors of harassment and abuse who were at the meeting. Social media posts by the Society have blamed others or presented distorted timelines. It’s left many of us wondering how we can encourage the next generation of archaeologists to attend these meetings if they aren’t safe spaces, let alone continue our own support for an organization that is willing to tolerate sexual harassment and all its attendant hurt, trauma, and pain. At least three of the survivors have gone public with their experiences at the conference, including their interactions with SAA professional staff and leadership. Their posts on social media continue to raise concerns.

The SAA’s new president, Joe Watkins, issued an apology via a video message and letter on April 18. Comments on social media indicate that the apology was well received by some, but not all. Watkins, in his letter to SAA members, promises that the Society “will create a body to examine the short-comings in our sexual harassment policy of 2015 and the anti-harassment policy of 2018” and “do our best to ensure that this does not happen again.” He does, however, acknowledge that the recommendations of task forces have often been ignored by SAA leadership in the past.

If you want to learn more about what happened at the meeting and in the ensuing weeks, take a look at these articles by Lizzie Wade, Kerry Grens, as well as Kristina Kilgrove’s resignation as chair of the SAA media relations committee, and follow Norma Johnson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nmj428

UPDATE 4/26/2019: See Kristina Kilgrove’s blog for a timeline of events.

Same old? Same old? Frayed Knot!

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

On Thursday, February 21 we will be hosting our Family Fun with Archaeology event. This free event will have activities such as building Lego models of ancient ruins, playing Native American musical instruments, making a clay pot, and more.

Since we have run the program a few times, I have been thinking of ways that we might add new activities for kids and adults to do together.

One of the new interactive activities for families is creating a fishing net.  Fishing has played a vital role in New England’s history, from the First People to today. Ancient nets were made of various plant fibers and used in a variety of ways to catch fish in rivers.

While talking with Ellen Berkland, archaeologist for the Department of Recreation and Conservation, about an archaeology event at Maudsley State Park in Newburyport, MA that she hosted in October, she mentioned that she had included net making. I was instantly intrigued!

After talking with Ellen and googling “net making,” as well as watching a few YouTube videos, I settled on using the simple overhand knot to make the net. I also decided to use different color strings to help make it easier for people to see what strings they are working with.

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Overhand knot

Here is my attempt at making a net – I think it looks pretty good for a first time!

fish net

 

If you want to try your hand at this or other crafts, come to the Peabody next month!

 

Event Information

Date: Thursday February 21

Time: 9 am – NOON

Fee: FREE

 

Gedney House of Salem, MA

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

In July, I once again partnered with Dr. Bethany Jay of Salem State University to teach the graduate class for history teachers that focuses on using archaeology in the classroom to teach about marginalized individuals, who are often overlooked.

Since it is now our fifth year running this class, it is always exciting when we get to experience something new ourselves. This year we added a tour of the Gedney House in Salem to our listing of sites we were visiting. One of the students in the class, Tom, is a tour guide for the Gedney House and took us all around the historic house – we even got to go into the creepy basement!

The Gedney House is owned by Historic New England and was built in 1665, making it one of the oldest houses in Salem. Given the fire that swept through Salem in 1914, it is amazing that this structure still stands today.

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Gedney House (wikimedia commons via Daderot)

The house has gone through a lot of iterations throughout its history and they have left their marks on the building. Starting first as a single family home, for shipwright Eleazer Gedney, major renovations to the façade were added in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Later it became a tenement in Salem’s Italian-American neighborhood.

What makes the house so interesting to history lovers (and archaeologists!) is that the house was originally set for total rehab in the 1960s and so the inside was completely gutted. That means that you can now see the original structure as well as the evidence for later renovations. It really sets the house apart from other first period houses located in New England. Dr. Abbott Lowell Cummings, a prominent architectural historian, once said that the “Gedney House in Salem, Massachusetts is the example par excellence which must be protected under a glass bell jar” due to the scholarly impact its raw architectural state offers to historic preservationists seeking to better understand the construction methods of these early houses so that they can more faithfully restore such structures.

Cummings was also the first scholar to suggest that dendrochronology (the study of tree rings for dating purposes) be used in New England to date the earliest colonial houses, using the Gedney House as one of the first structures on which to test this technique. After the former owner had stripped away much of the interior trim down to the frame, a beam that had been cut into at some point in the house’s history was exposed. The cut revealed an almost complete cross-section of the beam’s tree rings. Cummings used the rings to date the construction of the house to 1664-1665 based on a set of specific drought rings that coincided with the 1590s and 1615-1620.

If you happen to find yourself in Salem, MA during one of the days the house is open for limited tours (first Saturdays in April-October), I can’t recommend it enough. As you walk through the building, you can see the signs of each of the unique periods, as well as how they overlap with each other. So many people have called that house their home and their stories are literally carved into the frame of the house.

What a life the Gedney House has lived!!

Exciting Changes!

I have been working as the Inventory Specialist at the Peabody for the past year. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have learned a great deal, not only about the collections at the Peabody, but about collections and artifacts from other institutions throughout the United States as well.

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It is with great pleasure that I will be taking on the position of Collections Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology! With this new position comes a variety of new responsibilities that I am ready to undertake. While I will still be inventorying drawers as time allows, I will focus more on drawers that have been adopted through our Adopt A Drawer program. Through this program, donors can “adopt” a drawer housed at the Peabody! They receive updates on the progress of the inventory and rehousing of the artifacts in the drawer and pictures of what is inside. Upon completion, a write-up with information pertaining to the age, origin and various other details about the artifacts within the drawer is sent to the donor. Interested in participating? Contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (rwheeler@andover.edu).

Another major part of the position will be monitoring the environment in the various collections spaces. Maintaining proper relative humidity and temperature is imperative to keeping a healthy collection. Fluctuations in these variables can be detrimental to the collection and cause damage to and have other undesirable effects on the artifacts. In addition to environmental monitoring, I will also be in control of the Integrated Pest Management program. Keeping on top of pest activity in any institution is the best way to avoid an infestation. This is especially important in museums where irreplaceable artifacts can be damaged by insect activity.

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Here I am, monitoring the environment.

A third big change will be working more closely with our volunteers and work duty students who spend time at the Peabody helping us with a few of the many tasks that need to be accomplished. Once a week groups of students from Phillips Academy assigned work duty at the Peabody will take time doing anything from inventorying drawers to digitally inputting information from catalog cards and ledgers. We also have a group of volunteers who join us once a week to inventory drawers, perform inspections of our ethnographic materials, or do other tasks as they present themselves. If this sounds like something interesting to you or anyone you know, feel free to contact us about volunteering at the Peabody!

I am very excited to be able to contribute to the Peabody in new ways!

Native History of Andover’s Open Spaces

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Kevin Porter, the Vice Chairman and Overseer Coordinator for the Andover Conservation Commission, invited me to be the Keynote Speaker for their annual meeting on April 19.  Mr. Porter was looking for someone who could speak to their group about the Native history of the area, and my name had been given to him by Stephanie Aude, a former OWHL librarian who now works at Andover’s Memorial Hall Library.

The reason for his interest in a speaker on Native Americans is that they have begun working on making Retelle Reservation in Andover more accessible to the public, and that includes creating informational panels about the landscape.

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Map showing the location of Retelle Reservation

While the volunteers who are managing Retelle Reservation have created panels to highlight the different environments and animals one might encounter while enjoying the area, they want to include one about the Native people who use to live there.

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Image of the Peabody’s diorama of the Shattuck Farm site.

The Overseers and other volunteers recognized the importance of this history and sharing it with visitors because Retelle Reservation is on the western edge of the Shattuck Farm site. This site is very important to understanding the Native history of the Merrimack Valley and was excavated by Warren Moorehead, Alfred Kidder, and others who worked at the Peabody, in addition to Barbara Luedtke’s investigation of the site in the 1980s.

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The Camp at the Bend in the River

Since the presentation, Willow Cheeley of the Merrimack River Watershed Council (MRWC) has reached out regarding their property, Pine Island. Pine Island is situated near Retelle Reservation, in the middle of the Merrimack River, and has the potential to be archaeologically important because there was a small camp site located on it. It is believed that the camp was used to monitor those who traveled on the river and to keep them away from the larger village that was on the mainland.

As the MRWC begins to think about ways to preserve and tell the history of Pine Island and the surrounding area, they are also investigating the collaboration possibilities between MRWC, the Town of Andover, and Phillips Academy. Their interest in partnering with PA stems from the records and expertise the staff at the Peabody have and from their previous work with faculty member Mark Cutler.

This timing could not be more perfect since Mark will be taking a sabbatical for the 2018-2019 academic year to work on creating a bilingual experiential curriculum on the cultural history of the Merrimack Valley. This work will be an extension of his class Confluence: Environment, Culture, and Community. Mark also hopes that the materials he creates will be utilized by area schools and institutions, and possibly even adapted as an interdisciplinary class at PA in the future.

And having heard that I was giving the Keynote Lecture, Mark attended the talk, and has already roped me into helping him with the development of the Native history part of his curriculum. This will certainly be an interesting partnership and an amazing way for the Peabody to contribute to both the PA and Andover (and more!) communities. We look forward to keeping you updated as these projects progress!

The Peabody goes to the Annual SAA Meeting!

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.

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Dr. Wheeler and Rachel behind the Peabody’s table.

 

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.

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Dr. Wheeler and his former advisor Dr. Barbara Purdy

 

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.

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Dr. Ryan Wheeler with Ted Stoddard, whose collections are housed at the Peabody!

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).

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Check out those cherry blossoms blooming!

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.

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The Hope Diamond housed at the National Museum of Natural History.

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 rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Race, Power, and Difference

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

I was recently invited, along with my frequent collaborator (also known as my partner-in-crime), Dr. Bethany Jay, to present at University of Southern Maine’s inaugural symposium, Race, Power, and Difference: A symposium for Maine Educators.

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Conference program and other documents from the symposium.

The symposium featured Dr. Tiffany Mitchell who kept the audience laughing throughout her keynote address that focused on how educators could go beyond one-dimensional narratives about people of color in the classroom, using her own experiences to emphasize points.

Bethany and I were there to present our work on how to incorporate practical strategies and hands-on learning regarding slavery. Our work with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teach Hard History program and lessons that we each use with our own students served as the basis for our discussion with the participants.

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The Teaching Tolerance magazine focusing on teaching American Slavery.

I shared our Little Spots Allow’d Them lesson, while Bethany walked everyone through a set of documents from the ZB Oakes collection.

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One of the documents from the ZB Oakes collections that Bethany used for her documentary analysis activity.

***Interestingly, ZB Oakes was a slave auctioneer who lived in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. His papers are part of the collections at the Boston Public Library because they were seized during the Civil War by a Massachusetts regiment comprised of free blacks and brought back to Frederick Douglass – as almost a trophy about what he helped accomplish!

Our session was one of the most attended of the day, with some participants having to stand and a continual stream of adding more chairs to the already cramped room. It clearly demonstrated that educators KNOW that this is an important topic and yet struggle for finding appropriate resources. Throughout the presentation and activities the participants were continually engaged and asking great questions – of us and other attendees – about strategies that they might use or modify to fit their unique student populations.

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Bethany setting the stage about what the session will cover and how the activities will run.

And to make things even MORE exciting – one of the fellow presenters was Dr. Nate Hamilton! Nate frequently collaborates with Bethany and me and has been a part of the Peabody extended family for years. It was nice to see him in his “natural habitat” of Maine for once!

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Nate and I enjoyed running into each other after our session.

Disaster planning can be fun

Fire extinguisher in use

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Sitting on my office shelf in a red binder is the Peabody disaster plan.  No institution ever wants to use it, but it is essential to be prepared.  Our plan is in need of its regular update, and fortunately for us, the Addison Gallery of American Art (also part of Phillips Academy) hosted a three-day seminar and full-scale emergency response disaster training for the protection of cultural assets in March.  Over 100 people took part in the workshop, including several members of Peabody staff.

The workshop included presentations from conservators, companies who specialize in disaster clean-up, and organizations that can help think through the disaster plan with us.  We learned the basics of painting conservation, how to mitigate water damage, how to dry/salvage wet books and papers, and how to identify and deal with pests in the collection.  Training stations were presented so that we could try all of these methods ourselves and have the opportunity to ask specific questions relating to our own collections.

The big highlight for me was the triage scenario meticulously installed at the Addison.  The Addison repainted one of their temporary galleries to appear smoke damaged, and they displayed pieces of art that had been previously damaged to replicate how fire damage may present itself in a museum.  As a team, we were given only 10 minutes to remove the damaged artwork (without additional damage!), set up work flow to begin cleaning objects, and isolate the most damaged pieces.  This was fun and realistic.

Now comes the hard work – applying all of this new knowledge to our own disaster planning process.

The emergency response and disaster planning workshop was generously made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

A Visit to Brookwood School

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Packing up my car with artifacts always signals that I am off on an adventure!

Recently I traveled to Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea to work with the 4th grade classes. The students had recently begun learning about ancient cultures and how historians and scientists study them, particularly when there are no written records – or at least ones that we can read!

To help everyone better understand how archaeology allows us to investigate cultures of the past, I brought our mock excavation site. The faux dig is made up of painted canvas squares and real artifacts. It is based on a real archaeological dig that took place in Andover decades ago at a pre-contact Native American site, approximately 500 years old.

Working in groups, students rotated around each square or “unit” to look at the artifacts and to hypothesize what human activities were taking place. The groups were able to correctly identify which unit was similar to a kitchen, where the house stood, and where pottery was being made – proving that they had become experts in deciphering the clues left behind!

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Curator of Education Lindsay Randall working with students to identify a fire pit and pottery making.