On October 15, more than 100 sixth-grade students and teachers from West Middle School in Andover visited the Peabody as a way to kick off the beginning of their lesson in ancient history. The teachers thought it would be useful for their students to have a better understanding of how archaeologists come up with their explanations of sites, particularly sites that are very old. Using the museum’s Shattuck Farm mock excavation lesson as an example, curator of education Lindsay Randall taught the students how to read objects as primary sources. This allowed them to begin making inferences and complex connections regarding what they were viewing.
On October 20, Emerson “Tad” Baker, PhD ’76, delighted a packed Peabody Museum with his lecture, “Witchcraft, Counter Magic, and Archaeology in Salem and New England.” Drawing on details from his new book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, Baker demonstrated that the practice of counter magic to ward off witches and demons in colonial New England persisted through the 19th century and continues today.
Join the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS) Gene Winter Chapter for their fall lecture series. Each month features a presentation by an expert about a variety of topics. All lectures take place at the Peabody Museum at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
Tuesday, November 17—Jameson Harwood (Massachusetts Department of Transportation): “Battlefield Archaeology”
Tuesday, December 15—Christa Beranek (University of Massachusetts Boston): “The Tyng Mansion Site: A Project in Three Vignettes”
October 16 and 17 marked the 9th annual Archaeology Fair held at the Museum of Science in Boston. This event is one of my favorite outreach programs each year. Numerous archeologists from across Massachusetts and New England converge on the Museum of Science with hands-on activities for kids and adults of all ages. It is always interesting to see the creative ways my colleagues are able to engage new generations with archaeology. It is also a blast to see how excited everyone gets when they get to touch real artifacts. This year I brought the museum’s LEGO archaeology activity and our Pseudomorphs detective game and both were a big hit with the participants. I am very excited for next year’s 10th anniversary and we are already talking about ways we can make it even bigger and better!
Here students are creating a Maya temple, ball court, and cenote. Very creative!
More about Pseudomorphs: In Pseudomorphs, students are handed objects and asked to identify which are natural formations, which are genuine artifacts, and how they arrived at their conclusions. For example, one pair of objects in our game includes a polished stone ax (the artifact) and a waterworn stone cobble (the natural formation). While the students don’t have to speculate how the objects were used, the exercise invites them to develop their visual literacy skills. Visual literacy has received a lot of attention over the past few years. In 2008, Sheila Naghshineh and her colleagues published a study suggesting that formal art observation training improves medical students’ ability to visually diagnose disease. In teaching art history at Harvard, Jennifer Roberts requires her students to spend a long time looking at one painting, acknowledging that these techniques help students understand that to really take in what an object can tell you one needs to engage in a critical examination. These skills can start with a simple game like Pseudomorphs.
Natural objects can be collected almost anywhere (check with property owners first!), and artifacts can be borrowed from museums, historical societies, or private collectors. So take a crack at building your visual literacy skills by creating and playing your own Pseudomorphs game!
Above is a pair of stone objects that are used in the Peabody Museum’s pseudomorph game. The object on the left is a random rock and the object on the right is an ax. The groove visible near the center of the ax would have been used to help attach the stone to a wooden handle.
Each Wednesday during the academic year, students and instructors from the PALS program visit the Peabody to learn about the history of their communities. To kick off their program I shared the rich and important Native American history of the area. Using real archaeological material from the Peabody’s collections, I asked the group to analyze animal bones, shells, rocks, and pottery fragments to tell me what Native Americans living in Andover 500 years ago were doing. After working in small groups, students used the evidence of pottery making, stone tool production, and the post molds of a wetu to surmise that native people were living in Andover for a significant period of time. This assertion by the students matches the scientific assessment by professional archaeologists and historians that Andover was a major trading village in the region. As a reward for their amazing detective skills, the students received postcards depicting what the site looked like at the time.