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!
This blog represents the eleventh 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!
One of the more unusual collections I came across during my survey of the Peabody’s archives last year was a group of notched 5×8-inch cards containing radiocarbon dating information. It took me a while to figure out what these cards were, and as it turns out, both the format and the content have interesting back stories. These “punch cards,” widely used as a form of data storage in the late nineteenth to twentieth century, represent an endeavor to create a data set of known radiocarbon dates from sites around the world and share it with researchers.
Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., punch card – one of tens of thousands at the Peabody
File card cabinets full of the punch cards
Dr. Willard Frank Libby, a chemist who studied radioactivity and worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, invented radiocarbon dating in the 1940s. He recognized its potential for fields such as archaeology and geology (and received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for these efforts). His research quickly came to the attention of Doug Byers and Fred Johnson at the Peabody, who were already using scientific dating techniques such as pollen analysis and dendrochronology. When the American Anthropological Association formed the Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14 in 1948, to liaise between the archaeological community and Libby and provide him with archaeological samples on which to test his method, Johnson was appointed its Chairman.
(See the additional resources below for publications on radiocarbon dating authored or edited by Johnson, who became so involved with this subject that in a 1958 letter he wrote, “… now I wish to heaven that I had never heard of radiocarbon”)!
Beginning in 1953, conferences on radiocarbon dating began to be held at the Peabody. In October 1956, the Committee for Distribution of Radiocarbon Dates was established at one such conference. The R.S. Peabody Foundation was listed as the committee’s address. A $1,500 grant by the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 1957 was used to finance a survey sent to 1,500 scientists to gauge interest in radiocarbon dates punch cards. Enough interest was shown that the enterprise moved forward. In 1958, Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., was established, with Johnson as President and Byers as Secretary-Treasurer. Subscriptions were purchased by museums and universities across the world.
The cards were published and sent to subscribers in batches, along with sorting and coding equipment, and index guides. Each card contained information about a sample, such as its geographic location, its material (plant remains, oak, i.e.), where it was processed, its date, a citation if published, and occasionally a narrative description of where it was collected. This information was collected from the approximately forty laboratories carrying out this type of dating. Through the notches on the cards, using the sorter, subscribers could parse out samples having a common trait, like doing a search of records through a computer database with a particular term.
Punch card with sorter
Sorting punch cards with the sorter
Punch cards were inspired by notched papers designed in the eighteenth century for looms, to help automate patterns in weaving. By the late nineteenth century, the idea had been adapted to other uses. Herman Hollerith, working at the United States Census Bureau, applied his Electric Tabulating System invention to census data processing. This game-changing system led to the formation of IBM, and punch cards dominated data processing for most of the twentieth century, and were used with early computers until about a generation ago.
After the launch of Radiocarbon Dates Association, Inc., in the late 1950s, the production and distribution of the cards are not mentioned as much in the Peabody’s Annual Reports (my main source of information for this post!). A 1973 letter shows that the name had been shortened to Radiocarbon Dates, and that the main address had been moved to Braintree, MA, c/o John Ramsden. That is the last trace of the project that I’ve found here, besides the cards themselves. Fred Johnson donated his radiocarbon dating-related papers to the University of California, Los Angeles, where Willard Libby taught for a substantial amount of his career (and which hold his papers as well). More information about the project exists in those records, which were used by Keith Baich in his 2010 Portland State University master’s thesis, American Scientists, Americanist Archaeology: The Committee on Radioactive Carbon 14, which heavily features Fred Johnson.
Johnson, Frederick, et al. “Radiocarbon Dating: A Report on the Program to Aid in the Development of the Method of Dating.” Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology, no. 8, 1951, pp. 1–65. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25146610.
Johnson, Frederick. “Radiocarbon Dating and Archeology in North America.” Science, vol. 155, no. 3759, 1967, pp. 165–169. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1721124.
The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections. We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs, and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 749 4493.
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.
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!
One fascinating document in the Peabody Museum archives is a 15-page, hand-written proposal drafted by Alfred V. Kidder and addressed to the Trustees of Phillips Academy, which outlines his plan for archaeological exploration of Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Kidder’s proposal, dated February 9, 1915, represents a critical moment in the history of the Peabody and the broader history of American archaeology.
At the local level, Kidder’s proposal and ultimate investigation, was the result of a power struggle for the future of the Peabody, then known as the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology. After less than a decade of operation, curator Warren K. Moorehead, and honorary director Charles Peabody, formulated a plan for a serious expansion of the department. Sharing space with a basement grill and student clubs, coupled with burgeoning artifact collections fueled their interest in an expansion. Moorehead also complained that the light and airy rooms left little space to mount exhibitions. He visited other museums, and envisioned a series of grand galleries. Architect Guy Lowell was contracted to revisit his original creation, a relatively modest 15,000 square foot building, and drafted plans that were submitted to Academy principal Alfred B. Stearns and the board. Stearns and the trustees, however, did not see the need for a larger archaeology museum and worked to derail the plan. Hotly opposed by Moorehead, a committee of experts was empaneled and charged with charting a new direction for the young institution. Marla Taylor, in her blog post, details some of the personalities involved and their ultimate recommendations. The focus, it seems, was to be on research, at the expense of teaching. Committee members Roland Dixon, a distinguished Harvard professor, and eminent Phillips Academy alumnus Hiram Bingham III, suggested that newly minted PhD Alfred V. Kidder was the perfect person to lead this research. Kidder had already considerable experience in the Southwest, including early work as a Harvard student with Edgar Lee Hewett, doyen of southwestern archaeology.
Kidder’s proposal begins with a short description of Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico based on limited previous observations and Spanish descriptions and then moves to considerations of how to select a site for study. On page four he notes that “there are always two points of view: the scientific and the practical.” Regarding the first he provides an overview of Southwestern archaeology, noting the presence in the area of diverse, yet seemingly related cultures, and the need to order these chronologically. Here he makes a comparison to the Old World, noting that, “for example: the succession of the stone and metal ages in Europe,” as well as sequences in Minoan and Egyptian art, had already been worked out (page 6). Kidder goes on to say, “all these great discoveries, which have so profoundly influenced not only anthropological, but also general philosophical thought, have rested for their final proof on stratification.”
Stratification, of course, is the cornerstone of Kidder’s work in the Southwest. He goes on to mention the general lack of American sites with stratified or stacked layers, and a few recent exceptions, including his own observations in Utah and those of Nels Nelson in Galisteo, New Mexico. Specific to Pecos, Kidder says that this site promises a potentially longer occupation than other candidates in the Southwest; he elaborates in stating, “my reason for thinking so is that the Pecos ridge and its fan-shaped rubbish heads show fragments of seven distinct pottery types, one of which, the Black-and-white, is the oldest style at present recognized in the whole Plateau area (page 8).”
On page 10 Kidder turns to practical considerations. Proximity to the train station in Rowe, New Mexico, stores in the town of Pecos, and Santa Fe amenities are offered as major considerations. Kidder notes the costs of shipping materials in and out of more remote sites (Mesa Verde, $0.50 per hundred pounds to Navajo Mountain at $1.75). Procuring labor was also a consideration. Here Kidder notes that the American Indian residents of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso pueblos have experience in excavation and are careful workers. A consideration of possible rates follows.
Kidder spends the remaining pages, 12 through 15, on a plan of work. He notes the need to create a plan of the site and thoroughly inspect it, to begin training men who would become supervisors in subsequent years, and the initial expenditures on storage buildings, camera, and scientific equipment. Kidder also writes about the need to understand the ownership of the land and to enter into an agreement with the owners to avoid any future misunderstandings. The final page is dedicated to a budget for the first year’s work, and totaled $3,000. The figures, which include cost for tools, camera and darkroom supplies, a horse and wagon, expenses, and contingency funds, didn’t include Kidder’s salary.
Things moved pretty quickly. Kidder was offered a post as field director of the archaeological expedition, his proposed budget approved, and a salary of $2,000 was agreed upon on February 11, 1915. Kidder began his field session a few months later on May 15, and what was first approved as a three-year program was ultimately extended to 1929 when he joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution of Washington DC. After returning from the field, arrangements were made for Kidder to have space at Harvard, where we continued a close association for the rest of his career. Douglas Givens, in his excellent 1992 book Alfred Vincent Kidder and the Development of Americanist Archaeology notes that “although Nelson, Kroeber, Spier, and Kidder were each working with stratigraphy about the same time in the Southwest, it was Kidder who combined features of Nelson’s method with Kroeber and Spier’s work into a workable dating approach.” According to Givens, “Kidder was the first southwestern archaeologist to make use of the stratigraphic method on a large scale.” Kidder’s technique allowed him to investigate both chronology and broader cultural changes within the Pecos site.
Kidder built on the work of his first season at Pecos, ultimately employing a multidisciplinary approach that involved work in ethnography and physical anthropology to inform his archaeological observations. Much of the results of the project were published jointly by the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology and the Yale University Press as the Papers of the Southwestern Expedition, including Kidder’s own 1924 Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology with a Preliminary Account of the Excavation at Pecos, which is still in print. Archaeologist Ben Rouse writes in the introduction to the 1962 edition that this was “the first detailed synthesis of the archaeology of any part of the New World and, as such, set the pattern for much subsequent work in other areas.”
Kidder’s Pecos project cast a long shadow on the Peabody Museum. Kidder’s rigorous program of scientific research was continued by Douglas Byers and Frederick Johnson, museum personnel from the 1930s through the late 1960s. Like Kidder, Byers and Johnson employed a multidisciplinary approach to studies of culture history, often working closely with scientists in other disciplines. Together they developed a Pecos exhibition in conjunction with artist Stuart Travis, including a diorama of the site that is still popular today. They also traded Pecos collections with other institutions, acquiring archaeological and ethnographic specimens from sites in Labrador to Upper Paleolithic France. Archaeologist Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, ultimately director of the Peabody in the 1970s and early 1980s, had known and admired Kidder for some time, and collaborated with Byers and Johnson on major multidisciplinary undertakings in Mexico and Peru. There’s another side to Kidder’s Pecos project as well. Kidder’s excavations targeted those slope deposits described in his research proposal, where he also expected to find human burials. Matthew Liebmann and Christopher Toya note in their foreword to the 2010 volume Pecos Pueblo Revisited: The Biological and Social Context, that Kidder had excavated the remains of 1,922 people during his dig, not to mention an astonishing number of funerary and sacred objects. These people and their belongings were repatriated to the Pueblo of Jemez, descendants of Pecos, in 1999 and reburied at Pecos National Historical Park. Consultation with the Pueblo of Jemez by the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology led to long lasting collaboration, including the Pecos Pathways exchange program for high school students.
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).
This blog represents the sixth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
At the Robert S. Peabody Museum, it seems as though there is almost no limit to the range of phenomena one can explore. When the topic Chaco Canyon was suggested, I thought looking at trade routes would be interesting. It quickly became clear that what I was about to enter was the world of a great culture which I thought had mysteriously “disappeared” about 800 years ago. What I quickly learned was that these people, the “Ancestral Puebloans,” had not disappeared. Research has shown that the Puebloans had adapted to climate change in the area by dispersing. “Today, twenty Puebloan groups in New Mexico, as well as the Hopi in Arizona, claim Chaco as their ancestral homeland and are tied to this place through oral traditions and clan lineages. A number of Navajo clans are also affiliated with Chacoan sites through their traditional stories.” (National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/chcu/faqs.htm)
Chaco Canyon, located on a section of the Colorado Plateau in northwest New Mexico, was home to the Chacoan culture which flourished from AD 1000 to 1150. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the people who lived there were very sophisticated. They used astronomical alignments, geometry, and impressive building techniques, allowing for multi-storied masonry houses. They had a complex road system stretching hundreds of miles, linking Chaco to other communities. One of their buildings, four or five stories high, Pueblo Bonito, contained about 650 rooms.
The Chacoans traded with people in the Mongollon and Hohokam regions to the south and with people from Mexico and Central America. Long-distance travel by Ancestral Puebloan people was common and among the goods they acquired were turquoise, seashells, copper and chocolate, none of which were found locally. They also traded for scarlet macaws, a bird with a natural habitat 1000 miles to the south.
Macaw feather from the Peabody collection
The Robert S. Peabody Museum has several “modern” macaw tail feathers in its collection, one of which is shown below. Preserved feathers from 1000 years ago would be quite rare.
Scarlet macaws measure about thirty-two inches long, of which more than half is a pointed tail. They can live up to seventy-five years and eat mostly fruits, nuts and seeds. We know macaws, essentially large parrots, as intelligent birds that are quick to echo our deepest secrets using speech, a magical quality, especially because macaws have no vocal cords. That parrots are rated among the top five in the animal world for intelligence and cognition should come as no surprise. It is likely that the people of Chaco Canyon would have been awed by such an animal.
Scarlet macaws are native to the gulf coast of Mexico, Central America, and South America. The question to ask is for what purpose macaws were brought back to Pueblo Bonito?
Thirty four macaws were recovered from Pueblo Bonito and other sites in Chaco Canyon. Room 33 (see illustration above) was used as a burial crypt for 200-250 years. Macaws were found in rooms 38, 71, and 78. Archaeologist Adam Watson and his colleagues postulated that scarlet macaws were a powerful cosmological symbol and that their presence from the early tenth century reinforced and stimulated a rising social inequality. Those who possessed the birds had access to key cosmological beings and forces as well as links with far distant cultural groups. There is little doubt that the ability of the birds to speak played into this perception.
What is currently exciting is how recent radiocarbon dating of scarlet macaw skeletons from Chaco Canyon has given further insight into the question of their presence. What has been shown is that, based on acquisition and control of valued items such as chocolate and macaws, an elite class at the top of a social and political hierarchy dominated Chacoan life. (Watson et al. 2015)
What the elites achieved and their importance is amply demonstrated in their “great houses” and the acquisition of “exotic” goods from distant regions (ibid.) Included in these exotic goods were macaws. Feathers from macaws were found on prayer sticks, costumes, and masks. According to Watson and his colleagues,“…the flight of or just the appearance of certain birds or the use of their feathers is believed to motivate the fall of rain or snow, as well as the seasons, the sunshine, and the heat.”
Originally, it was believed that trade in items such as macaws at Chaco dated from around AD 1040. With radiocarbon dating done in 2010 on skeletal remains of the macaws from Pueblo Bonito, the dates of the florescence have been moved back to AD 775-875.
Whether or not the macaws were brought back to Pueblo Bonito in single journeys or in successive stages has been debated extensively. Some have raised the possibility that macaws were also bred locally in Chaco Canyon itself, although the arid region is not a natural habitat for such birds. The discovery of breeding pens, perches, bones, and eggshell fragments has led to speculation about on site breeding, but evidence suggests such macaws did not reach maturity.
This blog represents the fifth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
The winter 2017 issue of the Andover magazine includes a great piece by Jane Dornbusch on our repatriation of a sacred birch bark scroll to the White Earth Nation in Minnesota. In a nutshell, Peabody curator Warren Moorehead received a number of items from the White Earth Anishinaabeg in 1909 during his investigation of fraud on the reservation. That collection—principally men’s ceremonial regalia and beaded bandolier bags—also included a pictographic bark scroll used in the ceremonies of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. Jane’s story also mentions my visit to White Earth in March 2016. The following essay was written right after I returned from Minnesota and provides a few additional details about that visit.
At the end of March 2016 I flew into Fargo and drove east, headed for the White Earth Indian Reservation. As I drove I passed an occasional cluster of houses, farmland with lots of black, rich soil, as well as lakes, streams, and groves of trees dotting the horizon of a really big sky. I learned later from Bob Shimek, executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, that I had driven across a variety of ecosystems, from oak savanna to pothole prairie.
That first evening in Minnesota I sat in the White Earth community center along with college students on a spring break service learning trip while Bob told us about the White Earth Anishinaabeg. We heard about the land and how this Indian reservation—established in 1867—was designed to succeed, starting with 829,440 acres of forest lands with timber and game, good farmland, lakes and streams with fish. Greedy timber companies and their henchmen defrauded tribal members of their lands and by 1934 less than 800 acres were held by the Anishinaabeg.
Since the 1930s the White Earth Anishinaabeg have done what Bob Shimek refers to as nation building. Efforts include a casino in Mahnomen, an annual indigenous farming conference, the Gizhiigin Art Place, a tribal college, the Niijii radio station, and more. Even repatriation, the recovery of sacred objects stored in museums for decades, is nation building. A lot of these nation building activities revolve around traditional food and foodways, like wild rice and maple sugar.
When the sap runs it is all hands on deck. Even the service learning students abandoned other projects and were recruited to haul sap to the boilers. Like New England, maple sugaring is a big deal in northern Minnesota. Among the Anishinaabeg maple sugar has a deep meaning—hauling and boiling sap recalls the origins of the Anishinaabeg. Ojibwe oral literature tells how in the beginning the maple trees were full of thick, sweet syrup that could be easily collected. Manabozho—the Ojibwe trickster and culture hero—decided the people had it too easy and made the syrup thin and watery. He gave the Anishinaabeg the technology to process the sap, but only during the end of winter. The rest of the year was to be spent fishing, hunting, and in other endeavors needed to earn a living.
But afterwards, in the evening, there was time for more learning. My last night at White Earth I attended the Big Drum ceremony. This began with a potluck dinner, followed by a pipe ceremony, and then Keller Paap, one of the ceremony leaders, told the story of the Big Drum in Ojibwe. This was pretty remarkable, but things got even more interesting.
Keller and Anton Treuer, another ceremony leader, invited the college students to sit around the drum. Then they told the story of the Big Drum ceremony in English. But there was more. Paap is from Wisconsin and teaches at Waadookodading, an Ojibwe language immersion school, while Treuer is on the faculty at Bemidji State University. Together they shared the stories of religious suppression and how this didn’t change until 1978’s American Indian Religious Freedom Act, along with the importance of teaching and learning the Ojibwe language.
So, there are lots of stories at White Earth. Some are written on birch bark scrolls, others are found in the pages of the Congressional inquiry into fraud and deceit, some drip in slightly sweet maple sap, while others still float on the night air in words of Ojibwe. For us, however, perhaps most remarkable is that we—Andover, Phillips Academy, the Peabody Museum—are a tiny part of the story too.
In January 2017 we met with representatives of the tribe again and agreed to the repatriation of several additional objects that, like the birch bark scroll, are examples of cultural patrimony under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Anton Treuer will be speaking at All School Meeting on Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
This blog represents the fourth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection. A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!
Contributed by: Lindsay Randall
Peabody curator Warren K. Moorehead, beginning in 1915, excavated in the Castine area of Maine in search of sites related to the Red Paint People. Moorehead believed the Red Paint People to be an ancient culture that was distinct from the more recent Algonquian tribes that still live in Maine today. He recognized a number of unusual artifact types found in Red Paint cemeteries and the liberal use of red ochre in burials, hence the name Red Paint. Ideas about the origins and relationships of the Red Paint or Moorehead Burial Tradition (as it is now called) are changing and often still hotly contested by archaeologists and tribes today. The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine presents a timeline of contemporary Wabanaki peoples in Maine, demonstrating continuity of modern American Indians back to the earliest occupation of the state.
While Moorehead’s Castine investigation did not locate Red Paint site, numerous shell heaps were found. One of the most amazing sites to be excavated was located on the property of Professor Edmund Von Mach. Von Mach was an instructor in art and fine arts at Harvard, Wellesley and other schools in the Boston area and published books on painting and art history. He gained some notoriety during and after World War I for encouraging Americans to support the German cause and his book Official Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the War was withdrawn due to inaccuracies by the publisher.
Von Mach’s politics aside, the shell heap was a very impressive monument, measuring approximately 660 feet long and having a depth between 3 and 5 feet. The vast majority of the shells present were quahog clams, quite common to the area. Given that a total of twenty four hundred artifacts were recovered, combined with the sheer expanse of the heap and its numerous layers, it is believed that the site was a permanent settlement used by tribes about 2,500 years ago.
Throughout the summer, several hundred people visited the site to see what unique pieces of the past were being unearthed. Some of the most interesting artifacts discovered were fragments of pottery.
The pottery is unusual in New England as the soil conditions are very acidic and often deteriorate fragile artifacts. Ceramic specimens are more common in other parts of the country, like the American Southwest.
The only reason that the pottery was not dissolved by the acidic soils surrounding it is that the shells were deposited in the same area. Leaching of calcium carbonate from the shells neutralized the harmful acidic soil. Altering the soil matrix in this manner allows for almost unprecedented preservation of sensitive material.
The pottery helps us to learn about technology and artwork in the community. The introduction and development of ceramics into Maine around 2,700 years ago was very important. It is during this same period that the populations increased and became more sedentary in permanent villages.
The majority of the pottery pieces in our collections are small and fragile, despite being preserved in the shell heaps. The ceramic pieces also are decorated with stamped and incised lines. This method of decoration not only reflects the aesthetics of the time, but may have helped reduce air bubbles prior to firing.
Interestingly, archaeologists are now investigating the language that we use to describe archaeological sites. In her 2014 PhD dissertation at UMass Amherst Katie Kirakosian looks at the terms used by archaeologists like Warren Moorehead and his contemporaries to describe shell-bearing sites like Von Mach’s and how these terms have influenced our thinking about the sites and the people that made them. Kirakosian concludes that use of terms like “shell midden” to describe these sites (and, by extension, their Native constructors) denies their complexity and can result in a narrow and biased narrative.