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.
The collections team remains busy at the Peabody during the summer time, following an already packed school year. Instead of working with PA students, we spend much of our time working to catalog the collections and hosting outside researchers.
The summer has started off strong with one of the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award recipients , John Andrew Campbell. John is documenting artifacts from the period of first contact between Native Americans and European settlers along the maritime region of eastern Canada and northern New England. ”What does that mean?,“ you may ask.
Basically, John is identifying copper, glass beads, and glazed ceramic artifacts that were found intermingled with traditional native tools and artifacts. The first appearance of these ”foreign” materials indicates that contact between the cultures had been made. Their use and modification by tribes is the direct result of trade with the European settlers and can be revealing of those early interactions.
The Peabody is John’s first stop for collections research as he begins to build data for his dissertation work at Memorial University in Newfoundland. He will be visiting for most of June and documenting hundreds of items.
The rest of the summer is chock full of research appointments and we are happy to share our collections to contribute to the field of archaeology!
Drawers pulled for research
Researcher John Andrew Campbell recording details about objects in the Peabody collection
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)
Though the Peabody is small by museum standards we are mighty, especially when it comes to our baskets. With close to 400 baskets, the Peabody collection covers all major geographical regions and tribal communities of North America, and spans over 200 years. Baskets from notable artists like Molly Neptune Parker (Maine) and Clara Darden (Louisiana) help to support and curate these artists’ work, and are examples of continued and evolving traditions within Native communities.
Molly Neptune Parker
One of my first large projects at the Peabody was to completely catalog, inventory, and rehouse this great collection. The purpose of this was twofold:
First, it was important to consolidate our records regarding these baskets. Museums are full of information, and it’s usually in five different places! By gathering what we know, and putting it all in one place, we not only gain better control over this knowledge, but we make it more accessible to museum staff, researchers, and students. The convenience of this newfound accessibility encourages more use in the classroom and more research by professionals, giving these baskets the attention they deserve.
Secondly, by revamping the basket organization and rehousing, we are better able to care for these objects and their specific needs. Although baskets aren’t usually as fragile as most people fear, they still require some TLC. By creating storage mounts that are custom designed to each basket, we are able to provide more support to the object, especially when it is being moved and shifted around during handling. Within our ethnographic storage, space is at a premium, so another byproduct of the rehousing was the space it opened up. We were able to clear seven shelves!
Happy baskets, happy collection staff.
To see previous work done with the baskets by Catherine Hunter, check out these previous blogs!
Next Thursday marks the final day at the Peabody for Temporary Archivist, Irene Gates. Irene was hired for a year to tackle the organizational challenge that was the Peabody archives and she has succeeded beyond our expectations.
Irene carried out a full collections survey and created 65 collection level catalog records – 33 of which are now available via our collection online. She wrapped her arms around the archives of previous director (and the man who saved everything) Richard ‘Scotty’ MacNeish and processed 92 linear feet of material. You can see the incredible finding aid for MacNeish’s material here.
In total, Irene has processed 140 linear feet of material, developed 3 finding aids, and written policies and procedures. Her work has directly benefited the accessibility of collections, the efficiency of current museum functions, and our transparency as an institution.
Irene’s quiet and steady presence will be missed around the Peabody and we have been incredibly fortunate to call her colleague and friend over the past year. Wishing her the best of luck in her next adventure!
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.
I’ve been interested in indirect cooking technology since the early 1990s when I worked with archaeologists Barbara Purdy and Ray McGee in an excavation of an Archaic period site in central Florida where we found evidence of this ancient American Indian culinary technique. At the site, submerged beneath the waters of Lake Monroe and not too far from Orlando, in levels pre-dating ceramic pottery, we found fragments of fired-clay objects. Ray and I were fascinated by the shapes—balls, patties, cylinders, and biconical forms—and speculated about their purpose. They were similar to clay and stone objects found at other early sites and thought to be used in a variety of indirect cooking, either for boiling or steaming. Ray ultimately studied the clay objects for his 1994 University of Florida master’s thesis, which combined aspects of experimental archaeology and materials science. I was lucky enough to be around to help with his study, which began with replicas of the Lake Monroe clay objects. We dug clay from near the site, it was processed to remove impurities, and used to make numerous clay object replicas, which were then subject to extensive experimental trials. Ray demonstrated that not only could the clay objects be used for boiling, but that the different shapes had different thermal properties. And, not only did the clay objects survive successive heating and drenching cycles, the objects fragmented to closely match the fragments we had found in archaeological deposits. Thousands of years before the first pottery was made and used in the Southeastern United States, the clay ball chefs understood how to manipulate clay into ceramic objects and the distinct differences between shapes with greater and lesser surface area and other details. In a final experiment Ray and I tried to cook with the clay objects, heating water in wooden bowls to boil shrimp and corn meal. The meal was successful!
During spring term 2017 I’ve been fortunate to mentor a senior independent research project, or IP. The student’s spring project is a continuation of a project begun in winter term, which investigates ancient pottery making technology, with a particular focus on temper—additives to clay that help with making pottery vessels, firing survivability, and use life after firing. I shared Ray McGee’s thesis with the IP student, who was equally fascinated by the clay objects and their use in cooking. Much of the student IP focused on collecting and using native clay sourced from West Newbury, MA, and then experimenting with firing vessels made using a variety of traditional tempers, including sand, crushed shell, and decomposed granite, as well as untempered clay. The almost innumerable variables have presented some real challenges, but also open a tiny window into pottery making thousands of years ago. We agreed too that part of the project this spring would include making, firing, and using replicas of the fired-clay objects, using the varying tempers and shapes described above. An article in Indian Country Today indicates that hot stones were used by American Indians in the Northeast in both steaming pits and boiling.
Our attempt today to use the fired-clay objects in boiling followed much like the experiment that Ray McGee and I conducted during his thesis research in the early 1990s. The clay objects had been prepared, dried, and pit fired several weeks earlier. We noted that the cylinder-shaped objects were rather delicate, and many of the objects had small cracks. In general, the ball and biconical forms were intact, while the patties had more cracks. A supply of the fired-clay objects were added to a small oak wood fire, which quickly climbed in temperature, ultimately leveling off around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. After objects had been in the fire a small number were cycled through a wooden bowl containing about a quart of water. The water temperature rose quickly, though it got a bit murky from charcoal. We decided that we had the capability to boil water. We prepared a fresh bowl of water and corn meal grits—three cups of water and one cup of grits—as directed by the package. We cycled fired-clay objects in and out of the bowl until the water was absorbed and the grits were cooked—about five minutes. A little salt and butter made the grits a tasty treat. Next we replicated the experiment with about half a pound of shell-on shrimp. More water was used and by this point we had become more proficient at cycling the clay objects from the fire to the bowl and back. The water boiled and shrimp were quickly cooked. Lemon and butter completed this course. For the most part the clay objects were holding up, though more of the cylinders broke and some of the patty shapes also cracked and split in the fire. Some broke while they were in the wooden bowl. The ball and biconical shapes seemed to hold up the best and were perhaps best suited to our purpose—getting the water boiling quickly. After the shrimp, we were a bit more ambitious and agreed to try a handful of spaghetti pasta. This would be a real test, since the water would have to boil continuously for 9 to 10 minutes. We added more clay objects to the fire, recognizing that we might need more to keep the water going. Quickly cycling the clay objects in and out of the fire produced a rolling boil that easily cooked the noodles. Our wooden bowl, however, suffered, and we had two pretty substantial cracks that developed on either side. Adding more water and fewer cooking objects may have helped—it seemed like 2 or 3 at a time in the wooden bowl were enough to keep the boil going.
Data crunching and correlating is ongoing in this student project, and at least one additional outdoor firing is planned in order to test a few additional variables and observations gleaned from experiment and research. The fired-clay cooking objects, however, are evidence of indirect cooking in antiquity, long before the creation of pottery vessels. It’s not clear if fired-clay cooking objects were made and used in the Northeast in the long distant past, and the more recent accounts mention cooking with hot stones. Pottery was adopted in the Northeast around 3,000 years ago, perhaps introduced from neighboring areas. In Florida and other parts of the Southeast, pottery is much older—made and used at least 5,000 years ago—and appears to be an in situ development. Perhaps the fired-clay cooking objects were precursors of pottery and gave people insights into manipulating clay and the properties of fired-clay. As this student project has demonstrated, making pottery by hand and firing it in the open air presents considerable challenges that could only be overcome with significant knowledge of clay, temper, fuel, weather conditions, and more.
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).
Curious about the scholarly depth of the Peabody collections? Looking for material from a particular site for your research? Interested in simply browsing through the artifacts?
The site’s new and improved format is more user-friendly and provides easier access to our object records. Enter a key word to search, browse a full list of sites, and click through random images of artifacts.
In addition to a streamlined interface, the updated website also includes information about the archival collections housed at the Peabody. Temporary Archivist Irene Gates’s recent blog post highlights the completion of the first step in processing our archives. Or, explore the archival collections here.
While we do not yet have our full collection online, we add new records regularly – so come back often. I hope that you enjoy exploring the Peabody’s collections as much as I do!
The Peabody Collection Online is made possible in part by a grant from the Abbot Academy Association, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.
Once again DNA analysis of sites is opening up our understanding of how societies operated historically. By testing bone samples from Room 33 in Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon, scientists were able to shed more light on the inner workings of power, class, wealth and status of ancestral Puebloans, and the major role women played within these.
Mound 72 of the Cahokia culture complex, when originally excavated in 1967, was thought to be a shining example of a burial of elite male warriors. Fast forward almost 50 years and imagine archaeologist’s surprise when one third of the skeletons found were in fact female! These findings call into question the idea that Cahokia was a male warrior-led patriarchy.
The excavation of young Hohokam woman’s grave is an example of what the excavators and author call the “Bioarchaeology of care.” The young woman, who lived about 800 years ago had scoliosis, rickets, and tuberculosis. Through looking at this site, archaeologists are able learn more about the community in which the girl lived, and how they supported and cared for her, giving a decidedly human lens to a science that can sometimes become disconnected.
This article talks about the role of diseases in shaping the genetic diversity of contemporary Native American communities. Historically these effects were documented by written accounts with little to no physical evidence since most European introduced diseases leave no evidence on bone. Recent breakthroughs in DNA markers, however, have been able to physically prove the evolutionary effects of these pandemics.
An interesting article that not only highlights the use of modern science in investigating historic traumas, but a great example of how important cultural context is both historically and in a contemporary lens.
Not only is this a super cool article talking about the first example of in situ beer making in China, but also a great example of how archaeologists are able to extrapolate larger and further reaching conclusions from a small snap shot of the past.