The return to in-person classes means that this fall’s Human Origins includes many of the hands-on project-based assignments that have become a hallmark of the course.
Students in Human Origins—an interdisciplinary science elective—visited with Claudia Wessner, Oliver Wendell Holmes Library Makerspace guru—who introduced the class to our hominin 3D printing project, including different 3D printing technologies, some of the ways that archaeologists use 3D printing and scanning, and Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Ms. Wessner also showed students how to use the Makerspace 3D printers for their projects.
Each project team will select a fossil hominin to 3D print in the Makerspace. Hominins are humans and their close extinct ancestors, including fossils dating back about 6 to 7 million years ago. Students will present their scaled prints, along with basic info on the fossil, during class in a few weeks. This project was inspired by the inclusion of 3D scans of Homo naledi in Morphosource, a database of 3D scans of fossils and biological specimens hosted by Duke University. Since the Homo naledi scans were made available in 2015, many additional fossil scans have been added, including other hominins.
During our September 2021 visit to the Makerspace, Ms. Wessner introduced us to Nefertari: Journey to Eternity-A Tombscale VR Experience. VR technology uses a headset interface so users can experience a virtual world, in this case an Egyptian tomb that has been scanned and recreated. We also discussed The Dawn of Art, Google’s VR version of Chauvet Cave in France, featuring some of the world’s oldest cave paintings.
Like for so many of us, this summer has been a rather abrupt transition back to “normal” at the Peabody.
I returned to the office full time in July and had to hit the ground running to help support the other Peabody staff, welcome researchers, jump back into giving tours, and provide back up for Summer Session activities. It has definitely been a transition, but it feels good to have students, researchers, and volunteers back at the Peabody!
For the entire month of July, the Peabody hosted the Summer Session class Dig This! This Lower School initiative takes a closer look at different global case studies from across the ancient world to hone skills and understanding as a historian and archaeologist. Students then get to take part in excavating the lost Mansion House of Phillips Academy – the home of Samuel Phillips. It is always great to see these students get excited about archaeology every summer!
Beyond that, it was a joy to welcome our Cordell Fellows for 2021 – Dr. Arthur Anderson and Dr. Gabe Hrynick. Their research is on the Peabody’s Northeast Archaeological Survey conducted partially in Down East, Maine in the late 1940s. I won’t try to summarize their work here, but will instead refer you to a blog they contributed a couple years ago. Their work in July focused on fully documenting one site, Thompson’s Point. A real plus to hosting researchers is that they do some of the collections documentation work for me – I am looking forward to receiving a copy of all the item photographs they took!
“Normal” at the Peabody Institute also requires our volunteers to be around. We have all missed them this past year and are thrilled to welcome back our regular collections volunteers (and new ones!)
I don’t know how the next few months will look – mask or no mask, virtual or in-person – but it has been a real pleasure to jump back into the hectic schedule of the Peabody. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
In July, I start to think about the upcoming fall course Human Origins. Last year I spent most of the summer retooling the course into an online experience. I owe a lot to the advice of my spouse, who passed along many of her experiences teaching online in spring 2020. I was pleased with the result—an iterative, assignment driven course, taught exclusively online, that even managed to keep some hands on activities. In fact, I plan to keep many elements of the online course—students in the fall will use Padlet for many of their assignments, we will dedicate at least two weeks to flint knapping, and we will keep the three major themes: pseudoscience, human evolution, and race. I will continue to look for ways to decolonize the syllabus as well. Considering the frequency of new discoveries (Google “Dragon Man,” for example), the focus is more on how to think about human evolution, rather than the details. The frequent new discoveries in the field continue to challenge the two competing models of human evolution, making us wonder, maybe we really need a new theory?
I hope that we can revisit 3D printing again in the fall. Once many of the skeletal elements of Homo naledi became available on Morphosource, 3D printing became part of the course. For a few years, we visited the campus makerspace and looked at prints of Homo naledi’s more unusual features, including the hand and femur. In fall 2019, students worked in teams to 3D print their own miniature versions of fossil human skulls, learning details about each find and species as part of the assignment. Those miniature 3D prints got me thinking about earlier models and teaching tools for this subject, and my own first interests in human evolution.
My first inkling that human evolution was something to be interested in came from a mid-1970s rebroadcast of a documentary called Natural History of Our World: The Time of Man (first aired, December 14, 1969). I wanted to watch this for two reasons: 1) Richard Basehart, who played Admiral Nelson in one of my favorite TV shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, provided the narration, and 2) I wanted to know more about the fossils shown in the teaser ads! I think my parents were a little baffled, but they let me stay up and watch it. I don’t remember much about that show, but it included some pretty incredible shots of volcanic activity and, of course, Basehart’s distinctive voice. Not long after that, my dad brought home a set of the Time Life nature books, with the 1970 edition of Early Man right on the top (it looks like Early Man was first published in 1965, but there were many reissues). That book captivated me! Books on dinosaurs, fossils, and evolution (for someone who was a kid, or perhaps anyone, really), were in short supply in the 1970s. I still share that book with students in Human Origins, and we talk about the many errors of the “March of Progress” graphic that launched a thousand memes. For a kid in the ‘70s interested in evolution, that book—authored by a serious scientist, H. Clark Howell—was a treasure.
So imagine my delight when I found a tangible, material version of those fossil people. The discovery was in an unlikely place—the local hobby shop. I was interested in model kits, but the little metal figures of warriors, Vikings, and dragons were especially exciting. These were becoming more popular with the rise of the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and various alliances and licensing deals between the D&D publishers and companies like Grenadier who made these miniatures, or minis. There among the heros and monsters of D&D (think of the current TV show Stranger Things), were some old stock made by a company called Squadron Rubin. These were figures of all the fossil humans found in the pages of the Time Life Early Man book, and the color cards even referenced the book! Some Googling indicates that artist, sculptor, and businessperson Raymond Rubin was behind these figures. The main figures made by Squadron Rubin were of historical soldiers, spanning the Picts to Vietnam and every period in between. The idea was that you could buy these, glue as necessary, and paint following the color chart provided, building up your army. Eventually Rubin collaborated with others to launch Grenadier, the company that dominated the metal miniature business for a while. I wish I knew more of the story behind how the world of metal miniatures intersected with human evolution, but I was happy that it had!
The Squadron Rubin fossil people are 1:32 scale, so most are around or just under 2 inches tall. And, they aren’t frenzied savages like the “cavemen” depicted by Frank Frazetta or other artists around the same time. The artistic recreations in the Early Man book supplied the inspiration, and the figures are usually just posing, often in male-female pairs. I’ve managed to locate examples of Squadron Rubin Neanderthals, Australopithecines, and Cro-Magnon people, and I suspect there were other species depicted as well. Occasionally, they turn up on eBay.
The Squadron Rubin figures, along with the many other depictions of fossil humans in popular writing, TV ads, comic books, movies, artwork, and sculptures give us a glimpse into thinking about human evolution and fossil people through time. I often ask the Human Origins students to find and research examples of how fossil humans were depicted in popular culture. Are the treatments sympathetic, savage, sexualized, or something else? Often this has to do with ideas about how closely modern humans are linked to these ancient people. The recognition of genetic connections between modern humans and Neanderthals in 2011 marked one shift in our relationship to “cavemen.” Once we understood there was a connection between us and them, depictions of ancient people began to shift, becoming more sympathetic and sensitive to our ancestors. But, it depends a lot on the artist, medium, and specific circumstances.
Today’s Phillips Academy students often ask about the students of the past. Since November is Native American Heritage Month, the topic of Indigenous alumni often comes up. Happily, we are in touch with some recent alums, like Emma Slibeck ’20, who led efforts last year to create an Indigenous Land Acknowledgment, and Tristin Moone ’10, past member of the Peabody Advisory Committee. Paige Roberts, Academy archivist, maintains a list of notable Native American alumni, and we were happy to add LeRoy Spencer Jimerson Jr. (January 21, 1923 – September 28, 1991) to that list during some recent collections research.
Jimerson was the son of Seneca leader LeRoy Spencer Jimerson Sr. of the Cattaraugus Reservation, Gowanda, New York. He attended Phillips Academy for one year, graduating in 1941. The senior Jimerson was an accomplished carpenter, attended Hampton University (a HBCU in Virginia that has some PA connections in its founding), established a scholarship fund for Native students, and served in Seneca leadership positions throughout his adult life.
After Phillips Academy, LeRoy Jimerson Jr. served in the Navy and pursued interests in electrical engineering and computers. He was an instructor at the Great Lakes Naval Base and at Treasure Island, California. Jimerson, in 1949, received a scholarship to the University of Michigan. Established in 1932 by the Michigan Board of Regents, that scholarship acknowledged the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs, which had required tribes to cede millions of acres to the federal government, some of which ultimately went to the university. Perhaps an early version of an institutional land acknowledgment?
A profile in 1951 Boys’ Life combines quaint anecdotes and stereotypes of life on the reservation with Jimerson’s academic success and interest in computers. The story appeared shortly after Jimerson completed his studies at the University of Michigan, but includes a lot of information on his post-graduate year at Phillips Academy when he “joined the school band, ran as a member of the cross-country squad, distinguished himself as a math student, won a Latin prize, and was elected to a cum laude (honor) society.” In the Boys’ Life article, he describes general acceptance by his fellow Academy students, relating one instance where an international student wanted to know why he wasn’t wearing paint and feathers. Today we recognize this as a micro-aggression, akin to the numerous accounts found on the black@andover Instagram page.
In the 1950s, Jimerson worked for Schlumberger, an oil field services company. Here he was involved in developing a magnetic resonance apparatus with scientist and engineer Francois F. Kirchner. Nuclear magnetic resonance continues to be used in oil prospecting today.
IBM, in Owego, NY, recruited Jimerson in June 1957, where he was quickly promoted to senior engineer. In 1962, McDonnell Aircraft contracted with IBM to provide the guidance systems for Gemini. From 1962 to 1966, Jimerson worked as a computer engineer on the NASA Gemini mission, laying the groundwork for Apollo and the moon landing a few years later. In an interview, Jimerson recalled that, “It was like a blitzkrieg, people didn’t know what hit them” (Time-Life Books 1993:33). According to a document prepared in 2012, Jimerson originated the math flows needed in the computer programming for the Gemini missions. Math flows–in this context–are detailed flowcharts like the one shown here, showing the sequence of algorithms that underlie computer code. At some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Jimerson and his family relocated to Herndon, Virginia, though it is not clear if he continued working for IBM.
Jimerson died on September 28, 1991 in Sarasota, Florida, where he had retired with his family in the mid-1980s. The picture that emerges from the few interviews that we located, is that LeRoy Jimerson Jr. was an accomplished scientist and engineer who worked on one of the country’s early and significant space flight programs. His time at Phillips Academy was short and well spent, and a stop along an educational career that included one of the top scientific and technical programs–the University of Michigan. Until recently, LeRoy Jimerson wasn’t on our radar. We are hopeful that Phillips Academy can connect with more Native and Indigenous students–it is clear we have a lot to offer one another.
Buffalo Courier Express (1961) LeRoy Jimerson Obituary. February 23, 1961, p. 27.
Crump, Irving (1951) Indian Cum Laude. Boys’ Life (March 1951):27, 64.
IBM (1962) Putting a Man on the Moon: America’s Next Step. Business Machines (August 1962):18-19.
Jamestown Post Journal (1961) Famed Seneca Indian Leader, LeRoy S. Jimerson, 72, Dies. February 23, 1961.
The Digital Resource Spotlight series will highlight a variety of heritage-based organizations that offer unique activities that educators and parents may want to explore. We hope that you find our compilations helpful as you navigate this new educational landscape.
The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is a premier educational resource for educators looking to incorporate easy, hands-on activities. Many of their lessons can easily be restructured to fit the current online learning model that many private and public schools are adapting to. They are also clear and straightforward, which makes them a perfect tool for the numerous parents who are finding themselves suddenly acting as their children’s teacher.
Their 130 page guide Beyond Artifacts is a trove of useful lesson plans that could readily be duplicated in a students home, with online guidance from the teacher. Want to study archaeology during lunch? They have a Peanut butter and Jelly Excavation lunch, which can even be followed up by a cookie excavation. YUM!!!!
In addition to the broad archaeology lessons they also offer more topical ones focused on prehistoric, historic, and underwater archaeology.
One of my favorite lessons that they ha is one called Stone Silent. It allows student to collect demographic data from a local cemetery. This is a perfect lesson as it will help everyone to get outside (which we all desperately need) while still practicing social distancing since there are probably not many people wandering cemeteries for fun right now.
FPAN has many other resources to offer, so be sure to check out all of them here.
Have you ever heard of the Abbot Academy Fund? (if you said “yes” from one of our earlier blog posts – Gold Star!) If not, please allow me to introduce them.
One of the first educational institutions in New England founded for girls and women, Abbot Academy opened its doors in 1829 and flourished until Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy merged on June 28, 1973. At that point, the Abbot Academy Fund (AAF) was established with $1 million from the Academy’s unrestricted funds. The fund operates as an internal foundation with its own board of directors. Its goal is to preserve the history, standards, tradition, and name of Abbot Academy by funding new educational ventures at the combined school.
The Abbot Academy Fund has been a foundational supporter of the Peabody Institute, especially in recent years. With grants going back to 1990, the AAF has given the Peabody over $250,000! I was recently reminded of this incredible generosity when the AAF once again provided support to complete the transcription of the Peabody’s original accession ledgers.
Looking back over all the successful grants, the AAF has supported a real variety of projects at the Peabody – everything from exhibition support to object conservation to equipment purchase to expeditionary learning trips. However, the largest portion of their patronage has gone to support cataloging and rehousing the collection. They provided funds to purchase a server in 2014 to allow for an online catalog. And again in 2016-2018 to acquire the boxes needed to rehouse the artifacts and gain physical control over the collection. All told, the AAF has awarded us over $100,000 in the last ten years!
Basically, the Peabody Institute would not look or operate the way it does now without the incredible support from the Abbot Academy Fund. I can’t thank them enough!
So much work at the Peabody is brought to you bya grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.
We were delighted that Dominique, Maxine, and Mia Toya were able to visit this fall and spend a week making traditional Pueblo pottery with students in Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes. By our reckoning, this is the fifth year that the Toyas have visited PA. Each visit brings lots of excitement in Thayer’s classes, as well as raw materials from New Mexico, including hand-dug clay, polishing stones, micaceous slip, and fuel for the open air firing.
Dominique, Maxine, and Mia are talented artists and educators from the Pueblo of Jemez, also known as Walatowa. Dominique is known for her micaceous spiral vessels, Maxine makes beautiful hand painted figurines of owls and town criers, and Mia makes vessels adorned with butterflies on their lids. All of their pieces are made and fired using the traditional techniques of Pueblo pottery making and include their own distinctive innovations. Collectively they have won numerous distinctions and regularly show their pieces at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market and other juried venues. They also are terrific educators with a passion for sharing Pueblo pottery making.
The Peabody and PA have a long history with the Pueblo of Jemez. From 1915 through 1929 the Peabody sponsored Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, one of the ancestral communities of Jemez. In the 1990s Peabody personnel were involved in repatriation of ancestors and funerary objects from Pecos and began the Pecos Pathways program, a forerunner of today’s Learning in the World programs.
We are very fortunate that several donors and members of the Peabody Advisory Committee have helped us acquire some of the Toyas’ stunning pieces and provide underwriting for their visits. We are so grateful for the time that the Toyas have dedicated to working with PA students and faculty!
One of the early topics covered in the interdisciplinary course Human Origins is science vs. pseudoscience. Students watched a short video by Craig Foster, who talks about his experience attending a Bigfoot research conference. Archaeology has long contended with claims for ancient aliens, lost continents, and cryptids, like Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Abominable Snowman. While seemingly fun and harmless diversions, these things can muddy thinking about what science is and how it is done, and contribute to misperceptions about the accomplishments of indigenous people. The nineteenth century Moundbuilder Myth suggested that the ancient earthen monuments of the Ohio Valley had not been built by the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans, but rather by a mysterious lost race. This was used to justify the United States’s expansion westward, as exhibited in the doctrine called Manifest Destiny. If Native people were not responsible for creating the Ohio Valley monuments it called into question their rightful occupation of this territory and empowered American expansion.
Paranormal and cryptid researchers often use technology and techniques that approximate science. They represent an investigation of the unknown and the possible. During class we discussed perceptions of science and philosopher Karl Poppers’s recognition that falsifiability is the hallmark of scientific investigation. The classic example is Arthur Eddington’s check of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein had noted that it should be possible to observe the gravitational deflection or bending of starlight during as eclipse; if the starlight wasn’t deflected, it meant that his postulates had been proven false. Eddington made a series of photographs during the 1919 eclipse that demonstrated that the Sun did, in fact deflect starlight. Ancient aliens, Bigfoot, and Lost Tribes can never be subject to real scientific investigation like this because the claims can never be tested and proved false.
We revisited Foster’s video and his thoughts on the Bigfoot adherents. Why do people believe these outrageous claims? For one, it has to do with context. If you spend time with other Bigfoot believers it reinforces your own thinking. We also discussed belief as a continuum. Some people don’t believe in cryptids or aliens, but are willing to consider the possibility of ghosts. Foster also notes that we are all susceptible to pseudoscientific claims and that the people who believe are perfectly rational and pleasant individuals who will remain unconvinced by arguments or contradictory evidence.
During class we also examined a cast of a jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki, a very large primate known from around 9 million years ago in parts of Asia; paleontologists believe Gigantopithecus became extinct around 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus is often offered as the real creature behind cryptids like Bigfoot and Yeti. As the claim goes, perhaps the large ape has persisted in remote areas into modern times. Relatively harmless thinking, right? But if we accept claims like this, we are effectively denying Darwin’s theory of evolution. And if we believe that evolution isn’t operating it opens the door for a host of other, more insidious thinking, especially ideas about race.
If you want to learn more about archaeology, science, and pseudoscience please attend our inaugural Peabody Lecture in Archaeology & Education, featuring archaeologist and author Ken Feder. Feder will talk about his newest book, Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and other Strange Sites in North America. Ken will sign copies of the book after his talk. 4-6pm, Saturday, October 19, 2019, Breed Memorial Hall, Tufts University, 51 Winthrop Street, Medford MA. The event is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP: https://events.attend.com/f/1383789424#/reg/0/
The Peabody Institute is pleased to share our latest acquisition, a piece of pottery made by Dominique and Maxine Toya, Pueblo of Jemez. Dominique and her mom Maxine have had a long relationship with the Peabody, first visiting campus in 2014 to share their work in the world of Native American art. Since then they have visited campus in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and plan on returning in fall 2019 to conduct a week-long seminar with students in Thayer Zaeder’s studio pottery classes. We have been lucky to work with Mia Toya, Dominique’s sister, and friend Nancy Youngblood from Santa Clara Pueblo.
Dominique is a 5th generation potter, who combines traditional forms, materials, and methods with exciting innovations in decoration and design. We have two of Dominique’s melon swirl vessels with micaceous slip, courtesy of Marshall Cloyd (PA Class of 1958). Dominique has won numerous awards, including Best of Classification at the Heard Indian Market (2008); Best of Classification at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (2009), Best of Show at the Eiteljorg Indian market in Indianapolis in for a collaboration with Jody Naranjo (2010); and numerous distinctions at the Santa Fe Indian Market; Dominque is currently vice chair of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, host of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Maxine is a talented artist and educator as well, specializing in hand-painted figurines. She studied with Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
Dominique and Maxine have recently begun to combine their talents, with Dominique contributing her beautiful vessels and Maxine painting them with human and animal figures. This piece, like all of their creations, is made from local New Mexican materials, hand decorated and polished, and open fired.
The Toya pottery collaboration is thanks to a generous gift from Barbara and Les Callahan (PA Class of 1968). Many thanks Barb and Les for this beautiful addition to our collection!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.