Before I officially became a staff member here at the Peabody, I was a volunteer and work duty student. I started volunteering at the Peabody about nine years ago, and when I came to Phillips Academy as a student I immediately signed on to do work duty. As a volunteer and work duty student, I worked to catalogue and inventory returned artifact loans, set out class activities, digitize records, and photograph artifacts. Since going to college out of state about two years ago, I have not been back at the Peabody, other than for brief visits. Reflecting on my time working here, it is fascinating, and somewhat nostalgic, to look back at what the Peabody was like when I started all those years ago and how it has changed so much since then!
When I started volunteering here, the Peabody was still officially a museum and still had standing exhibit space on the first floor. Some of those exhibit cases displayed artifacts, others dioramas or archaeology-related activities done by some Phillips Academy classes. Down in the collections, we used white cotton gloves to handle artifacts, rather than the purple nitrile gloves we use now. The reboxing project had not begun, so much of the work I did was cataloguing and inventorying in preparation for when that project might get funding. While I was doing work-duty, I sat in on some meetings about how to make the Peabody more accessible to Phillips Academy students, both in terms of the collections and the building space as a whole. Since then, the Peabody has initiated student study hours, during which the building is open to students as a study space, and renovated the first floor to make it more class-friendly!
It has been just over two years since I graduated from Phillips Academy, and I am so happy to be back working here! I study archaeology in college, and so working here, albeit temporarily, is an opportunity not only to continue learning how to preserve archaeological collections, but also to put into practice what I have learned at school, namely how to make archaeology more accessible for everyone.
Human Origins at Phillips Academy began in 2007 and represented one of the early collaborations between faculty and the Peabody. In its initial incarnation the course was led by Jerry Hagler, science faculty, and co-taught by personnel at the Peabody. The content was strongly interdisciplinary, mirroring the reality of archaeology and anthropology, which draw heavily on science, history, historiography, psychology, and other fields. Three years ago I began leading the course solo, but have endeavored to maintain the strong interdisciplinary flavor. The course is now among those offered by the Academy’s new Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. The course description states:
This interdisciplinary science course uses insights drawn from history, art, archaeology, and other disciplines to chart the human journey from hominid to the first civilizations that forecast the modern world. Hands-on laboratory exercises emphasize use of Peabody Institute of Archaeology collections and challenge students to apply ancient techniques to solve daily problems of survival.
In the fast paced world of human evolution, I’ve found it imperative to focus on some of the big questions and issues, rather than on the details, as new finds and discoveries rewrite our evolutionary history nearly monthly. In June 2017 a new discovery in Morocco pushed back the antiquity of modern humans (us!) by nearly 100,000 years and called into question the predominant view that our earliest ancestors first appeared in eastern and southern Africa. We also only have 10 weeks to cover some 7 million years of human evolution, so judicious pruning of the syllabus is necessary.
On the first day of class some students are surprised to learn that we will spend a great deal of time talking about race. When you understand that the scientists who first studied fossil humans were also the scientists that were interested in human diversity this connection becomes clearer. We encounter ideas like polygenesis, which suggests that so-called races today had different evolutionary origins and trajectories. Despite the widespread adherence to the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, polygenism casts a long shadow and continues to crop up in new guises.
Early in the term we tackle pseudoscience and read a chapter from Michael Shermer’s 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things. We get to talk about Big Foot. It was with great reluctance that I dropped a reading from Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero’s 2013 book Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. They review every piece of evidence for the existence of these creatures (and more!), pointing out over and over that scientific inquiry requires falsifiability beyond all else. The importance of falsifiability in science will remain central, but the Loxton and Prothero readings were just too long!
We also spend some time talking about Neanderthals, and the incredible shifts in our understanding of one of our closest human relatives. As much as possible I try to have students read things written by the scientists on the front line of human origins research, including Svante Pääbo, who less than ten years ago reconstructed the Neanderthal genome and demonstrated that many of us carry a little Neanderthal DNA, the product of interbreeding between what most scientists had though two separate species. The recent discovery of an individual from 90,000 years ago that had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father will no doubt be front and center in our discussion. Denisovans are another recently discovered fossil human group that overlapped geographically and temporally with Neanderthals in eastern Europe and Asia. Students presenting on Neanderthals in the popular imagination will explore everything from the GEICO caveman to the Flintstones.
During our extended periods we will explore a variety of early technologies, from flint knapping to fire making. In order to contextualize these early technologies, students will read some of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he introduces the concept of the “meme.” Many are surprised to find that the term meme, now embedded in the culture of social media, originated with Dawkins as he wrestled with ways to model the origins and transmission of ideas. We discuss innovation versus transmission, and how both are necessary for an idea to persist and spread. Fire and stone tool making are particularly good examples, sparking discussion of the earliest evidence for each and if they were independently invented over and over (and how one might tell).
We revisit race again with an entire week dedicated to readings and discussion of the problematical origin of the concept, and how it melds physical traits with cultural ones. We delve into paleontologist Stephen J. Gould’s campaign against the idea of race as a biological or scientific concept, and how scientists have continued to study race despite Gould’s protests. The focus here is on creating a context for future discussions of race—the cultural construct—versus biological diversity. We’ll tackle the complexities of forensic methods used to distinguish race, why these work so well, and how physical anthropologists struggle with ideas about race. Other lab days visit the Peabody’s collection of fossil human cranial casts, how to read the story of human evolution in one skeleton, and a special trip to the campus Makerspace where we will 3D print a fossil of Homo naledi, a recently discovered fossil human species from South Africa that overlaps with modern humans in space and time and blends ancient and modern characteristics.
The term will finish with some time dedicated to the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), explored through a classroom debate and using the legal documents from the Spirit Cave Man case. The Peabody has been deeply involved in NAGPRA since its implementation in 1990 and it seems appropriate to share this work with students and investigate the arguments on all sides of the repatriation debate.
Stay tuned for updates from this fall’s Human Origins course. Let’s see how new discoveries in the field and lab change our conversations in the classroom!
I have been working as the Inventory Specialist at the Peabody for the past year. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have learned a great deal, not only about the collections at the Peabody, but about collections and artifacts from other institutions throughout the United States as well.
It is with great pleasure that I will be taking on the position of Collections Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology! With this new position comes a variety of new responsibilities that I am ready to undertake. While I will still be inventorying drawers as time allows, I will focus more on drawers that have been adopted through our Adopt A Drawer program. Through this program, donors can “adopt” a drawer housed at the Peabody! They receive updates on the progress of the inventory and rehousing of the artifacts in the drawer and pictures of what is inside. Upon completion, a write-up with information pertaining to the age, origin and various other details about the artifacts within the drawer is sent to the donor. Interested in participating? Contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (email@example.com).
Another major part of the position will be monitoring the environment in the various collections spaces. Maintaining proper relative humidity and temperature is imperative to keeping a healthy collection. Fluctuations in these variables can be detrimental to the collection and cause damage to and have other undesirable effects on the artifacts. In addition to environmental monitoring, I will also be in control of the Integrated Pest Management program. Keeping on top of pest activity in any institution is the best way to avoid an infestation. This is especially important in museums where irreplaceable artifacts can be damaged by insect activity.
A third big change will be working more closely with our volunteers and work duty students who spend time at the Peabody helping us with a few of the many tasks that need to be accomplished. Once a week groups of students from Phillips Academy assigned work duty at the Peabody will take time doing anything from inventorying drawers to digitally inputting information from catalog cards and ledgers. We also have a group of volunteers who join us once a week to inventory drawers, perform inspections of our ethnographic materials, or do other tasks as they present themselves. If this sounds like something interesting to you or anyone you know, feel free to contact us about volunteering at the Peabody!
I am very excited to be able to contribute to the Peabody in new ways!
In the last two weeks, we have had three major Nor’easters here in New England. Fortunately, it has been while students are on break and has not slowed down the creation of new lessons for spring term.
“A man never lies in his garbage heap” – Franz Boas.
Last term I was approached by Emma Frey, faculty in history, to create a single period activity that would introduce her 9th graders to the concept of reading objects as text and use them to tell a story. As Emma and I talked and brainstormed, we decided on an existing lesson that I had created years ago for our Archaeology Explorers and how we could flesh it out so that it better met Emma’s class goals and objectives. The activity is a garbology lesson called Trash Talks!
In the activity students are divided into three groups and are given a bag of clean trash. While working together to sort and identify the trash, each group also compiles a biography of the person(s) who created the trash. They will be asked to make observations and inferences about the trash and what it might reflect about a person, such as their gender, age, activities, etc.
While the trash is “modern” the principles that students use to analyze the trash are the same as the ones that archaeologists use to study cultures of the past.
I am very excited to run this lesson with students and to see how they interpret the trash!
The past five years have been a busy time for museums- most notably in the image department. Following a number of high profile controversies, a lot of people–audiences, and museum professionals alike–asked what role museums play in our society? Here are a couple of recent articles dealing with this subject head on.
Last month saw the release of Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Black Panther. Besides being a fantastic movie, this film offers a unique chance to open dialogues on a large scale about many topics- least of which are museums as mechanisms of colonialism. This article discusses how and why museum professionals especially should look at their roles in this and the effects they have on the audiences we try to reach. The piece ends by laying out suggestions for how museums can move forward incorporating and working towards more diverse and open dialogues between communities.
This article opens with the quote, “history matters because it has contemporary consequences,” and it just gets better from there. Directors Kevin Gover (National Museum of the American Indian) and Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture) participated in a day long symposium titled, “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory,” in which they talked about confronting the historic and continued racist ideologies that are entrenched in contemporary American society and the role of museums. They specifically discuss the example of the concurrent rise of confederate statues and racist mascots.
Chronicling a series of high profile controversies, this article looks at the combination of factors that have led to these, as well as the changes they are bringing to museums and their operation. It also discusses why museums have become ground zero for explosive cultural encounters stating, “We’re in a time when these issues are real, these controversies are part of public space and public discourse, and museums are going to become the places where these issues get played out.”
This article showcases the role museums have within their respective walls and how they are branching out to have far reaching impacts in classrooms all over the nation. Similar to classes taught at the Peabody by Curator of Education, Lindsay Randall, this article follows the creation and implementation of National Museum of the American Indian’s newest initiative, Native Knowledge 360. NK360 is a “long-term initiative to integrate the Native American experience into social studies, language arts and other curriculum in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms across the country.” This program works with the inclusion and cooperation of Native communities and educators as well as provides educational materials for teachers.
The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!
A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.
The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.
This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.
The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.
If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.
So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!
I recently received two requests from history faculty for our class on Westward Expansion. Unfortunately, we recently determined that the majority of the objects used for that class should be further investigated to see if they are potential NAGPRA objects – specifically items of cultural patrimony. Which meant that if I was to fulfill the requests of these teachers I needed to come up with a new activity FAST! I had less than two working weeks to formulate and flesh out what the seventy-minute class would do.
While I was scrolling online for ideas my colleague Samantha Hixson mentioned a Plains dress that we had – thus giving me an “A HA!!!!” moment. I had seen a lesson related to a Plains dress from the National Museum of the American Indian. That got me thinking and served as a foundation for my own lesson.
I decided to use multiple objects from the Peabody Institute’s collection to understand the long standing close connection that Plains tribes had to their surroundings and communities through traditions. Through the lens of one aspect of life – clothing – the impact that Westward Expansion had on tribes will be more clearly defined.
In addition to the dress I also selected a pair of beaded moccasins, one of the muslin pencil drawings (reproduction), a defleshing tool, as well as a bison skin rattle (reproduction). The class begins with students wandering around the room, simply exploring the objects scattered about before working together to dive more deeply into the material culture.
Some of the questions students are asked are basic observational ones: “what material is the dress made from.” Others begin to stretch their understanding of the process of making clothing: “what role did men and boys have in the creation of the dress and shoes.” We also delve into why decorations are important, not only in the culture we are studying, but our own as well.
We then pause as a class to talk about traditions and what they mean to us personally. We talk about the positive influence they have on us and how they bring us closer together as a community (Head of School Day was a favorite tradition that was mentioned. One can tell that the speculation amongst students of when it will be called is going strong!!).
We then discuss how the actions of white settlers and the government destroyed the traditions of Plains tribes and how this affected communities. This was a very emotional part of the class for many students. It is certainly one thing to read about atrocities in the past through the emotional barrier of a textbook – and quite another to “see” it when looking at the clothing that a real person wore. And based on an email I received from one of the faculty asking for more resources for students to further investigate the impact on tribes and how they are dealing with it today, it is a lesson that has already had a lasting impact on the students.
But I do not want to end my post on such a heavy note, so I will tell you about a great way that everyone at the Peabody supports the work of each other. For the first class Samantha sat in on the activity and was VERY helpful. While she did answer some of the student questions – which was very nice and I do not mean to diminish how helpful that was – but more importantly SHE WAS WEARING QUILL EARRINGS!!!!! And in the lesson I mentioned QUILLING!! So I may have made asked her to take them out so that I could show them to students.
She also noticed that I mention elk tooth beads in my lesson and shared with me that students had recently discovered one in our collections! SCORE!!!! Collaboration for the WIN!
During Fall Term I worked with Meg Bednarcik and Nick Zufelt – both Instructors in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science – to create a class that would focus on the computer science concepts of looping and parameters.
We decided to utilize the extensive Guatemalan textile collection at the Peabody, as they are brightly colored and engaging and most have repeating, or looping, motifs. We also liked the idea of incorporating clothing made and worn exclusively by indigenous women into a subject where they are woefully underrepresented.
Eighteen huipils (wee-peels) were pulled for the class, with the images of another twelve scanned. A huipil is a traditional Maya women’s shirt.
The first activity was a matching game to show students how huipils had silent information encoded into them about the wearer’s home community. Each village has its own distinctive design. The students were given twelve cards with images of other huipils in our collection and asked to match them to huipils that were laid out in the room. The following images are from three villages, highlighting how the differences between villages, as well as the variation within a particular village.
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipil from San Mateo
Huipils from San Mateo
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipil from San Ildefonso
Huipils from San Ildefonso
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipil from Almolongo
Huipils from Almolongo
Then students worked with either Meg or Nick to find designs that had looping designs, or nested loops. Then they worked on creating parameters for the designs they had found.
The third activity was asking students to identify certain motifs that are common in Maya imagery. Some, such as a deer, were more literal then others, such as the feathered water serpent or portals.
And as you learn in the write up bellow by Meg, this class served as the starting point for a term long project the students will be working on:
My AP CS A students ventured to the Peabody Institute to learn of Guatemalan huipils and the stories these women’s clothes tell of personal identity. The students will complete follow-up assignments to program their own design defining their personal identity here at the academy and beyond utilizing programming concepts learned in class such as objects and repetitions. Though many students were shocked to be at the Peabody for a CS class, they left reflecting on the many ways these programming ideas apply to other aspects of our world. I am eager to continue to utilize these resources at our fingertips to allow students the space to ponder their place in our interconnected world beyond PA, and consider the beneficial impact their work as computer scientists can have on others outside of the classroom.
~ Meg Bednarcik, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science
This has been one of the most interesting and fun classes for me to develop. I really enjoyed working with and learning about part of our collection that is underutilized. But most of all, I have been thoroughly engrossed by the current action Maya women are taking to ensure that their designs are protected and not appropriated. Based on the information I gleaned from my research, I included a huipil from Santiago Sacatepéquez, which is the only community so far that has been able to give legal protection to their woven intellectual property.
To learn more about huipils and their images, visit Guatemala City’s Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Textiles and Clothing website.
Below are symbols found in some of the huipils in the Peabody’s collection:
Serpent motif –geometric designs known as “kumatz’in”. “The Kaqchikel term kumatz means snake, or the feathered serpent.
Deer – Deer held particular significance in Maya mythology and the Dance of the Deer, originating from pre-Conquest times, is still performed at festivals today.
The Double Headed Eagle – The double headed eagle in Maya mythology represents the Great God with two faces, one looking to good and the other to evil, or to heaven and earth. Double-headed birds are motifs frequently used for decorating ceremonial garments. The image to the right outlines the shape of the double headed eagle.
Sky bands – represents the path of the sun with the Xs formed in the “empty” space refers to the end of the solstices.
Offering plate / Portal – “portal” or “door” was the Maya name for the entrance into the “other world” (spirit world). The dot in the center represents the door through which an ancestor can travel.
The Star That Proceeds The Sun – This motif has been a part of Mesoamerican cosmology since Olmec times. It can be seen in celestial bands along with the sun, the moon, and particularly Venus. It is also featured in codices, such as the Popol Vuh.
Bird – At the beginning of the rains, and when maize is sowed, they can be seen in large quantities on the rivers and lakes.
Sun – A sun is embroidered around the neckline. If a woman in the village just became a widow, she would wear her huipil without the sun around the neck, because she would have lost her sun
Lightning – Vertical zigzag lines are associated with rain and lightning.
Lion / Jaguar – The animal has been given a mane, indicating European influence. The cougar or American lion has no mane.
Since the announcement of Homo naledi’s discovery in 2015, this South African fossil hominin has made an appearance in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught at the Peabody and offered as a senior science elective by Phillips Academy.
Over 100 specimens of Homo naledi have been scanned and made available via Duke University’s MorphoSource website. This represents unprecedented access to the fossils. Typically, we rely on older casts (our plaster casts from Wenner-Gren’s twentieth century casting program have become quite fragile!) or models made from photos and measurements.
Last year in Human Origins Phillips Academy Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner helped us 3D print Homo naledi’s femur, which includes some unusual features, including a distinct sulcus or furrow on the femoral neck that is not known in other hominins. Students and instructor alike puzzled over the femur, and compared it to other casts and models in the Peabody collection.
This year Ms. Wessner was kind enough to host us again and discuss different types of 3D scanning and printing and help us think how these might be useful in paleoanthropology and physical anthropology.
Instead of the femur, we chose to do a 3D print of Homo naledi’s hand, also available via the MorphoSource website. We were treated to side by side 3D prints using the Makerspace’s filament and resin printers. While the prints with the filament printer were interesting, the resin print is at a level comparable with a cast or model, in terms of finish and detail. Lee Berger and his colleagues, involved in discovery and study of Homo naledi, have pointed out that the hand is quite similar to that of a modern human, but also has curved bones likely related to tree climbing. Students in Human Origins 2017 got a chance to see Homo naledi’s hand up close and compare with bones of a modern human, noting the similarities and differences.
In the intervening months between the 2016 and 2017 Human Origins classes we’ve learned a lot more about Homo naledi. Lee Berger’s book, Almost Human, was published, adding lots of exciting details to the discovery and quest to date the remains, and perhaps most important, we now understand the dating of the fossils. In May 2017 we learned that Homo naledi dates between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, making them a cousin, rather than great-grandparent of modern humans. It is fascinating to imagine, however, that a hominin that combined aspects of Australopithecines and much more modern features existed around the same time as the earliest anatomically modern humans.
An end of the term assignment, Human Origins in the News, asks students to find recent and relevant news stories and share them with the class. One story—from September 2017—reports on new fossils found at the Rising Star Cave system. Also members of the new genus and species, these fossils may help understand how Homo naledi accessed the cave and if they were being interred there.
Beyond the classroom, Homo naledi inspired some excitement in one of the seniors who took the course in 2016. I was delighted when she wrote to me in May 2017 to report that Lee Berger’s Almost Human book was out–she had pre-ordered on Amazon and her copy had arrived. A few months later she had a chance to hear Dr Berger deliver a lecture on Homo naledi at the Chautauqua Institute in New York.
The Peabody has a new name! The Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, at their November 5, 2017 meeting, approved the Peabody’s new name. We are now known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. Part of our proposal for a name change–included below–addresses the history of our institution’s name, issues of identity, and practical concerns:
Throughout the Peabody’s strategic planning work in 2014 and 2015 there was frequent discussion about the need for focused work on branding. These conversations included Museum personnel, members of the Peabody Advisory Committee, and the broader Phillips Academy community. There was general agreement that one issue was the name Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Discussants pointed out that the name “Peabody” often leads to confusion with the other, larger institutions in Salem, Cambridge, and New Haven, and that the term “museum” is misleading.
The topic of branding was revisited during the Peabody Advisory Committee’s 2016 summer retreat and November 2016 meeting and the group proposed a name change.
The topic of a potential name change has been considered in three ways:
1) Historical— Past names for our institution include Department of Archaeology (1901-1938); Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology (1938-1995); and Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (1990-present). The most recent name change occurred in the 1990s and was made to reflect the interest in creating an exhibition driven institution like the Addison Gallery of American Art. That program ended in 2002 with a shift to our current focus on teaching and learning.
2) Identity—Museum personnel and advisory committee members have discussed whether or not we are a museum. For example, Eugene Dillenberg’s 2011 article in Exhibitionist emphasizes exhibitions as the core defining aspect of a museum, with exhibits as the primary mission and goal of the institution. The Peabody’s current mission is to provide archaeological and anthropological learning opportunities to the students of Phillips Academy, returning to Robert Peabody’s original vision for the institution, which was to introduce students to the emerging disciplines of archaeology and anthropology, to conduct scientific research, and to provide a place for student activities. There also was general agreement that it was important to retain the name “Peabody,” despite the proliferation of Peabody museums in New England. The sense was that we would continue to be called “The Peabody” on campus and in the broader Phillips Academy community.
3) Practical—the word “museum” creates considerable confusion as people come here expecting a more typical museum experience. While we are happy to have people come for tours and events (and classes, of course!) we are a pretty disappointing experience to a growing number of casual visitors. As we become more well-known in the area more people have become curious about what is inside the building and come in to find out.
In his gift letter to the Board of Trustees and the Academy administrators in 1901 Robert S. Peabody shared that he did not want to create a museum on campus, but rather to find ways to introduce students to the fields of archaeology and anthropology. We’ve come to recognize the prescience and vision of Peabody’s original idea for our institution. We trust the name change will help avoid confusion and emphasize our commitment to teaching and learning on campus and beyond.