On Monday May 22nd students and teachers from Brookwood School came to the Peabody Museum to kick off their “Steep Week.” During Steep Week, students immerse themselves in an intensive program related to an area of interest, in this case archaeology.
When the students arrived they were very proud to announce that archaeologists “DON’T DIG DINOSAURS!” Clearly their two teachers (one of whom is a trained archaeologist) had worked VERY hard to prep them for their visit to the Peabody, as well as for the rest of the week’s activities.
The students began by learning how to “read” modern trash to make a biography about an individual based solely on the objects that the person had thrown away. The clean trash that the students looked through was mine that I had split into three different bags related to different activities that I do: kayaking and running, cooking, quilting and reading. The group that had the container with an old Doritos bag declared that their person (me!) was a guy who was either “failing at adulting” or “had student loans” – very interesting assumptions they were making!!! They were then shocked to learn that the person who had the Doritos was also the same person who had run a half marathon and made quilts. This allowed us to have a great conversation about assumptions that we make and how that can impact our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The next two activities were mock excavations of a prehistoric site as well as a historic one. Both helped the students prepare for the real archaeological dig that they were going to conduct on their school property later in the week, particularly the historic example, since they had already been looking at old maps of the school’s property to see what they could learn about it before putting a shovel into the ground.
Students looking at a mock excvation unit that has evidence of pottery making
Students working in the “lab” to identify artifacts found from the mock Katherine Nanny Naylor site
The rain mostly held off for the group and we were able to conclude the day with a fierce atlatl competition!
“Our introduction to Archaeology at the Peabody Museum at Phillips Academy, Andover successfully prepared our students to investigate archaeological problems at a high level by concentrating on the conceptual basis of archaeological thought and filtering it through readily understandable, local examples. Our students enjoyed themselves while having their minds opened to a different way of investigatory thought that they relied on heavily to ask questions and achieve understanding.” – Mike Wise, Brookwood teacher
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.
When you think of the binary search algorithm you immediately think an archaeology museum is the perfect place for students to get a hands on example. Right?
Well it certainly was not what students in Nick Zufelt’s Computer Science 500 class expected when they showed up at the museum. To many of the students who had been to the Peabody with their history or science class to look at objects, it was a bit perplexing how they could be combining archaeology with computer science.
What many do not know is that the Peabody has many other resources that PA faculty can tap into. Mr. Zufelt discovered something that Peabody Museum still had that no other place on campus (not even the OWHL!) still had: our card catalog.
When Nick first came up with the idea to use our card catalog in an interactive lab activity for his students, we were ecstatic. We love when Peabody resources are utilized for learning in such out of the box ways. The card catalog was a perfect hands on example for students to understand the binary search algorithm.
To those who are not familiar with this concept (and I was certainly one of them!) Nick began the class with this simple introduction:
When you look up a word in the dictionary, do you start at page 1, look for the word, then move onto page 2, etc.? No, of course not. You have a more sophisticated way of searching through the massive list of words. This activity hones in on the algorithm underlying this process: the binary search algorithm. The basic idea is: chop in half, go to the half that will have your item in it; repeat.
Each student was then given a page listing 23 different cards from our card catalog system and told to pick one of them. Then they had to find the card and write down the process of how they found it, but in a manner that a computer could follow.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “wow that seems like a pretty easy project….” WRONG!
While this activity may strike us as simple, it actually turned into a battle of the wills for many students as they struggled throughout the period to create a very simple process that was also accurate. And when some students had a friend try their process, they often found that what they had devised was incorrect (Arrrgggg!!! The FRUSTRATION!!!!)
This type of learning helps to make abstract concepts more accessible for students as they begin learning something that forces them to think in a completely new and different manner.
Mr. Zufelt has already talked about bringing future students back for the activity and we look forward to working with him and his students on this and other computer science adventures at the Peabody!
NOTE: Despite still having a card catalog, the Peabody library is completely cataloged in the system used by the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. Our librarian Mary Beth Clack is currently updating records to make monographic series more accessible.
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.
As the fall term wraps up this week it’s a great time to reflect on some of the big ideas that we have discussed in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught here at the Peabody. In many of our extended period labs we have replicated ancient technologies like chipped stone tools, fire making, the atlatl or spear thrower, and more. As we try launching a spear with a simple lever—the atlatl, or use a bow drill to produce heat, smoke, and (hopefully) fire, we wonder about whom first thought of and tried these things. In other words, who was the first innovator who discovered a technique to make fire or launch a dart? Innovation is a popular word today. In fact, it’s easy to find blogs, news stories, and more that suggest this word is a bit overused. Some writers have tracked the history of the term innovation and its divergence from invention, often indicating that innovation has economic and market implications.
One piece that seems to be missing from many of these stories about innovation is that it doesn’t amount to much without a means for transmission. The ability to put the innovation into production, to teach and train others, to demonstrate and sell the new idea may, in fact, be even more important than the act of discovery or invention. Now some ideas—like fire—might sell themselves, but there are different methods and techniques. In Human Origins we experimented with two very different approaches: friction—using a bow drill and fire board, and percussion—essentially banging two rocks together. There are, however, lots of opportunities for innovation here, large and small. Which rocks will work best? Which wood makes the best fire board? How does one direct a spark or ember into a nest of kindling?
Archaeologists—intent on the exploration of culture change through time—often claim that thinking about innovation and transmission of new ideas falls well within their province. But others have famously weighed in as well. Perhaps best known is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins notion of the “meme,” introduced in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins styles the meme—“an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture,” in evolutionary terms, subject to natural selection, mutation, and the like. This idea has been popular, but has its detractors. One problem in the application of evolution to culture is that there is always an explanation, but sometimes at the benefit of understanding. Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin tackle this in their 1979 article “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm,” another staple of Human Origins. Here Gould and Lewontin argue that some features—both natural and cultural—are merely spandrels, or by-products of other evolutionary processes. The interpretation of these spandrels as adaptive will lead to erroneous conclusions.
So, does archaeology offer another approach to understanding innovation and transmission of ideas in our distant past? Archaeologist Michael Brian Schiffer would answer affirmatively. Schiffer helped define behavioral archaeology, which is predicated on the idea that people in the past made decisions in ways that parallel present-day decision making. This model points out that people often make choices that are seemingly contrary to common sense, but take into account a variety of factors including tradition, peer pressure, social and political alliances, and the like. The atlatl or spear thrower is a good example. As far as we know, the earliest atlatls were made in France some 20,000 years ago. Within a few millennia we find highly decorated examples. It’s unclear if there are separate centers of innovation, but atlatls are known over much of the world, including the Americas and in Australia. In many places the atlatl is replaced by the bow and arrow, which offered several distinct advantages, but in some places both technologies coexist, suggesting that processes of innovation, transmission, adoption, and discontinuation may have varied considerably. Overall, however, our attempts to replicate ancient technology gave us new respect for the first innovators and some insight into the complexities around transmission of new ideas.
Embarking on a full inventory and rehousing of your museum collection is a daunting task. Transferring approximately 1,700 drawers into 3,000 archival boxes will take years of work. Fortunately for me, I have access to an invaluable resource – Phillips Academy students.
For a week in July, two Lowers (10th graders) came to the Peabody every day for four hours to fulfill their work duty commitment for the school year. I gave them a crash course in artifact identification and object handling techniques before they got down to business. As they worked through the meticulous process of inventorying everything in the collection, they made crucial observations that will improve my workflow. Together, these two students recorded the contents of twenty-nine drawers!
Work duty students will continue to be an essential work force as we move through the collection. I will share their progress and successes in the months and years to come.
Ben is business development analyst and developer at Dispel, a New York based technology start-up specializing in online security. He is a graduate of Yale University. Ben aided with collections organization during his Phillips Academy work duty service at the Peabody. Ben says of his experiences, “the Peabody Museum was a source of endless adventure during my time at Andover. I am happy to have spent countless hours there through work duty, various classes, and through one of the Peabody’s sponsored trips (BALAM-Bilingual Archaeological Learning Adventure in Mesoamerica). I am pleased to have the opportunity to make sure the Peabody remains a welcoming place for students and to help grow that mission of inclusion, education, and exploration.”
Jenny Elkus ’92
Jenny Elkus is an architect at Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston. She is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Jenny has fond memories of using the Peabody’s library as a senior at Phillips Academy in the early 1990s—she notes that it was much quieter at the Peabody then!
Agnes Hsu-Tang received her PhD in Chinese art and archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Agnes is an accomplished scholar, cultural heritage policy advisor, and is well-known as the host of several award-winning TV documentaries, including the History Channel’s Mankind: The Story of All of Us. Dr. Hsu-Tang serves on a number of boards, including the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU. Along with her scholarly achievements, Dr. Hsu-Tang is an accomplished musician and serves as a managing director of the Metropolitan Opera. She is adjunct associate research scholar in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.
Margot Steiner ’17
Margot is a three year upper from New York City. She especially likes working with textiles and rearranging artifacts during her volunteer time at the Peabody. Although she only started working at the Peabody this year Margot had always enjoyed coming as a lower and junior. Her weaving class last year really pushed her to start volunteering after seeing the Peruvian burial shawl. Outside of the Peabody Margot can be found in Silent Study tackling her work in order to get her much needed 8 hours of sleep!
Katherine Hall ’17
Katherine is a three year upper from Andover, Mass. She began working at the Peabody Museum in the fall of 2014, and she has enjoyed working on various research, cataloging, and creative projects during her time here. Outside of her life at the Peabody, Katherine is active in local theater, enjoys rock climbing, and tutors other students in math. She is excited to be a part of the advisory committee!
Warps, warp-face, wefts, weft-face, ikat or jaspe, brocade, coiling, twining, plaiting—these technical terms come from the language of weaving. For students in Therese Zemlin’s art class, an exploration of weaving was motivation for a tour of collections at the Peabody Museum in April and May 2016 with research associate Catherine Hunter. The themes were textiles of Guatemala and Peru, and Native American baskets.
Weaving involves the interlacing of two elements: warp and weft. The loom supports vertical elements or yarns (warps) under tension. Then, weaving is the process of interlacing horizontal elements (wefts) side-to-side perpendicular to the warps. The weaver manipulates the colors and density of the warp or weft, making the potential for new designs endless.
Forty items were selected from the museum’s collection of 400+ 20th century Guatemalan textiles and back-strap looms, and ancient Peruvian textiles. The majority were blouses called huipiles, assembled from several parallel lengths of cloth. Among the Maya distinctive traditional designs have been associated with specific villages. Communities consistently favor bright colors with beautiful sophisticated geometric and zoomorphic designs.
From an inventory of 350 19th-20th century Native American baskets, 20 were chosen to represent the cultural preferences of five geographic regions. This tradition is acknowledged as the finest expression of its type, setting the standard for anyone who studies baskets as art. The basic techniques are coiling, twining and plaiting.
There is remarkable ingenuity in the variety of plants and trees discovered for basketry materials, including ash splints, river cane, pine needles, roots, grasses, and red cedar. Harvesting and processing of materials was a time-consuming community activity with an appreciation of seasonal and sustainable practices.
There is amazing vitality in the forms of baskets including bowls, jars, rectangles, cones, trays, and plaques. Fascinating objects in themselves, it is all the more interesting to know their uses include food gathering, cooking (in water tight baskets), water bottles, seed bottles, pictorial trays illustrating mythology, feather-covered gift baskets, hats, and forms targeting the interest of tourists.
Students investigating the coloring and construction of some of the baskets
Catherine leading an interactive example of weaving techniques
Catherine holding a Navajo basket
Both traditions—Guatemalan weaving and Native American basketry— continue today as a source of cultural pride for communities and as professions for artists.
Catherine K. Hunter is an independent museum consultant whose career began in the Department of Textiles at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She began an inventory of the Peabody Museum’s basket collection in November 2015 and will complete the project in summer 2016.
I began working at the Peabody in sixth grade, under the brilliant supervision of Lindsay Randall. I was introduced to the behind-the-scenes workings of a museum, cataloging artifacts, organizing photos, preparing materials for classes, all the jobs of a high school work duty student. It amazed me, and still does, that, despite my young age, I was treated just about the same as any other work duty student. I was given the trust of the people I worked with at the museum, and that trust has remained to this day. Because of that, I have had wonderful, momentous occasions at the Peabody. I represented the Peabody at the 2014 Alumni Reunion Weekend, and I presented the findings of my own independent research project to the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, to name only two. I have enjoyed the constant support of the people with whom I have worked all these years, and so the Peabody has become like a second home to me.
Now, as a graduating senior, I look back on my years at the Peabody. I find that I am mostly content, with only some minor regrets, namely that I have yet to see the floppy disk I was promised way back in sixth grade. But beyond that, I find that I am overwhelmed, reflecting on how I have changed over my years working here. At the beginning, I was nervous, hesitantly exploring the Peabody for the very first time, just starting to explore my new found interest in history. At the end, I am confident, not only in that I have made smart and responsible choices during my time here, but also in that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. And I have the Peabody to thank for that.
Interested to read more student reflections? Visit here and here for more perspectives.
Alex and Marla excavated on campus in 2013
Alex and members of the Archaeology and History Club