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.
Eighteen Phillips Academy students traveled across China during spring break 2019 on the inaugural Adventures in Ancient China trip, part of the Learning in the World program. Student travelers visited major archaeological sites, cultural and religious sites, and museums and brought back many memories, as well as some great images! We asked students to submit their favorite shots in four categories: a) landscape or cityscape; b) candid; c) texture, pattern, or contemplative; and d) image that tells a story. We received eleven great submissions. Here are the winners in each category:
Landscape or Cityscape
We loved Abdu’s landscape shot of the Great Wall. We were lucky to have some blue skies like this during our last few days in Beijing, and the color and texture gradations from the greens and browns in the lower half of the image to the blues and purples of the mountains and sky give a great sense of the wall around Mutianyu where we stayed. Oh, we hiked this section of the wall too!
This is a great shot of students and chaperones sharing hot pot in Luoyang after a long train ride from Beijing. Seven of us were pretty hungry and delighted when a restaurant owner stayed open late to serve us hot pot. We love the assortment of food on the table and the steam coming from the pot!
Texture, Pattern, or Contemplative
Emily Ho’s close-up of the Dragon Pavement captures some of the amazing patterns and textures that we encountered in China. The carved marble pavement is part of a staircase in the Forbidden City; it was carved in the Ming Dynasty and re-carved in 1761. We really like the contrast and shadows in Emily’s shot!
We saw opera performers getting ready in both Xi’an and Chengdu. What we love about Alexander’s image is the silent conversation happening between the performer and the makeup artist!
We had a hard time picking the Adventures in Ancient China photo contest winners, so we added one extra category. This shot of the Summer Palace in Beijing, by Ramphis Medina, combines aspects of the landscape and patterns, textures, contemplative categories. The Summer Palace is considered by UNESCO a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, both seen here, are major features of the gardens.
Congratulations to our contest winners and many thanks to everyone who submitted a photo! It was very hard to choose!!!!
Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World programs at Phillips Academy. During spring break 2019 eighteen students experienced some of China’s most dynamic history and archaeology, along with spicy cuisine, fantastic religious art, and new friends.
After exploring the impressive architecture of Ming and Qing dynasties at the Summer Palace, the Tian Tan, and the Forbidden City we engaged with some of Beijing’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artifacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” This can include oral tradition, performing arts, rituals and festivals, traditional knowledge, and craftsmanship.
Students participated in a workshop with a local artist who makes and decorates figurines of Lord Rabbit, also known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing. Tu’er Ye, once worshiped in the pantheon of local deities, was renown as a healer and maker of elixirs. The moon goddess Chang’e sent Tu’er Ye to use his/her knowledge of medicine to save the people of Beijing from a plaque. Tu’er Ye probably appeared as early as the Ming Dynasty, often as a clay figurine for inclusion in household shrines.
Tu’er Ye is a rabbit with a human body adorned with the outfit of an ancient general: helmet, scarf, shoulder-draped golden armor, broad belt and big boots, while holding an alchemist’s pestle and mortar. Tu’er Ye figures prominently in the Mid-Autumn festival and the figurines may have become toys to occupy children during festival preparations.
A handful of artists continue the tradition of making and decorating the figurines. Making the Tu’er Ye figurines is one of Beijing’s more than 12,000 intangible cultural heritage items. It was inscribed on the national list in 2014.
Adventures in Ancient China is generously supported by The Schmertzler Fund for Exploration and Experiential Education.
During spring break, March 2019, eighteen Phillips Academy students will accompany Peabody director Ryan Wheeler, instructor in Chinese Congmin Zhao, and Anne Martin-Montgomery, Chinese for Families, on the inaugural Adventures in Ancient China trip. Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World Programs, offered cooperatively by the Tang Institute and the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
Recruiting for the trip commenced in fall 2018, with a deadline for applications on December 1, 2018. Wheeler, Zhao, and Carmen Muñoz-Fernández, Director of Learning in the World, hustled to make decisions and invite students to participate before winter break began. We were impressed by the diversity of the group, with a good mix of male and female students, as well as good representation of each grade, including some intrepid juniors! Students and families were asked to complete the first round of paperwork necessary for the trip, and to check that passports were current.
Once all the initial paperwork was in at the outset of January, we began the process of booking flights and lodging, all necessary for the fairly complex visa applications that would be required of most of our travelers. Along the way we learned a lot about Adobe Acrobat forms and benefited from tips provided by one parent! At this point we have our hotels booked for our stay in Beijing, as well as our airline tickets secured, thanks to assistance from China Highlights and Jody’s Travel. As families complete visa application forms, we’ve asked our student travelers to secure their visa photos. Happily, there are several apps that can help generate the photos in their required format and size (33 mm by 48 mm).
Setting aside the paperwork, bookings, and visa applications for a moment, however, we can reflect on some of the cultural and archaeological wonders that await us in a China. Some of our student travelers have mentioned that they are particularly excited about visiting the Shaolin Monastery, a day trip during our stay in Luoyang. The Shaolin Monastery is the center of Chan Buddhism and is believed to have been founded in the fifth century CE—some 1,500 years ago! Chan Buddhism is believed to be the predecessor of Japanese Zen Buddhism and shares many similarities; Chan Buddhism was also heavily influenced by Taoism, and this is evident in some of the martial arts practiced by the Shaolin monks and at the many Gong Fu (Kung Fu) schools in the area. We will get a chance to visit one of those schools and take a short course in Gong Fu!
Soon it will be time to hand in the completed visa applications, which will then go to a visa service company and the Chinese consulate in New York. We’re also planning for our first gathering with the students—an opportunity to meet fellow travelers, review the itinerary, ask questions about the packing list, and get ready for our trip!
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!