Calling All Volunteers!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a museum? The Peabody, like many museums, has a small force of volunteers who dedicate a few hours each week to helping our staff further our work. We are currently looking to expand this group of volunteers.

Our volunteers have assisted us with a huge number of projects. We currently have one volunteer who works with our textile collection. In a museum setting, it is very important to protect artifacts from pests that can occasionally work their way into the building. Our textile artifacts are particularly susceptible to the damage from carpet beetle and clothes moth larvae. An infestation of these pests can completely destroy a textile collection without proper intervention and pest management. In order to stay on top of any potential pest problems, one of our volunteers systematically goes through our textiles and inspects them for evidence of damage, insect excrement, and live specimens. This involves vacuuming the textiles, inspecting them, and putting them through a freezing process designed to kill living pests. Once this two week process is completed, the textiles are removed from the freezer, isolated, and then inspected again for any signs of life. Once we are satisfied that pests are not present, the objects are returned to the collections storage space. Our volunteer has done an excellent job with this, and has made significant process on this project.

Our other current volunteer is a P.A. alumnus who works on a wide variety of projects. One of the most important projects is our complete inventory of the collection. We hope to renovate the Peabody in the next few years and before we do that, we need to have a completed inventory of our collections. This involves inventory of our storage drawers and recording information about collections, including objects present, count, geographic origin, and current storage location.  Volunteers can help with this most important project.

In addition to helping out with the inventory, volunteers help out as needed across the Peabody. Other projects include organizing portions of the archives for researchers, pulling out and putting away objects for classes, creating labels for our artifact boxes, and transcribing catalog cards into a digital system. There is never a shortage of work to be done at the Peabody!

If this sounds like an opportunity that you would be interested in, feel free to contact me with for more information at rmanning@andover.edu. I would be glad to speak to anyone about potentially volunteering for us!

Lucy Foster’s Ceramic Collection

For archaeologists, ceramics are one of the most useful artifacts that can be found during an excavation. They can help date an archaeological site, they can shed light on the domestic habits of the people who left them behind, and they can also reflect the social and economic status of individuals.

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Hand painted dishes from the Lucy Foster Collection.

When I worked in Virginia, ceramics were my favorite artifacts to have to clean and catalog. I was fascinated with the variety of colorful patterns that were excavated from the areas where James Madison’s enslaved populations lived their daily lives. I also wondered what these ceramics must have meant to them, considering they had relatively little, especially compared to the family they worked for.

The collections at the Peabody don’t typically have these types of historic ceramics. The main type of ceramic housed here are Native American ceramics, which are very interesting, but also very different from the European ceramics I had grown accustomed to seeing in my daily work life. We do have one collection that is comprised of historic ceramics, and that is the Lucy Foster Collection.

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A brown transfer printed pitcher from the Lucy Foster Collection.

Lucy Foster, unbeknownst to her in her lifetime, became a very important figure in the world of African American archaeology. Her dwelling, known as Lucy Foster’s Garden, was one of the first, if not the first, excavated site of a freed former slave in the United States. In addition to other materials, Lucy Foster left behind a great deal of ceramics. Lucy’s ceramics were like those I had grown accustomed to seeing in the context of enslaved populations in the South. However, here were the same patterns showing up at the home of a freed woman.

The remains of pearlware, creamware, and even porcelain were present in the assemblages from Lucy’s Garden. Decorations ranged from plain to hand painted and transfer printed. Vessels ranged from bowls to plates, to jugs and mugs. This variety is especially interesting. Of note is the nearly equal percentage of bowls and plates found. Research into various enslaved populations has suggested that they commonly ate from bowls, and therefore a higher percentage of bowls are found in these archaeological contexts. Plates were more commonly used by freed individuals or people of European descent. The nearly equal representation of both vessel types is especially interesting because it could possibly show how Lucy walked the line of being enslaved and freed, which is essentially true to her life story.

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A hand painted mug with a floral pattern.

The Lucy Foster ceramics are quite an impressive collection for Lucy to have had in her lifetime. Further research into the collections of Lucy Foster and comparing them to the assemblages of enslaved populations and freed populations could give us even more insight into Lucy Foster and her life as a freed woman in Andover over 200 years ago. These collections are available for any researchers or Phillips Academy students who might be interested in taking on such a project. Anyone in the Washington D.C. area can view a portion of the collections as they are now on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as talked about here!

For more on Lucy Foster, see:

Battle-Baptiste, Whitney
2011 Black Feminist Archaeology. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA

 

Martin, Anthony
2018 Homeplace is also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts. Historical Archaeology 52(1):100-112.

Family Fun with Archaeology

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

There was quite the hustle and bustle at the Peabody on Thursday, February 21st. Dozens of children and their parents stopped by during their school vacation to partake in our archaeology themed open house. For three hours visitors engaged with a variety of activity stations set up around the building, each with a different theme.

One of the most interesting experiences that visitors could try out was learning to write underwater! Vic Mastone, Massachusetts’s State Underwater Archaeologist, brought his expertise to the event and set up a station that highlighted tools that archaeologists use when excavating shipwrecks and other submerged sites. All the kids enjoyed playing with the special water proof paper and the giant tubs of water!

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Vic Mastone teaching future archaeologists how to write on mylar under water.

The other stations included LEGO model design, creating a “cave” painting, decorating Greek paper vases, making nets out of yarn, and crafting small clay vessels.

And the day could not have been done without my team of expert volunteers. They enjoyed engaging with everyone who stopped by – and even had a little fun with the activities themselves! Thank you to all who helped make the event such a success!!!!

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Vic teaching fellow volunteer Lisa how to write underwater.

Ceramic Inventory Complete!

For the past year and a half, I have spent the majority of my time inventorying drawers as part of the Peabody’s Inventory and Reboxing Project. As exciting as that project has been, every once in a while I have needed to take a break from it to recharge my brain. In order to recharge while simultaneously staying productive, I was tasked with photographing and inventorying the ceramic vessel collection that is housed on the second floor of the Peabody. In order to complete this project, I printed out inventory sheets for the ceramic cabinets in Second Floor Storage and went shelf by shelf making sure each vessel was there and photographing it. This was great because I enjoy photography and try to do it often in my spare time. Once the vessels were photographed, I edited them in Photoshop and then uploaded the finished photos to each object’s catalog record in our museum software, PastPerfect. Editing the photos was very enjoyable for me because I was able to expand my Photoshop skills, which were pretty limited before taking on this project.

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One of the ceramics that was inventoried and photographed

The original goal was to take one day a week to do these tasks. However, as the inventory project got rolling and certain collections needed to be cataloged faster than others, the ceramic inventory ended up getting slightly pushed aside in order to accommodate more pressing tasks at the Peabody. The main point of this blog post is this: the ceramic inventory has officially been completed!! Each vessel is logged into PastPerfect and has a photograph attached to it. The other exciting bit of information is that all of these vessels (except for NAGPRA sensitive ones) are available to view in our online catalog which can be found HERE. Take a look at the link to see what I have been working on, and feel free to peruse the online collections even further to see what else is housed at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology!

The Flat Files

In addition to working on the Inventory Rehousing Project, I survey the artifacts and ethnographic materials held in our flat file storage units. While all artifacts at the Peabody Institute require special attention, the objects stored in our flat file storage need extra TLC, such as pest protection, monitored temperature, and custom storage mounts.

Flat File 1

Let’s take a journey through the process! Each drawer in our flat file storage is first emptied for an inventory and inspection of objects. Once emptied, the drawer is vacuumed and relined with clean Volara® foam. Volara® is a closed cell polyethylene foam that has applications in medicine and museums. Objects that are particularly susceptible to movement or damage in storage are measured for custom mounts. Custom cavity mounts provide a rare opportunity to do work outside, to enjoy the weather while carving foam with a hot knife. Next, I assess each item’s condition and photograph it for our database records. Once complete, the artifacts are returned to their newly created foam padding and/or mounts for safe resting. My most recent work includes this small cavity mount for a Thule ivory figurine of a polar bear.

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It is important to revisit these objects, not only to make sure all are accounted for, but to bring them up to today’s standards in terms of care and condition. After all, one of the most important goals of collections management is to preserve these objects to the best of our ability for future generations.

Mount Making for a Special Object

I recently had the opportunity to create a cavity mount for a double cylinder jar that is from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. This artifact is very special because only one double cylinder jar has ever been recovered from Chaco Canyon.

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A drawing of the double cylinder jar from Warren K. Moorehead’s 1906 publication.

Chaco Canyon is a large archaeological site located in northwestern New Mexico. It is believed that people have inhabited the region for over 10,000 years, with large scale occupancy occurring between AD 700 and 1300. This period is known as the Pueblo period. Architecture at Chaco Canyon ranged from domestic dwellings to large, multi-story complexes. These multi-story buildings are known as Great Houses, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito. In addition to these structures, Chaco Canyon also contains large subterranean rooms called Kivas. Kivas were typically used for ceremonial purposes, and the largest kivas could hold hundreds of people. Eventually Chaco Canyon was abandoned by its inhabitants for reasons that remain unknown. It is believed that drought was a significant factor in its abandonment.

In order to make a mount for this vessel, I needed to find a block of archival ethafoam large enough to hold the vessel. Once this was located, I carefully traced the shape of the jar into the foam. I then used a hot knife to essentially melt and cut the foam out, forming the cavity in which the vessel would rest. This part was awesome, and I got to work outside so that the smoke and fumes of melting foam didn’t set off the fire alarms. Once the cavity was made, I lined it with Tyvek paper, which is an archival material that will not damage artifacts while providing a smooth surface on which to rest. Once the Tyvek was in place, the vessel could rest inside its new home. To see a video of cavity mount making check out this link . It’s not a video of me making this mount, but the process I used was exactly the same. Now this one of a kind vessel is happily resting in a mount instead of just in a cardboard box.

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Here is the double cylinder jar, happily resting in its new mount.

The double cylinder vessel is housed in one of the drawers from our Adopt A Drawer program. If you are interested in adopting a drawer at the Peabody feel free to contact us!

Allow me to introduce myself…

Welcome to my inaugural blog post. I have been working at the Peabody Institute for three months, so it is high time I introduce myself. I am the new Inventory Specialist. It is my job to inventory and rehouse the collections in storage for the next year.

I am a graduate student at UMass Boston and am passionate about Indigenous studies, both in and outside of archaeology. I interned for National NAGPRA last fall where I learned the importance of employing ethical daily practices at museums, especially when looking through the lens of civil rights issues. I have also worked on various archaeological projects in New England, New Mexico, California, and Iceland.

I have learned a lot in my time here so far, the diversity of regional material culture across North America, the importance of preservation, the most effective rehousing practices…even how to throw an atlatl. (Although my success rate is nothing to brag about.)

While most of my work experience is with freshly excavated archaeological collections, I am excited to transition my focus to the preservation of older collections, including collections on which the foundations of Native American archaeology were built. At least once a week, I am blown away by the Peabody’s collections. Objects I have only had the pleasure of reading about appear in their drawers. Needless to say, I am happy to be here and happy to help with the rehousing inventory project.

Maine Indian Art Market

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Taking a 5 hour drive might seem like a slog, but the destination was well worth it! On Friday May 18 I headed up to Bar Harbor to attend the inaugural Indian Art Market being put on by the Abbe Museum.

The Abbe Museum is an institution that focuses on using artifacts to tell the story and history of Maine’s indigenous people in a collaborative and inclusive manner. The Indian Art Market is just another way that they are using their institution to promote Wabanaki artisans, as well as other native artists.

On Saturday I got to enjoy the first day of the market with a fairly sizeable crowd of other interested visitors. All of the booths had exceptional stuff, but I was very interested in talking to a man named Hawk Henries (Nipmuc). Mr. Henries is a master flute carver and player. I am very interested in adding one of his pieces to our collection, particularly as we look to expand upon our offerings for the Music Department. It was a delight to talk with him and his wife, Sierra, about not only the flutes and his music, but how he is an active and engaged educator, who apparently even came to PA in 2003 and worked with students as well as toured the Peabody!

In addition to the opportunity to talk to Mr. Henries, I also had fascinating conversations with others such as Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), Geo Neptune (Passamaquoddy), and many others.  It was a fabulous trip and I would like to congratulate the Abbe Museum on a very successful venture and am very happy to see that plans for the 2nd annual Indian Art Market is underway!

To read more about the Indian Art Market, check out these articles form local news outlets:

History of the Peabody Through a Diorama Lens

This blog represents the tenth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled of the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Samantha Hixson

 

Phillips Academy has had quite a love affair with Stuart Travis. You can see his work all over the campus; At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Paresky Commons, the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Moncrieff Cochran Bird Sanctuary or, more importantly to this discussion, the Peabody. Most people are familiar with Travis’ great mural which flanks the stairwell in our main entrance, but many who come into the building are not aware that one of our two large dioramas was also made by the artist. Pecos Diorama_GTalbotPhoto-L

The Pecos diorama was commissioned by the Peabody to commemorate Alfred Kidder’s famous excavation in New Mexico and to illustrate stratigraphy, a dating technique he used on a large scale, that would form the bedrock of archaeological research. Douglas Byers, the Director at the time, mentioned the diorama in his 1940 annual report, stating,

“in the week before commencement our Southwestern Hall was opened to the public for the first time. This was subsequently closed because Mr. Travis’ model of Pecos was moved upstairs from the basement and remained uncompleted for several months during which time Mr. Travis was taken from this work to assist in the revision of the biology notebook and other projects. It is a pleasure to report that his work is now finished and the model is enclosed by a case designed and built by the School Carpenter Shop” (p4).

Not only does this passage give insight as to just how involved Travis was with the school as a whole, it also touches upon the history of the Peabody itself.

The Peabody has a history of change and evolution. In its 116-years it has gone through four different iterations of its name and the diorama has been around to see all but one through. At the time of the diorama’s creation the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, as it was known at the time, functioned as a traditional “items on display” type facility. The building was filled to the brim with glass exhibit cases full of objects from the collection, often related to research projects conducted by the Peabody staff.

Indeed, up until the Peabody’s recent past it was an exhibit centered museum, but as our director Ryan Wheeler posted we at the Peabody have entered a new phase in our story and are now the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, and the diorama is still right by our side.

 

Body Modification Adventures in the Museum

Sometimes within our discipline of archaeology and anthropology we are so caught up in they “why’s” of a situation that we sometimes take for granted the “how’s.”

In 1891 and 1892 Warren K. Moorehead (former curator and director of the Peabody) was tapped to lead an excavation of mound sites in Ohio by Frederic Ward Putnam, director of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. These sites, which Moorehead would later name after the land owner Mordacai C. Hopewell, became benchmarks in archaeology, not only for the number of objects found but their scope as well.

In looking through our collection for this installment of Peabody 25 I gravitated towards two copper ear spools from the Hopewell sites.  I had seen them used in classes here at the Peabody, including Race and Identity in Indian Country and Trade Connections, respectively, and thought they would be a good starting point for delving into the Hopewell culture complex for this blog entry.  What I didn’t anticipate was the interesting rabbit hole these two seemingly innocuous objects would send me down.

Being a metal worker myself, I was mystified by the complex steps needed to create these ear ornaments–indeed, I was not alone as there are quite a number of articles out there that investigate ear ornaments.  But from this question of “how were they made” I quickly jumped to my next question, “how were they worn?”

This question was triggered by the unusual form of these two ear spools. The objects themselves are what is termed “bicymbalic” and are interesting because of their thin inner taper.  Typically, one finds “pulley” style ear spools or even “ear flares” if you’re down in Mesoamerica.

But what really got my gears working was a passing reference that stated that these bicymbalic versions were easier to wear because the hole in the earlobe did not have to be as large as other versions.  Upon reading this I was flabbergasted, I just couldn’t get my mind around how one would wear these without having an impressively large hole to fit over them (the diameter measures over an inch!!).  So I set about contacting experts.  I talked with curators and collections staff charged with housing significant Hopewellian collections around the country about this question, and surprisingly, we were all stumped!

Then I thought outside the metaphorical box.  In my youth I dabbled in the piercing arts and once upon a time even had my ears stretched.  I decided to reach out to a professional piercer (Noah Babcock of Evolution Piercing in Albuquerque, NM) who had once poked holes in my very own body, to see if he could give me any insight.  The turnaround was amazing.  Once I sent pictures of the objects he got back to me in a matter of minutes describing in detail how these were worn, and the effect they would have on the wearer as well.  For this style of ear ornaments the wearer would have had to have impressively stretched ear lobes that would then be able to fit around the outside flare.  Noah went on the explain to me that the unusual taper would have acted as a weight, allowing for further stretching to occur naturally should the individual wear them over an extended period of time.  Mystery solved!

While going on this adventure, one started by some of the smallest artifacts in our collection, it really occurred to me how beneficial it can be to look beyond our own institutional boundaries.  By opening up dialogues with groups that we normally wouldn’t associate with archaeology or ancient Hopewellian communities, we are able to answer some questions that might have historically been over looked.  Is finding out how ancient Native Americans once wore earrings a ground breaking moment in archaeology? Not at all, but was it awesome feeling like Sherlock Holmes for a little bit? Absolutely.

Tune in for our next installment of Peabody 25!

P.S. These mound sites, including Hopewell have been extensively written about.  Below you’ll find some great references for not only Hopewell, but research that has been done on ear spools as well.

  • Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction, edited by Carr, Christopher & Case, D. Troy, 2005. New York (NY): Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
  • Ruhl, Katharine C. “COPPER EARSPOOLS FROM OHIO HOPEWELL SITES.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, vol. 17, no. 1, 1992, pp. 46–79., www.jstor.org/stable/20708325.
  • The Hopewell Mound Group of Ohio; Field Museum of Natural History Publication 211, Anthropological Series Vol. VI, No. 5, 1922, Chicago (IL).