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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.

98.27.2

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.

double cylinder jar
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.

For Blog
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).

Katie Kirakosian and John Andrew Campbell Receive Cordell Award

The Peabody Advisory Committee has selected Katie Kirakosian and John Andrew Campbell as recipients of the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award for 2017. This award supports research at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology using the collections of the museum. The endowment was named in honor of Dr. Linda S. Cordell, a distinguished archaeologist, specializing in the American Southwest. Linda was Senior Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, recipient of the A.V. Kidder Medal for eminence in American Archaeology, and a valued member of the Peabody Advisory Committee.

Image of Katie Kirakosian, 2017 Cordell Award winner.Dr. Kirakosian received her PhD from UMass Amherst in 2014 and is currently adjunct faculty at several schools in Rhode Island. Her project focuses on archival materials from Warren Moorehead, Douglas Byers, and Frederick Johnson to continue her dissertation research and prepare a book on the history of archaeology in Massachusetts using social network analysis. Dr. Kirakosian published some of her previous research using Peabody collections in the 2015 issue of the Bulletin of the History of Archaeology: http://www.archaeologybulletin.org/articles/10.5334/bha.260/

Image of John Andrew Campbell at Port au Choix site.Mr. Campbell is a PhD candidate at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. His research at the Peabody includes a re-examination of collections from the Dennysville site in Maine, as well as several other sites in New Brunswick. His dissertation research is focused on protohistoric and contact period Wabanaki peoples in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.

For more on the Linda S. Cordell Memorial Research Award see our blog: http://bit.ly/22pgzV5

Dia de los Muertos

November 1 is still a few weeks away but Dia de los Muertos—the Mexican Day of the Dead—came early to the Peabody.  On Thursday September 29 Dr. Marisela Ramos of the History and Social Sciences Department brought her History 200 class.  The class has been learning about different civilizations from around the world and the Peabody’s Dia de los Muertos lesson is a fun and interactive way for the students to learn about a holiday that is still celebrated today, but which has deep roots to a time before Europeans came to the Americas.

The holiday is celebrated in Mexico and is a mix of traditional native beliefs (primarily from the Maya and Aztec cultures) that were combined with European Catholic traditions. It is believed that between October 31 and November 2—coinciding with Catholicism’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day—that the souls of loved ones return. Many homes have alters with images of the deceased.  Marigolds are often placed on the alters, as the smell helps guide the souls home, and food is left out for the souls to eat after their long journey.

Tissue paper marigolds
Tissue paper marigolds

Our alter has images of notable people connected with the Peabody:

  • Robert Singlton Peabody – Our founder and PA class of 1857. His image is always in a place of honor.
  • Charles Peabody – Son of Robert and the first director of the Peabody Museum.
  • Warren Moorehead – Excavated many important archaeological sites and appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to the federal Board of Indian Commissioners.
  • Alfred Kidder – Considered the “Grandfather of American Archaeology” for his work at Pecos Pueblo.
  • Douglas Byers – Helped to professionalize the field of archaeology into a legitimate science.
  • Frederick Johnson – One of the first archaeologists to engage experts from other fields while investigating the Boylston Street Fishweir site in Boston.
  • Adelaide Bullen – Excavated the Lucy Foster Site in Andover, one of the first archaeological studies of a free Black
  • Ripley Bullen – Husband of Adelaide. Excavated many sites locally in and around Andover while doing graduate work at Harvard.
  • Richard “Scotty” MacNeish – Investigated the origins of agriculture and civilization in the Americas.
  • Gene Winter – Served as museum caretaker in the 1980s and served as honorary curator. He was associated with the museum for over 70 years.

Students in Dr. Ramos’s class helped arrange the altar and made paper flowers to decorate the shrine as they also enjoyed traditional Mexican candy given out during the holiday.

The completed alter as arranged by the students
The completed alter as arranged by the students