Combing Through The Phillipian: End of an Era

Contributed by Adam Way

In the June 17, 1938 issue of The Phillipian, it was announced that Dr. Warren King Moorehead would be leaving his post as Director of the Department of Archaeology. This brought about the end of a long and prosperous career that saw Moorehead become an integral part of the Phillips Andover community and a major contributor to the field of archaeology as a whole.

Portrait of Warren K. Moorehead, 1898

Moorehead began his career in the 1880s when he studied at Denison University before becoming an assistant at the Smithsonian Institution and later the curator of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection). He joined the Department of Archaeology at Phillips Andover at its inception in 1901 and was appointed as the first curator. In fact, he worked closely with Robert S. Peabody, the Department’s founder, to develop the idea of such an institution. During his time as part of the Department, Moorehead received a Master of Arts from Dartmouth and was made a Doctor of Science in 1927 by Oglethorpe University and again in 1930 by Denison University. He became the director of the Department after Dr. Charles Peabody stepped down in 1924.

            The article that announces Dr. Moorehead’s retirement is not particularly long but does highlight some of the important aspects of his career. The article spends a majority of its content on his education and on his path to becoming the director. The article does include some of his other accomplishments, such as a partial list of publications, and a mention about his work with the US Board of Indian Commissioners. The article concludes by saying that his position within the archaeology community is undisputed and that he will be travelling to Europe with his wife for the summer.

Warren K. Moorehead (far left) with an excavation group

Personally I was surprised with how Moorehead’s departure was presented in The Phillipian, particularly the brevity in which they describe his career. In the numerous issues of The Phillipian throughout the years that I have researched, it became clear just how much Moorehead fought for the rights of Native Americans and how he fought to bring the injustices committed against them to light. This was a frequently recurring topic for Moorehead and yet receives one sentence in his retirement article. This also occurs with his numerous archaeological discoveries from across the country. A significant aspect of Moorehead’s career was his participation in and leadership of numerous excavations and expeditions over the years and, unfortunately, that aspect receives little attention in this article, such as his work throughout New England, the Midwest, and Southeast. Although his methods do not meet today’s standards, Moorehead made multiple important contributions to the field that went unmentioned in his retirement article.

            I think that the reason I was so surprised was that the reception that Moorehead received in this article differs from most of his other appearances in The Phillipian. Many of the articles that featured Moorehead over the years went into a fair amount of detail. Whether it was discussing a lecture or one of his expeditions, the reader was usually given more information. Moorehead was seemingly respected and well liked by the students, as evidenced in numerous articles praising his lectures, yet the announcement of his retirement is rather straightforward and relatively unemotional. One possible reason for this could be declining student interest in the Department over the few years prior to his retirement and his habit of giving very similar lectures every year. Moorehead’s sendoff did not mirror his depiction in previous issues of The Phillipian.

            Warren King Moorehead was a staple of the Department of Archaeology from its inception in 1901 until his retirement in 1938 having served as both the curator and then as the director. He retired at the age of 72 and spent his brief retirement with his family before passing in January of 1939.

Check out the following Peabody blogs for more information and history about Warren K. Moorehead.

Warren K. Moorehead and the Peabody Institute

The ‘Horned Giants’ of Pennsylvania

“…and his spirit still lives”

Behind the Photograph – W.K. Moorehead and the Fort Ancient Excavation

 Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School

The Art of Collecting

The Ponca, Presidents, Politics, and Partial Answers

Warren K. Moorehead and the Peabody Institute

Contributed by Marla Taylor

When thinking about the collections held by the Peabody Institute, I often also think of Warren K. Moorehead.  Regular readers of the blog (I know there are a few of you out there!) are certainly familiar with his name and how tightly he is intertwined with the Peabody.  To recognize Moorehead’s 155th birthday this week, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of his story. 

Warren King Moorehead, 1898

Warren King Moorehead (1866-1939) grew up in Ohio, where he cultivated a lifelong interest in archaeology and Native Americans.  In his early career, he worked as a correspondent for The Illustrated American and served as the first curator of archaeology for the Ohio Archaeological Society (now the Ohio History Connection).  In 1896, he began what would become a personal friendship with Robert S. Peabody, providing him with several Indigenous artifact collections.  When Mr. Peabody chose to donate his collection to Phillips Academy in 1901, he appointed Moorehead as the first curator of the Department of Archaeology.  Moorehead served in that capacity until 1924 when he then assumed the directorship.  He finally retired in 1938, only a year before his passing.

Throughout his career, Moorehead was a prolific writer, excavator, and collector.  His large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations included the Arkansas River Valley, northwest Georgia, the Southwest, and coastal and interior Maine.  His work directly contributed to expanding the Peabody’s collection by approximately 200,000 objects. 

Moorehead and crew doing a survey along the Merrimack River

However, it must be acknowledged that Moorehead’s field and collection techniques are quite shocking by modern archaeological and museum standards.  Early in his career, particularly in Ohio and Georgia, Moorehead would use horse drawn plows to cut into carefully constructed mounds.  Often, his work was destructive yet superficial – he would level or bisect the mounds and collect what was of interest to him with relatively little note taking. 

Moorehead was also a dealer – he regularly facilitated trades between institutions and with private collectors to fund his own work or to “remove duplicates.”  Definitely something that would never be done now.  And, it created lots of headaches.

Paradoxically, Moorehead simultaneously served on the federal Board of Indian Commissioners from 1908-1933.  His work there focused on injustices committed against contemporary Native Americans.  He was present at Wounded Knee shortly before the infamous massacre there on December 29, 1890.  He took testimony to investigate the bribery and redirection of funds in the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.  Moorehead wrote The American Indian in the United States, Period 1850-1914 to share his thoughts on the work of the Board of Indian Commissioners and expose the abuses of power that he saw. 

Source: Ohiohistory.org

It is perplexing to me that Moorehead was able to see the injustices done to contemporary tribes, but continue to be seemingly unaware that the material that he avidly collected and traded was connected to those same people.  I firmly believe that Moorehead is an excellent candidate for a riveting biography.  Anyone out there have the time to write it??

The ‘Horned Giants’ of Pennsylvania

Contributed by Emily Hurley

One day while I was working in the basement of the Peabody, plugging away at inventorying drawers, I was listening to a podcast called Astonishing Legends. It was an episode titled “The Tall Ones” exploring the legends and lore surrounding giants around the world. It came as a surprise when I heard the hosts say the name W.K. Moorehead! My ears instantly pricked up.

The podcast hosts went on to cite a New York Times article written on July 14, 1916 under the headline “Find Horned Men’s Skulls: Remarkable Discovery by Archaeologists in the Susquehanna Valley”. The short article stated that Professor A.B. Skinner of the American Indian Museum, Rev. George Donehoo, Pennsylvania State Historian, and Professor W.K. Moorehead of the Phillips Andover Academy uncovered a burial mound at the Murray Farm site while conducting research at Tioga Point in the Susquehanna Valley. In the mound, they uncovered the remains of sixty-eight men, believed to have been buried around the year 1200 AD. According to the article, the average height of these men was seven feet, with many being even taller. Also found with the remains were very large stone celts and axes, further evidence of the men’s gigantic size. Perhaps most interesting of all, some of the skulls had two inch bone protuberances on their foreheads. Well, this was something to explore!

Workers at the Murray Farm excavation. Photograph taken by Rev. George Donehoo, 1916.

Looking through historical texts and documents, it is clear that giants have been a topic of interest for centuries. Not only are they mentioned in the Biblical story of David and Goliath, but in fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, and the legend of Paul Bunyan. One pervasive theory about giants is that they are actually Nephilim (also from the Bible), the offspring of an angel and a human. Even some historical figures such as Gilgamesh are thought by some to have been giants.

Many newspaper articles from across the country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries claim to have found giant skeletons. Some accounts even call them a lost race of giant people, but many others hypothesize that they were giant Native Americans. An eight foot tall Native American skeleton was said to be found in Towanda, Pennsylvania in 1822. A headline from The World newspaper on October 6, 1895, read “Biggest Giant Ever Known-Nine Feet High and Probably a Prehistoric California Indian.” Some, like the Cardiff Giant, which was actually a buried stone statue, were proven to be hoaxes. Yet the stories still remain popular. Even Captain John Smith, in his account of meeting the Susquehanncocks in 1608, described them as giant-like. But were there really giants roaming this land before us? Or horned giants for that matter?

After some further digging, it was discovered that the “horned giants” found by Moorehead and others at Murray Farm were not horned at all, nor were they giants. Professor Skinner wrote a corrected article for the New York Times but it was not as publicized as the original, so it is harder to find. Apparently while excavating the site, a workman shouted out “There are horns over his head!”, after discovering a bundle burial which had been covered with deer antlers. An excited visitor or reporter at the site heard this and asked another workman, who decided to play a joke and claim that the skeletons had horns growing out of their heads. Another version says that a disgruntled camp cook made up the story.

Workers at the Murray Farm excavation, along with visitors who came to see the exciting finds. Photograph by Rev. George Donehoo, 1916.

This explains the story about the horns, but what about the supposed enormous height of these individuals and the other accounts of giants found nearby? It is thought that these skeletons, as well as accounts of living “giant” Susquehannocks, were not giant at all, but just taller than average. At the time, the average height of most Europeans was about five feet six inches tall, whereas Native Americans were thought to average about six feet tall. While six inches is not that big of a difference, anyone taller than six feet may seem like a giant to the generally shorter Europeans.

Another reason for the discovery of “giant” skeletons is that these bones were often misidentified as human when they actually belonged to extinct animal species. It may seem far-fetched that anyone could misidentify a mammoth bone as that of a human, but other than the skull, human bones actually look very much like animal bones. So to someone not trained in osteology, a very large rib bone may seem like it is from a human skeleton. Many skeletal remains have been innocently misidentified this way, not only as giants, but as monsters or “Titans” as well.

Over time it seems that this giant narrative of Native Americans by Europeans was exaggerated and, coupled with misidentified animal bones, resulted in the discovery of “giant skeletons.” However, these so-called giant skeletons always seem to mysteriously disappear after being excavated, leading many to believe that they either never existed, were misidentified animal bones, or it was actually just a taller than average person.

After hearing the podcast, I did some digging of my own through Moorehead’s records, just in case I could find anything related to the “horned giants”. I found many documents related to the Susquehanna Valley expedition as well as correspondences between Moorehead, Skinner, and Donehoo. None of these documents ever mentioned the “horned giants” or the article written in the New York Times. I did find a picture of Professor Skinner holding a perfectly normal looking skull with no protuberances while at Murray Farm. Moorehead also wrote a short report of the excavation, and again, no mention of giants was found.

Warren K. Moorehead (far right) and others in the Susquehanna Valley. Photograph taken by George Donehoo, 1916.

Even though the horned giants of Pennsylvania turned out to be nothing more than a tall tale (pun intended), it was fun to hear a story about Moorehead on one of my new favorite podcasts! I wonder what interesting stories I’ll uncover next!

P.S. For further reading on giants and other archaeological myths, check out Kenneth Feder’s book titled Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries!

“…and his spirit still lives”

Contributed by Marla Taylor

October is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the changing leaves here in New England, the crisp air, and seeing all the creative Halloween costumes that people come up with.  This is also a time for sharing spooky stories and strange experiences…

Have you ever noticed this plaque at the Peabody?

This plaque is next to the front door of the Peabody Institute

Warren K. Moorehead (1866-1939) was the first curator and second director of the Peabody Institute (then known as the Department of Archaeology).  If you don’t know anything about him and his relationship with the Peabody, just try searching ‘Moorehead’ on our blog.  I’ll wait. 

Moorehead was definitely a strong personality.  And I, personally, think some part of his spirit does still live at the Peabody. 

Several years ago, there were a series of strange disturbances that were happening at the Peabody.  I don’t have the space to tell you everything, but here are a couple that I personally experienced:

One morning, Lindsay and I were the first staff in the building and let ourselves into the basement office space.  Sprawled across the floor by our kitchen area were paper plates, a glass shelf (an extra for the fridge), and various other little things that had been on top of the microwave.  These things could NOT have fallen like this on their own – it looked like something had swiped its arm and pushed everything onto the floor.  Lindsay and I had been the last ones out and were now the first ones in.  We immediately photographed what we saw (I am so sorry that I can’t find that photo!) and did some follow-up.  No motion alarm had gone off all night and our pest management company found no evidence of an animal.

Another time, a couple years ago, I was talking to work duty students and explaining that Moorehead used to exchange or give away artifacts that I really wish had stayed in our collection.  Just as I was mid-sentence in a rebuke of his cavalier behavior, a photographic portrait of him fell from the wall and smashed its frame.  This portrait had been hanging in the same spot for my entire tenure at the Peabody (at that point, about 10 years) and had never fallen before.  The students and I exchanged shocked looks and I quickly apologized to Moorehead for bad-mouthing him.

Moorehead (he is the one standing) now rests on the floor. Although this was printed for an old exhibition, I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of the photo.

Shortly after these incidents, Ryan wrote a note to Moorehead explaining that we were taking care of the building and the collections and that we respected and appreciated him.  Ryan slid the note behind the plaque by the front door and the strange occurrences stopped.

I am not big believer in the supernatural, but I do think Moorehead’s spirit does reside in the Peabody in some form.  In my opinion, he is a pretty benign ghost who just wants to ensure that the collection and the building are getting their proper respect and care – I strive to meet his standards.

What’s on the Window?

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Returning to the Peabody Institute on a more regular basis this month led me to rediscovery an interesting little artifact on the window of my office. When I first joined the Peabody in 2012, my colleagues pointed this out to me, but it has remained largely covered up by window blinds since an initial peek.

Singleton Peabody Moorehead’s name scratched on the windowpane in the director’s office.

The artifact in question is a scratched signature on a glass windowpane: S. P. Moorehead. Singleton Peabody Moorehead was our first curator’s youngest son.

When I first saw this little relic of past occupants, I imagined the younger Moorehead scratching the signature using his father’s emerald ring. That ring is a prominent feature in pictures of Moorehead, and I can imagine a mischievous child borrowing the ring and testing the stone’s hardness on the nearest handy surface: his father’s office window.

Robert Singleton Peabody, our founder, lent his name to the younger Moorehead. In fact, S. P. Moorehead was born in October 1900, right around the time that his father Warren and Robert Peabody were imagining the Department of Archaeology, our name in the early part of the twentieth century. Robert had befriended the elder Moorehead and hired him about a decade earlier to help amass a collection of Native American objects. He also provided convalescent facilities when Moorehead was recovering from tuberculosis. In fact, Singleton Moorehead was born at Saranac, New York where his father was recovering at Peabody’s cabin.

Moorehead’s entry in the 1918 Phillips Academy yearbook.

So who was Singleton Peabody Moorehead? He grew up on Hidden Field Road on the Phillips Academy campus, and graduated from the school in 1918. During his time at Phillips, Singleton, or “Sing,” played football, swam, and served as art editor for the Academy’s yearbook Pot-Pourri. He also participated in archaeological projects, including Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico. Both of Warren Moorehead’s sons, Ludwig and Singleton, served in World War I. After a brief military service, Singleton attended Harvard, where he received undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture (BA in 1922 and M. Arch. in 1927). At Harvard, he continued his association with archaeologists, including a friendship with Philip Phillips. One wonders to what extent Moorehead’s exposure to archaeology prepared him for the Colonial Williamsburg project that became his life’s work?

Moorehead’s elevation of Colonial Williamsburg Block 17; Block 8: Duke of Gloucester Street.

Singleton joined the Boston architectural firm Perry, Shaw and Hepburn in 1928 and almost immediately began work at the firm’s field office in Williamsburg, Virginia. Here he was involved in the restoration work of Colonial Williamsburg, ultimately joining the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1934, where he worked as director of architecture from 1944 through 1948, and then as a consultant. So, if you’ve visited Colonial Williamsburg, you know Singleton Moorehead’s work! Perhaps one of the best-known structures at Colonial Williamsburg is the capitol building, reconstructed based on elevations, archival descriptions, and archaeological investigations conducted under the director of the Perry, Shaw and Hepburn architects. Another Colonial Williamsburg favorite is Chowning’s Tavern; a 2016 newspaper story on the 1939 reconstruction attributes much of the character of Chowning’s to Moorehead, who was interested in the quotidian aspects of eighteenth century architecture.

Moorehead’s birds-eye view of Pecos Pueblo, from Alfred Kidder’s 1958 “blue book” Pecos Notes.

He married Cynthia Beverley Tucker Coleman, a descendant of St. George Tucker, a colonial resident of Williamsburg. A New York Times (December 12, 1964) obituary notes his involvement in many other historic preservation and architectural projects, as well as contributions to two books, Colonial Williamsburg: Its Buildings and Gardens (1949) and The Public Buildings of Williamsburg (1958), and authorship of many articles. One such crossover project was Kidder’s revisit of his Pecos excavation, including detailed architectural plans executed by Singleton and published as one of the Peabody Foundation “blue books” in 1958.

S. P. Moorehead died in December 1964 and is interred in the Bruton Parish Church cemetery in Williamsburg.

Further Reading

Lounsbury, Carl R. (1990) Beaux-Arts Ideals and Colonial Reality: The Reconstruction of Williamsburg’s Capitol. Journal of the Society of Architectural History 49(4):373-389.

New York Times (1964) Singleton P. Moorehead Dead: Colonial Williamsburg Planner. December 13, 1964, p. 86.

Singleton P. Moorehead Streetscapes, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation https://rocklib.omeka.net/collections/show/11

Missing Artifacts

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the early 1990s the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology has been searching for objects missing from its collection. Among the missing items are carved and decorated stone, shell, and ceramic pieces from sites in Georgia and Maine.

The Peabody has celebrated the return of four missing artifacts, most notably the Etowah monolithic axe. The Boston Globe recently covered the story.

At least two engraved shell disks remain at large. A $2,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to the recovery of the missing artifacts.

These objects were excavated at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia between 1925 and 1928 by Warren K. Moorehead, then-director of the Peabody Institute. The Etowah and Little Egypt sites date from AD 1000 to AD 1550. Southeastern sites of this period are linked to modern-day Native American tribes through the Creek language. Many of the objects are funerary belongings and subject to repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Image of shell gorget with dancing birdman figure.

Object:  Hightower or Big Toco style shell gorget

Provenance:  excavated by Warren King Moorehead in 1926 from Burial 37, Mound C, Etowah site (9BR01), Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia, USA

Description: a small engraved and excised disk cut from marine shell depicting a dancing human figure with decapitated head; approximately 2.5-inches in diameter; Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1250-1375

Catalog #:  62042

unknown_gorget_01

Object: Carters Quarter style shell gorget

Provenance: excavated by Warren King Moorehead, 1925-1927, from either the Etowah site (9BR01), Bartow County, Georgia, or Little Egypt site (9MU102), Murray County, Georgia, USA

Description: highly stylized rattlesnake design incised and cut-out of marine shell disk with perforations for suspension as a pendant or gorget. Approximately 5 inches maximum width. Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1400-1600.

Catalog #: 61440

If you have information about these objects please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at 978 749 4490 or rwheeler@andover.edu.

Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

In 1901 Robert S. Peabody lamented the lack of instruction in archaeology at his high school alma mater Phillips Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school. To rectify the situation, he used family funds and artifacts amassed by his personal curator Warren K. Moorehead to establish a Department of Archaeology at the school. A building was constructed and Moorehead and Peabody’s son, Charles, set about teaching classes. The pattern established by Moorehead and Peabody, however, was disrupted in 1914 when the school refocused the program exclusively on research. Classes were offered periodically over the next decades, and some students were inspired to follow their high school passions to lifetime careers in our field. Successive administrators at the institution, ultimately called the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, struggled to find a place for archaeology in the high school curriculum due to a variety of factors. Cyclical trends in teaching archaeology at Phillips Academy and long term struggles to integrate archaeology into the high school classroom mirror nationwide patterns, providing a case study that can inform the broader initiative to harness the excitement and interdisciplinary aspect of archaeology, and to encourage stewardship of  archaeological resources. The experience of the educators at Phillips Academy, however, suggests that these goals may be at odds with one another and require a delicate balancing act to achieve sustained results.

Image of Peabody director Scotty MacNeish showing students how to excavate at the Andover town dump site.
Peabody director Richard “Scotty” MacNeish instructing Phillips Academy students at the Andover town dump, 1970s.

To read Ryan Wheeler’s new article on the history of teaching archaeology and anthropology at Phillips Academy–Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School–please visit the Journal of Archaeology & Education!

Birdstones

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We were fortunate to receive a generous gift from Phillips Academy trustee and Peabody Advisory Committee member Peter T. Hetzler MD, FACS (Class of 1972) in December 2017 that allowed us to purchase several important books to add to our library.

One of these is the very rare, privately published volume Birdstones of the North American Indian by Earl C. Townsend, Jr. Published in 1959, Townsend’s book was limited to 700 copies. A reprint edition was released in 2003 by Steven Hart, but these are also scarce and hard to find. Both the original edition and the reprint can be quite expensive, if you are lucky enough to find one. Townsend (1914-2007) was an attorney and founding member of the Indiana Archaeological Society, as well as an avid collector of Native American artifacts, cars, and artwork. According to Townsend’s obituary, he was honored by the Black River-Swan Creek Saginaw Chippewa Tribe with the name Senee Pen Eshee Na Na, meaning “Birdstone Man.”

Image from the Townsend Birdstones book showing a color plate.
One of the color plates in Townsend’s Birdstones book, showing some of the variations in color and material found among this artifact type.

Townsend’s preface begins with a reference to Warren Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator, who “spoke of the need for specialized volumes, each devoted to one particular form of prehistoric North American Indian relic.” Moorehead insisted that the province of archaeologists was the study of material culture and he urged his contemporaries to abandoned reconnaissance and site survey that were becoming more common in the first quarter of the twentieth century and hunker down on description and classification of artifacts. Moorehead published at least three volumes that highlighted objects, mostly those held by artifact collectors. His most expansive was the 1910 two volume The Stone Age in North America. Moorehead also published more detailed studies of particular artifact types, like his 1906 The So-Called “Gorgets,” an early bulletin of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, and his 1899 The Bird-stone Ceremonial.

Image of a large pop-eyed birdstone from the Peabody Institute collection.
A magnificent example of a pop-eyed birdstone in banded slate, Warren County, Ohio.

Townsend’s 719-page book is nothing short of monumental, and depicts thousands of birdstones from public and private collections. He also covers the ideas about what these objects are, which are myriad and diverse, as well as how they were made, distribution patterns, cultural affiliations, and fraudulent specimens.

Image of birdstones.
A selection of birdstones from the Peabody Institute collection. Note that some are broken and repaired.

So, what is a birdstone? As Townsend notes, this is not an easy question to answer, since there is no clear agreement on how they were used in antiquity. In terms of form, birdstones are often described as highly stylized depictions of birds. A variety of distinct forms are all described in detail by Townsend. The virtuosity of manufacture, incredible symmetry, and sculptural quality have often elicited comparison with modern art. Sizes range from an inch or two to larger examples that are five or six inches in length. A common feature is the presence of bi-conically drilled holes, one at either end of the birdstone’s base. These holes are often the site of breakage and repair. Most birdstones are made of banded slate, especially the greenish-gray banded Huronian variety, but other stones were used as well, including porphyry. Many have projecting eyes or ears. Few if any have come from secure archaeological contexts and most are known as field finds. Townsend’s distribution map indicates that the vast majority of birdstones in his sample come from areas around the southern margins of the Great Lakes, especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Ontario. Cultural affiliations of birdstones vary across this area and include a number of Late Archaic and Early Woodland cultures like Glacial Kame and Red Ochre, circa 1500-500 BCE.

Image of a large birdstone preform showing an early stage of manufacturing birdstones.
A birdstone preform, showing one stage in the manufacture process.

Townsend does a nice job of summarizing the diverse opinions on birdstones. The ideas range from Charles C. Abbott’s notion that they were worn as hair ornaments by women during maternity to use as a spear thrower (atlatl) counterweight. Other ideas include attachment to flutes or similar musical instruments, game pieces, hair or clothing ornaments, staff mounted religious symbols, and atlatl handle grips (Townsend’s preferred idea). Considering the diversity of forms, it seems likely that different styles were used in different ways and there are probably layers of meaning that we are unable to detect. Many contemporary archaeologists have accepted that birdstones are, in fact, associated with atlatls or spear throwers (for example, this is how they are described by David Penney in his essay on Archaic art in the 1985 exhibit catalog Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians). Many articles about birdstones have been added to the literature since the 1959 publication of Townsend’s book, often proposing new ideas or offering further support or evidence for an existing hypothesis.

We were particularly excited to acquire a copy of Townsend’s Birdstones because the Peabody collections contain many examples of this enigmatic and interesting artifact. Only a few, however, are illustrated in Townsend’s book, including two from Ohio that had been salvaged after breakage (see Townsend 1959: Plates 76s and 77h). A few other fine examples from the Peabody are illustrated here.

It’s unlikely that we will unlock the secret of the birdstone anytime soon, however, we are immensely grateful to Peter Hetzler for his generous gift of the Earl Townsend book, which nicely complements our object collection!

Canadian researcher visits to examine Strong collection

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Dr. Laura Kelvin, a post-doctoral researcher from Memorial University of Newfoundland, visited the Peabody in October.

Dr. Kelvin is contributing to the Avertok Archaeology Project, a subproject of a larger collaboration between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government representing the Inuit of Labrador – Tradition and Transition.  This community-based archaeology program aims:

  • to locate, excavate and learn more about the original Inuit settlement of Avertok which underlies the present Hopedale community, and other nearby sites,
  • communicate findings to the community and use the research to facilitate knowledge transfer between youth and elders in Hopedale
  • to undertake a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Moravian Cemetery in order to identify the locations of all graves, enabling the community to properly mark and care for the cemetery.

During her visit to the Peabody, Dr. Kelvin examined the William Duncan Strong collection.  Strong was part of the Rawson-MacMillian Sub-Arctic Expedition that the Field Museum in Chicago sent to northeastern Labrador in 1927-1928.  In the early 1930s, Warren K. Moorehead (then Director of the Peabody) orchestrated a trade with the Field Museum to acquire approximately 350 artifacts from this expedition.

A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.
A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.

Dr. Kelvin spent a week photographing all of these artifacts – even 3D scanning some! – for inclusion in a developing community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of the Hopedale area.  She will record traditional community knowledge of the artifacts and provide local access to the images through the network.  Follow the project on their facebook page!

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Report from the Advisory Committee on Archaeology, 1914

Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.

This blog represents the ninth 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!

Bureaucracy and oversight committees are not modern phenomena.  In the earliest years of the Peabody, contemporaneously known as the Department of Archaeology, the work done was overseen by a subcommittee of the Trustees of Phillips Academy. However, the Trustees recognized the limitations of their own knowledge in the world of archaeology and appointed a Special Advisory Committee on Archaeology in 1914.

The special committee was tasked with assessing mundane logistical needs of the Department as well as providing direction and feedback on proposed research.  Composed of five prominent anthropologists; Franz Boas, William Henry Holmes, Roland Dixon, Hiram Bingham, and Frederic Ward Putnam, the committee made the following suggestions:

  1. Install a synoptic exhibit, strictly limited in size and scope, of the life of man from geological time to the beginnings of history
  2. Limit public lectures to no more than 4 each year
  3. End formal classes in archaeology for the students at Phillips Academy and instead encourage individual students as their interests dictate
  4. The work of ‘research’ should include two separate divisions; one to investigate large definite problems of archaeology, and the other to aid competent archaeologists in the execution of such of their plans
  5. Appoint a small permanent advisory committee of experts of easy access, whose duty it shall be to report to the Trustees upon all plans for exploration, organization of study collections, museum research, and publication.

These recommendations were received with mixed feelings by curator Warren K. Moorehead.  He appreciated many of the committee’s suggestions, but strongly objected to the creation of a permanent oversight committee.  Convinced that they would meddle in his research plans and enmesh him in red tape, Moorehead clearly expressed his displeasure:

August Blog scans004

Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.
Warren Moorehead complains about a special advisory committee in a letter to the Headmaster.

 

 

However, the committee composed of Dixon and Bingham, existed for several years.  They limited Moorehead to his ongoing work in Maine and simultaneously decided to embark on an expedition in the Southwest.  This decision directly led to the appointment of Alfred V. Kidder as the Director of Southwest Explorations and his seminal work at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico.