The end of fall term means the (temporary) end to one of my favorite collaborations – Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course.
During the fall 2015 term, 11 Phillips Academy students explored the complicated relationship between Native Americans, museums and archaeology. Topics included scientific racism, federal Indian policies, museum collection practices, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The culmination of the course was to use the Peabody collection to re-present the stories in our main exhibit gallery with a more inclusive voice.
Curator of education Lindsay Randall and I co-taught the class with Ms. Doheny. We were able to join most of the class discussions and provide perspective from our archaeology and museum experiences. I also enjoyed making the collection accessible to the students as they worked to create their final projects.
Watching the final presentations of the student’s revised exhibitions during assessment week was the perfect culmination to the term. Every group succeeded in reimaging how Native Americans are traditionally presented in an archaeology museum, moving beyond stone tools and ceramic pots. The students highlighted the continuity of native cultures despite the history of racism and dispossession.
I loved being a part of this course and look forward to being involved again next year!
Image of Edith Andrews taken from patch.com http://patch.com/rhode-island/bristol-warren/massasoit-memorial-takes-step-forward
On November 6, students in Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course met with Edith Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
That morning, I left my house early to pick up Edith at her home in North Dartmouth. The two-hour drive back to Andover was full of laughter as Edith has a wicked sense of humor. After we arrived, the entire museum staff, along with some of our colleagues from the OWHL, joined Edith and me for lunch at Paresky Commons, where she regaled us with stories about her family, including the fact that her children had attended private school and that her grandchildren were studying at Dartmouth and the University of Southern New Hampshire. We also laughed over her story about her husband’s attempt to clear out clutter during a move, inadvertently leaving behind a first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. We were all instructed to keep an eye out for the gray, clothbound volume in used-book stores on Cape Cod.
Edith’s conversation with students gave them a firsthand look at NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—from the American Indian perspective. The passage of NAGPRA in 1990 signaled a shift in the disciplines of archaeology and museology. Not only did the Act create a process for tribes to claim the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony, but also it caused museum personnel and archaeologists to start changing how they think about and interact with descendant communities. Collaborative projects and indigenous archaeology are now fairly common. Despite that, there are significant challenges to compliance with NAGPRA, including difficulties in affiliating museum collections with contemporary tribes, lack of land for reburial of human remains, divergent interpretations of the law, and the sheer volume of human remains and funerary objects in museum collections. For example, a 2010 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that many federal agencies had not complied with the Act.
Students listened to Edith talk about her experience as a former Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs in the 1980s—the days just before the passage of NAGPRA, when every local law enforcement agency was storing human remains that could be repatriated and reburied under state law—as well as the use of the term “Native American” instead of “American Indian.” We all were particularly struck when Edith discussed the reluctance of museums to return funerary objects and items of cultural patrimony, even though these are clearly covered by the Act. She talked about the significant loss of Wampanoag material culture that began in the 17th century when Puritan colonists raided native graves for “pretties” (essentially grave goods and burial offerings) and how this continued throughout King Philip’s War, when trophies were taken by colonists and sent back to England. Most notable was a wampum belt, composed of white and purple shell beads, that is thought to be in the British Museum. Edith asked why the Wampanoag couldn’t expect the return of some of these items for display in their tribal museum.
Students in Race and Identity in Indian Country spent the fall term confronting the fraught history of American Indians. Major themes covered were scientific racism, government policy, and the role of museums in the near genocide of Native people. Edith’s visit was a reminder that American Indians are still here—as individuals and vibrant communities—and that repatriation is more than a fight over property, but one that cuts to the core of personal and community identity, health, and well-being.
After the students departed for sports and other commitments, Edith and I began our return trip to North Dartmouth. When I was pulling into her driveway she remarked that although she was glad to be home because it was home, she was sad that the day was done as she had very much enjoyed our wonderful students.
This week saw the debut of the Peabody Museum’s History 200 lesson, “The Little Spots Allow’d Them: Slavery and Landscape in 18th-Century New England.” The lesson focuses on Ten Hills Farm, a property located in Medford, Mass., that was owned by the Royall family in the 1700s. Using the quote by Winston Churchill that “we make our buildings, and they in turn make us,” I ask students to look at how the landscape and architectural choices reflect and influence the values and roles of the individuals who created them, as well as how they continue to impact us today.
The land in Medford was purchased by Isaac Royall Sr., a son of a modest carpenter who had amassed his wealth through his sugar plantation on Antigua. Royall Sr. and, later, his son, Isaac Royall Jr., built and modified a mansion house and slave quarters and installed lavish gardens, orchards, and other features into the landscape.
The choices the Royalls made regarding the placement of the buildings and modifications to the landscape reflected how they thought of themselves and the image they wanted to project, how they wanted their contemporaries to see them, and how they thought society should be ordered.
The landscape and architecture of Ten Hills Farm was not solely a means to display the Royalls’ status and wealth to the other white inhabitants of Boston and surrounding land. They also served as a “conversation without words” between the masters and their slaves.
One of my favorite parts of the lesson is when I ask students to use strings to create lines of sight from the mansion house. After they have completed the task, they are able to see that a large section of the land next to the slave quarters cannot be seen from the mansion house. The students and I discuss why the Royalls would deliberately create a space that was out of their view, and then I challenge them to look at how those who were enslaved would have viewed the same parcel of land. To the slaves, this piece of land would have been one of the only places they could experience themselves and one another as human beings and retain some control over their lives.
At the end of the lesson, we discuss how the Colonial construction of racial categories was cemented and enforced through building and land-use choices. It is interesting to contemplate how building choices such as the ones made at Ten Hills Farm helped move the concept of blacks being “other” or “less than” from simply being an idea, to one that was tangible, was real, and, most insidiously, seemed natural.
This lesson is particularly important for our students to understand as they become more connected with the world outside of Phillips Academy and their home communities. We are still seeing the consequences of these “conversations without words” in our world today, with some of the most notable examples being Ferguson and Baltimore. As our students move forward in society, it is important that we support their ethical development and understanding.
What can be coiled, plaited, twined, or sewn in the form of a tray, bowl, bottle, cone, or trunk using tree barks or splints, river cane, pine needles, or grasses? If you are familiar with this vocabulary, you will know the answer: Native American basketry. What you may not know is that the Peabody Museum houses more than 350 examples of Native American basketry, including fragments of ancient woven sandals, 19th- and 20th-century utilitarian and ceremonial forms, and a few examples by recognized 21st-century artists.
In my current capacity as a volunteer at the Peabody, I am collaborating with the museum’s registrar and senior collections manager, Bonnie Sousa, on conducting a thorough inventory of the Peabody’s Native American basketry collection. For this project, we are attempting to combine for each example a description of forms, techniques, and materials; identification of people/culture and geographic region; and data from museum records. The first 35 examples I examined include plaited ash-splint storage baskets from the Northeast with distinctive stamped and painted designs; twill-plaited trunks and trays from the Southeast made with natural, dyed orange and brown river cane splints; and a variety of trays of coiled grasses and pine needles.
My first volunteer position was in the 1970s at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum following a recommendation by my mentor, Joanne Segal Brandford, who subsequently published the museum’s basket collection. After studying and teaching fiber arts and design at the University of California, Berkeley, Brandford worked as a researcher, curator, teacher, and fiber artist. Why baskets? In the following paragraph, she succinctly describes the foundation for a career of exploration:
Baskets are often linked to domesticity and smallness, the implication being that these qualities preclude significant artwork. I could counter with basket-shrines made for ritual, or I could point to house-sized baskets (used, indeed, as houses) and so I could ‘elevate’ baskets with religious significance or architectural scale. But all such uses/meanings refer to our humanity, and consequently to ourselves and to our families, to life, and to death. What can be more meaningful for an artist working in fiber, than to honor the basket, with its myriad human associations?
BASKETS: Redefining Volume and Meaning (1993). The University of Hawaii, Art Gallery, Honolulu, Hawaii. Pat Hickman, Curator
Catherine K. Hunter is an independent museum consultant whose career began in the Department of Textiles at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She has always been interested in the study of basketry and recently wrote feature articles about contemporary Native American and American artists for the National Basketry Organization.
Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky (Phillips Academy, Class of 1959)
Chaco Canyon is located in northwestern New Mexico. During the period 850–1250 AD, Chaco Canyon was a major urban center of ancestral Puebloan culture. Remarkable for its ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, and distinctive architecture, the site had many uses, among them ceremonial, administrative, trade, resource distribution, and even astronomy. Roads 30 feet wide led out of Chaco. Signal towers were located on mesa tops. Puebloans traded extensively with Mesoamerica as seen in the presence of macaws, parrot feathers, conch shells, and copper bells. A great deal of archaeological research has been conducted on Chaco Canyon, and the site was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987.
The artifact you see here—a black-on-white ceramic pitcher, complete except for a missing handle—was one of many that Warren K. Morehead acquired in 1897 for Robert S. Peabody’s collection. This small pitcher comes from Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure at Chaco, with about 800 rooms.
The pitcher is covered with finely drawn geometric patterns. These distinctive patterns can be reduced to areas of larger parallel lines (black bordering white) and smaller parallel lines (all black). The larger lines appear as though they are sitting on top of the smaller lines. All lines are carefully laid out, giving the impression that the artist had a high level of geometric sophistication—which is not surprising, coming from an area known to have astronomy and engineering interests.
In fall 2013 the Peabody launched the Adopt A Drawer fundraising program. Adopt A Drawer invites donors to support the cataloging of one of more than 1,700 artifact storage drawers at the Museum. A gift of $1,000 supports the professional cataloging of one drawer, including data entry, archival storage supplies, photography, and inclusion in the museum’s online catalog, hosted by PastPerfect Online. Work duty students and interns are heavily involved in the cataloging work. Donors receive updates on the cataloging, including before and after photos, as well as acknowledgement in our online catalog. To learn more, view the Adopt A Drawer promotional video produced by the Polk-Lillard Electronic Imaging Center.
As of June 30, 2015, generous donors have adopted 32 artifact storage drawers. These drawers hold material ranging from Paleolithic sites in New England to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico; from the Tehuacán Valley of Mexico to the homestead of a freed Black woman in Andover. Sixteen of these drawers – over 700 artifacts! – have been fully cataloged and appear in the Peabody’s online catalog.
Help us reach our goal—the cataloging of the Museum’s 600,000+ objects—by visiting the Peabody’s giving page today.
On October 15, more than 100 sixth-grade students and teachers from West Middle School in Andover visited the Peabody as a way to kick off the beginning of their lesson in ancient history. The teachers thought it would be useful for their students to have a better understanding of how archaeologists come up with their explanations of sites, particularly sites that are very old. Using the museum’s Shattuck Farm mock excavation lesson as an example, curator of education Lindsay Randall taught the students how to read objects as primary sources. This allowed them to begin making inferences and complex connections regarding what they were viewing.
On October 20, Emerson “Tad” Baker, PhD ’76, delighted a packed Peabody Museum with his lecture, “Witchcraft, Counter Magic, and Archaeology in Salem and New England.” Drawing on details from his new book, A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience, Baker demonstrated that the practice of counter magic to ward off witches and demons in colonial New England persisted through the 19th century and continues today.
Join the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS) Gene Winter Chapter for their fall lecture series. Each month features a presentation by an expert about a variety of topics. All lectures take place at the Peabody Museum at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.
Tuesday, November 17—Jameson Harwood (Massachusetts Department of Transportation): “Battlefield Archaeology”
Tuesday, December 15—Christa Beranek (University of Massachusetts Boston): “The Tyng Mansion Site: A Project in Three Vignettes”
“Mr. Peabody spent his boyhood in the valley of the Muskingum and as in that region there are numerous mound-builder and Indian remains, he became interested in archaeology. With his own hands he collected some one or two hundred specimens on his father’s farm. When the collection at Phillips was numbered the records properly began with Mr. Peabody’s personal finds and No. 1 is an interesting hematite celt.”
A celt is a prehistoric stone or metal implement shaped like a chisel or ax head. Hematite is a mineral ranging in color from black to red to brown, often taking on a high polish when tumbled in a rock polisher. The reddish color comes from iron. Hematite was highly prized by Native Americans throughout parts of the eastern United States for making a variety of tools and ornaments, including axes and celts.
Jenny asked if we could provide a photo of the hematite celt—object #1 in the museum’s collection, essentially the founding object. Although many of our collections are well documented and regularly used by students and researchers, others need considerable attention. Unfortunately, the hematite celt fell into the latter category, as Jenny’s seemingly simple request illustrated.
We began our search by checking the original accession ledger and confirming that the first object was indeed a hematite celt collected at Spice Knob, Muskingum County, Ohio, by Robert S. Peabody sometime between 1845 and 1860. A note indicates the celt had a particularly nice polish.
We then made a quick check of four or five drawers containing objects from Ohio and found a number of items with low catalog numbers that also came from Spice Knob. Unfortunately, the hematite celt was not among them. Further checking of a drawer-by-drawer inventory made in 2002 failed to locate the celt. With the aid of volunteers we searched drawers more thoroughly, with negative results.
Consulting another early museum bulletin, Warren Moorehead’s 1912 Hematite Implements of the United States together with Chemical Analysis of Various Hematites, we found a detailed study of the tools and ornaments made from this mineral. Figure 3, opposite page 13, illustrates seven hematite celts from the Andover collection. Catalog numbers are visible on three of the celts, so we knew we could rule them out as being the founding object we were searching for, but they are not visible on the remaining four objects in the figure, which meant it was possible one of them was the object in question. We also checked Moorehead’s other publications, which contain numerous illustrations of artifacts, including hematite celts. However, in the end, no definite candidates were identified.
So, what happened to Robert Peabody’s hematite celt?
There are several possible explanations. One is that museum personnel recataloged the object in the 1940s after the introduction of a more sophisticated cataloging system that imposed a two-part numbering technique and avoided some of the confusion that might arise from a simple sequential numbering of objects (e.g., 1 through 70,000+, as Moorehead had done).
Another possibility is that the celt was stolen. In 1986 a thief named George B. McLaughlin gained access to museum collections across the Northeast, including the Peabody, as well as institutions in Worcester, Attleboro, Springfield, Deerfield, and at Yale University, before the FBI apprehended him. During his spree, McLaughlin amassed thousands of artifacts and removed their catalog numbers. Although many objects were recovered, there was confusion regarding which artifacts belonged to each museum. We currently have drawers of objects returned to us by the FBI.
And so the search for Robert Peabody’s hematite celt continues, illustrating the challenges of locating an object from an older collection that has limited intellectual and physical control. A multiyear effort began in 2013 to gain better intellectual and physical control with the help of Abbot Academy Association grant funding for a new database system. The effort will continue for years to come as collections are cataloged and storage is upgraded.
October 16 and 17 marked the 9th annual Archaeology Fair held at the Museum of Science in Boston. This event is one of my favorite outreach programs each year. Numerous archeologists from across Massachusetts and New England converge on the Museum of Science with hands-on activities for kids and adults of all ages. It is always interesting to see the creative ways my colleagues are able to engage new generations with archaeology. It is also a blast to see how excited everyone gets when they get to touch real artifacts. This year I brought the museum’s LEGO archaeology activity and our Pseudomorphs detective game and both were a big hit with the participants. I am very excited for next year’s 10th anniversary and we are already talking about ways we can make it even bigger and better!
Here students are creating a Maya temple, ball court, and cenote. Very creative!
More about Pseudomorphs: In Pseudomorphs, students are handed objects and asked to identify which are natural formations, which are genuine artifacts, and how they arrived at their conclusions. For example, one pair of objects in our game includes a polished stone ax (the artifact) and a waterworn stone cobble (the natural formation). While the students don’t have to speculate how the objects were used, the exercise invites them to develop their visual literacy skills. Visual literacy has received a lot of attention over the past few years. In 2008, Sheila Naghshineh and her colleagues published a study suggesting that formal art observation training improves medical students’ ability to visually diagnose disease. In teaching art history at Harvard, Jennifer Roberts requires her students to spend a long time looking at one painting, acknowledging that these techniques help students understand that to really take in what an object can tell you one needs to engage in a critical examination. These skills can start with a simple game like Pseudomorphs.
Natural objects can be collected almost anywhere (check with property owners first!), and artifacts can be borrowed from museums, historical societies, or private collectors. So take a crack at building your visual literacy skills by creating and playing your own Pseudomorphs game!
Above is a pair of stone objects that are used in the Peabody Museum’s pseudomorph game. The object on the left is a random rock and the object on the right is an ax. The groove visible near the center of the ax would have been used to help attach the stone to a wooden handle.
Each Wednesday during the academic year, students and instructors from the PALS program visit the Peabody to learn about the history of their communities. To kick off their program I shared the rich and important Native American history of the area. Using real archaeological material from the Peabody’s collections, I asked the group to analyze animal bones, shells, rocks, and pottery fragments to tell me what Native Americans living in Andover 500 years ago were doing. After working in small groups, students used the evidence of pottery making, stone tool production, and the post molds of a wetu to surmise that native people were living in Andover for a significant period of time. This assertion by the students matches the scientific assessment by professional archaeologists and historians that Andover was a major trading village in the region. As a reward for their amazing detective skills, the students received postcards depicting what the site looked like at the time.