More Than a Number: Cataloguing the Peabody Collection

Contributed by Emma Cook

My name is Emma Cook, I am the Administrative Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology. I have a background in archaeology, history, and museum studies with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Georgia and Tufts University. Aside from my administration duties, I work with the Peabody’s collections. Recently I’ve been involved in the Inventory and Rehousing Project and I am working with collections on the first floor South Alcove, located in one of our gallery/classroom spaces.

The Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology collection comprises nearly 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and archives. Some of these materials are displayed and used for teaching, while many reside in our collection storage. What is unique about much of our collection space is its original storage. The bays and drawers in which many of these artifacts inhabit are almost as old as the Peabody itself, the bays being first built in the early 1920s. However, below the surface of these pine wood bays and drawers are a collection of uncatalogued objects that have hardly come to light (literally), with some still stored in the tin foil and paper bags they were placed in upon archaeological excavation many years ago.

The antiquated charm of these wooden bays is not enough to meet the need of accessible storage for our collections and the goal is to replace them with new custom-built shelves. In preparation of this storage renovation, objects need to be identified, catalogued, and rehoused. This work is completed through our Inventory and Rehousing Project.

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First Floor, South Alcove – where my cataloguing work began

I began my work simply inventorying the objects in each drawer of each bay in the alcove. Some of these objects were already identified, numbered, and recorded in Past Perfect – a museum software that is the standard for cataloguing museum collections. Through this software, the Peabody collection is documented and made accessible online. My job was to make sure these objects were accounted for and in the right place, as well as properly rehoused and organized within the drawers. Sounds pretty easy right? Well, eventually things changed as I came across several drawers and bays containing objects with old numbers or no numbers at all. This is where my cataloguing efforts began.

 

Cataloguing is the process of recording details about an object into a collection catalog or database that documents the information of each object as well as its location in storage. Through this process each object receives a unique number. This number is physically attached to the object and appears in records related to the object in Past Perfect. In museums and archives, objects or materials in a collection are normally catalogued in what is called a collection catalog. In the past, this was traditionally done using a card index, but in the present-day it is normally implemented using a computerized database – for the Peabody this is Past Perfect. Some of the objects I came across with “old numbers” were either connected to the Peabody’s past card index cataloguing system or the Peabody’s original numbering system (i.e. 1,2,3,…. 78,049).

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Lithic objects with affixed labels and old numbers

Each object was given a new number associated with the Peabody’s present catalog numbering sequence (i.e. 2019.1.123). This numbering sequence is a three-part number, making it both simple and expandable. The first part of the sequence is the year in which the object was accessioned or catalogued (i.e. 2019). The second part of the sequence is given to objects in chronological order based on when they were first accessioned (i.e. 2019.1). The third part of the sequence gives a single object a number in chronological order (i.e. 2019.1.1). Objects that had an affixed label had the new number written on the label. Objects without labels had their numbers painted on with ink. A solution called B72 is applied to the object before the ink in order to protect the original surface of each object. This solution is not harmful to the object and can be easily removed if a mistake is made or the object needs a different number.

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Lithic objects with new numbers painted on their surface using ink and the B72 solution

The cataloguing process is not an easy one, nor is inventorying and rehousing a collection. The process may be slow and tedious, but it does have its rewards. By using a great deal of care, time, and effort, rehoused and identified objects can be used for teaching and research. Not only can collection staff have full access to the collection, they can provide a safe and accessible place for these materials in storage. The cataloguing process may seem like a trivial task, but it just goes to show – it’s more than a number.

For more information and reading on the Inventory and Rehousing Project, see the following blogs below:

Transcribing the Collection – January 2019

A New Face in the Basement – January 2019

Ceramic Inventory Complete – December 2018

Collections Reboxing Project Update – April 2018

A Day in the Life of Boxing Boxes – November 2017

Shelving to the Rescue – September 2016

Boxes and Boxes and Boxes – August 2016

Summer Work Duty Students Begin Rehousing Inventory – August 2016

China Travelers Meet Tu’er Ye

Adventures in Ancient China is one of the newest Learning in the World programs at Phillips Academy. During spring break 2019 eighteen students experienced some of China’s most dynamic history and archaeology, along with spicy cuisine, fantastic religious art, and new friends.

After exploring the impressive architecture of Ming and Qing dynasties at the Summer Palace, the Tian Tan, and the Forbidden City we engaged with some of Beijing’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artifacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” This can include oral tradition, performing arts, rituals and festivals, traditional knowledge, and craftsmanship.

Image of Beijing Tu'er Ye artist with figurine.
Beijing Tu’er Ye artist explains how to decorate a figurine.

Students participated in a workshop with a local artist who makes and decorates figurines of Lord Rabbit, also known as Tu’er Ye in Beijing. Tu’er Ye, once worshiped in the pantheon of local deities, was renown as a healer and maker of elixirs.  The moon goddess Chang’e sent Tu’er Ye to use his/her knowledge of medicine to save the people of Beijing from a plaque. Tu’er Ye probably appeared as early as the Ming Dynasty, often as a clay figurine for inclusion in household shrines.

Two students paint ceramic rabbit figurines.
Students paint their own Tu’er Ye figurines.

Tu’er Ye is a rabbit with a human body adorned with the outfit of an ancient general: helmet, scarf, shoulder-draped golden armor, broad belt and big boots, while holding an alchemist’s pestle and mortar. Tu’er Ye figures prominently in the Mid-Autumn festival and the figurines may have become toys to occupy children during festival preparations.

A student shows off her painted rabbit figurine.
The finishing touches–after completing their figurines each student had a nice souvenir of Beijing!

A handful of artists continue the tradition of making and decorating the figurines. Making the Tu’er Ye figurines is one of Beijing’s more than 12,000 intangible cultural heritage items. It was inscribed on the national list in 2014.

Adventures in Ancient China is generously supported by The Schmertzler Fund for Exploration and Experiential Education.

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.

Peabody at the Smithsonian

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Did you know that you can find artifacts from the Peabody in Washington, D.C.?  Well, you can!

In 2018, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) contacted the Peabody to request the loan of objects associated with Lucy Foster, a free Black woman, who lived in the Ballardvale section of Andover, for their Slavery and Freedom exhibition. Here is how the NMAAHC describes the exhibition:

The Slavery and Freedom inaugural exhibition is at the physical heart of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibition invites visitors to explore the complex and intertwined histories of slavery and freedom through the personal stories of those who experienced it. Chronicling the early 15th century through 1876, the exhibition explores the cultural, economic, and political legacies of the making of modern slavery and the foundation of American freedoms. Visitors will encounter both free and enslaved African Americans’ contributions to the making of America in body, mind, and spirit. They will glimpse a vision of freedom—an American freedom—pushed to its fullest and most transformational limits through the everyday actions of men and women. Most importantly, they will walk away with an understanding of how the story of slavery and freedom is a shared American history with deep roots linking all people together and that still impacts American society today.

The discovery of Lucy Foster’s homestead was an accident in 1945 as archaeologists Adelaide and Ripley Bullen were looking for evidence of an ancient Native American settlement. Lucy’s early nineteenth century homestead was instead one of the first African American archaeological sites excavated in the United States. To learn more about the excavation and the artifacts recovered, check out these sources:

Adelaide and Ripley Bullen’s 1945 article on the Lucy Foster site

Vernon Baker’s 1978 “blue book” on Lucy Foster’s ceramics

Vernon Baker’s 1972 book chapter on Lucy Foster

Anthony Martin’s 2018 article Homeplace Is also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts

You can also find many of Lucy’s belongings in our online collection.

The Lucy Foster site objects are displayed in Slavery and Freedom in “The Northern Colonies: Expanding Merchant Capital” section of the museum. These objects allow the NMAAHC to tell the story of women and their work in the north and bring to light the personal voice and story of Lucy Foster. Foster was born in Boston in 1767 and was sold into the household of Job and Hannah Foster at age four, in 1771. She worked as a domestic in their household until Job’s death in 1789, when she moved with Hannah to her new husband Philemon Chandler’s household. After Chandler’s death, they moved back to the Foster household until Hannah’s death in 1815. Lucy then established her own household on land willed to her by Hannah. Lucy died of pneumonia on November 1, 1845. Occasional mentions of Lucy in historical documents, coupled with the archaeological remains, has allowed a glimpse into her life.

The NMAAHC requested these objects because Lucy’s story is unique. She is one of two People of Color from this area with documentary and archaeological records to tell her story. Lucy was part of both free and enslaved communities in Andover, and these objects show how she continually used her sewing and cooking skills to carve a place for herself in the Andover community. These objects embody the presence of women and their work as fundamental to the northern states and are a rare example of objects from the early nineteenth century concretely connected to an enslaved person.

If you are in the D.C. area, be sure to stop by and say “hello” to Lucy!

PA Giving Day is March 27, 2019!

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Make your mark on PA Giving Day 2019!

Mark your calendars! The third PA Giving Day is Wednesday, March 27, 2019! Last year the Peabody Institute garnered 60 gifts, nearly doubling PA Giving Day gifts in 2017! This year we hope to have more challenges, more social media posts, and even more support!

 

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!

Same old? Same old? Frayed Knot!

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

On Thursday, February 21 we will be hosting our Family Fun with Archaeology event. This free event will have activities such as building Lego models of ancient ruins, playing Native American musical instruments, making a clay pot, and more.

Since we have run the program a few times, I have been thinking of ways that we might add new activities for kids and adults to do together.

One of the new interactive activities for families is creating a fishing net.  Fishing has played a vital role in New England’s history, from the First People to today. Ancient nets were made of various plant fibers and used in a variety of ways to catch fish in rivers.

While talking with Ellen Berkland, archaeologist for the Department of Recreation and Conservation, about an archaeology event at Maudsley State Park in Newburyport, MA that she hosted in October, she mentioned that she had included net making. I was instantly intrigued!

After talking with Ellen and googling “net making,” as well as watching a few YouTube videos, I settled on using the simple overhand knot to make the net. I also decided to use different color strings to help make it easier for people to see what strings they are working with.

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Overhand knot

Here is my attempt at making a net – I think it looks pretty good for a first time!

fish net

 

If you want to try your hand at this or other crafts, come to the Peabody next month!

 

Event Information

Date: Thursday February 21

Time: 9 am – NOON

Fee: FREE

 

Transcribing the Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The Peabody Institute has been working for some time now to establish full physical and intellectual control over our collection. You can read about our progress here, here, here, and here.

But, physically inventorying the collection is only half the project. The Peabody also needs to document and account for all the artifacts that came into, and left, the collection over the years. Currently, about 56,000 catalog records are present in our database, PastPerfect, versus the nearly 120,000 unique catalog numbers that have been assigned over the years. Original cataloging records at the Institute are largely on paper in two formats – ledger books that document the first phase of collections and individual catalog cards that were in use through the 1980s. Often, a single line of handwritten text or a 3×5 index card contains all the documented information for a specific artifact. That data is invaluable for making objects relevant and accessible to researchers, faculty, students, and in our ongoing repatriation work with Native American tribes.

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A page from one of the accession ledgers

Recently, I presented this problem to the Board of the Abbot Academy Fund as part of their biannual grant cycle. Focusing on the need to transcribe the hand-written ledger books – 78,094 individual line entries in 14 ledger books. I am thrilled to report that the Abbot Academy Fund has chosen to support our Transcribing the Collection initiative!

The grant funds a temporary project transcriptionist who will type each line of the original accession ledgers from early twentieth century cursive into an Excel document. The project will be complete in the fall of 2019.

Once all this information is recorded, the Peabody will collaborate with PastPerfect to migrate the data into our database. The ultimate goal is to make the collection more accessible to staff, researchers, students and tribes.

I will keep you updated!

The Transcribing the Collection project is made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

A New Face in the Basement

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Hi there! My name is John and I am the new Inventory Specialist at the Robert S. Peabody Institute. As Inventory Specialist my primary task is to work on the ongoing inventory and rehousing project. The project’s goals are to fully understand the collections that are held at the Institute and move them from their old wooden drawers into archival boxes. Armed with the more precise knowledge of what is in the Peabody, the institute can ensure their continued care and share them with students and the public for years to come.

This position is a dream job for me. It brings together my interest in archaeology, museums and collections care, and who doesn’t love spending time underground!

John inside a pit during excavations
Yep, this is me in a bell pit during an excavation in Arizona!

Before moving to Massachusetts in 2013, I worked for almost a decade as an archaeologist in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. After relocating to New England I enrolled in the MFA program at Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. During my time as a graduate student I found that I kept coming back to archaeology and the history of museum collections as a subject for my artwork.

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Artwork from my thesis project

While I was in graduate school I also pursued a certificate in Museum Studies. I gravitated towards collections care and since graduating I’ve worked in collections at the Fitchburg Art Museum and Historic New England. ­

In a round-about way I’ve come back to archaeology, though it’s been following me for the past 5 years. During my time here I’ve been inventorying objects from Missouri. There have been some surprising finds, which has been great. You never know what you’re going to find here at the Peabody.