Introducing our Peabody Annual Report 2021-2022

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Our Peabody annual report for academic year 2021-2022 has just been released! This report highlights student participation at the Peabody, including more than 1,300 students who visited for classes, work duty, and more! In addition, our annual report features new acquisitions, classes, and workshops along with updates on our collection and NAGPRA work. Thank you to everyone who supported the completion of another wonderful year at the Peabody!

You can read the report in its entirety HERE.

Conference Season

Contributed by Marla Taylor

October/November is conference season!  I was an active participant in multiple conferences over the past couple months and really enjoyed connecting with colleagues after the worst of COVID.

First, I attended the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) 8th Annual Repatriation Conference in New Buffalo, Michigan.  The conference “brings together Native Nations, museums, artists, spiritual leaders, academics, lawyers, federal and state agencies, international institutions, collectors and others to work together to reactivate relationships with the past to create a world where diverse Native cultures and values are lived, protected and respected.”

It was a fantastic experience.  The Repatriation Conference is a space where I greeted so many colleagues with hugs and made new and important connections.  The speakers shared meaningful perspectives and insights and I am proud to be a part of that community.  Oh, and the sunrise ceremony by the host Pokagon Band of Potawatomi was an invigorating way to start the day!

The second conference (only one week later!) was the 2022 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums hosted by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) in Temecula, California.  I love ATALM as an experience.  I learn so much from those sessions and surrounding myself with innovate professionals, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who work so hard to prioritize Indigenous voices and perspectives.  A couple of shout-outs to my favorite presentations – Traditional plant-based methods for pest control and Your Neighborhood Museum.

At both the Repatriation Conference and ATALM, I was a presenter and shared the work that colleagues and I have done to create the Indigenous Collections Care (ICC) Working Group and Guide.  The ICC is a group of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous museum professionals and academics, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, collections staff, and NAGPRA coordinators who are working to create a Guide as a reference tool for people who interact regularly with Native American collections.  The Guide will offer scalable considerations and templates for implementation, advocacy, and creation of policies and procedures for all areas of collections stewardship.  This project has been a major focus of mine over the past couple years and I am proud to share our work with the broader community.

The third and final conference in my marathon was the New England Museum Association 2022 Annual Conference.  Now, I was admittedly a little exhausted after traveling from New Hampshire to Michigan to New Hampshire to California and back home to New Hampshire so I only attended NEMA for a day to be a speaker.  This session was slightly different and focused on demystifying decolonization/Indigenizing museum collections stewardship.  I was joined by colleagues from the Boston Children’s Museum and The Trustees of the Reservation for this conversation.  We received positive feedback from everyone and I hope it inspired someone to take a step forward in this work.

While I really did love the opportunity to connect with other professionals, I am happy to be done with conferences for the year!  And I have to admit, I am already planning my schedule for 2023…

New Box Test Results

Submitted by John Bergman-McCool

The Peabody is preparing for exciting building improvements in our collections area that will begin in April of 2023. They will include new storage furniture and an HVAC system that will control temperature and humidity. In advance of the project, we initiated a few tests to see how the environment inside our collections boxes would respond to moving around our building.

In a previous test, we sought to understand how silica gel might help mitigate fluctuating temperature and relative humidity (RH). Environmental monitors were placed in two boxes containing collections; one with a sachet containing silica gel and one without. The values were compared against a monitor that was measuring the ambient temp and RH in our collections area. The initial results of those tests are summarized in a previous blog. The silica gel appeared to bring down RH inside the box. However, once the silica gel had fully adsorbed humidity, the boxes themselves also seemed to buffer against shifting RH levels.

Silica efficacy test in boxes that contain collections. ‘Silica’ and ‘Without Silica’ boxes don’t exhibit the wide ranging RH and show a small decrease in temperature compared to the basement environment they are stored in. As we later learned, the RH is influenced by the collections inside the boxes.

During the new test, monitors were placed inside two empty boxes. One box was located on the first floor and a second box was moved in and out of our HVAC controlled storage area on a weekly basis. The data from inside the box was compared to environmental monitors logging ambient temperature and RH in the test areas. The results were enlightening and clear within the first month. Unlike the boxes containing collections, the empty boxes very closely mirror the temperature and RH of the spaces in which they are placed.

Empty box test from first floor. Test Box temperature and RH compared against first-floor monitors F1-1, F1-2, F1-3. RH and temperature in test box closely mirrors conditions outside box.
Empty box test from the second floor. Test box moved into and out of HVAC controlled storage. Test unit temperature and RH compared against test units inside (F2-6) and outside (F2-4) HVAC storage. RH in test box closely mirrors conditions outside box.

The conclusion from our previous test that the boxes were buffering the collections within from environmental changes was incorrect. The box environment was buffered by the collections inside.

Organic collection items- including bone, wood, and botanical remains- can absorb and release moisture in the air. In our collection area the ratio of air to collection items is high. Collections may influence temperature and RH in the storage area, but it might be negligible.  Inside the boxes that ratio is reversed; they hold more collections for a relatively small amount of air, which results in a microclimate. The box microclimate is influenced by the ability of collections to absorb moisture.

We now know that boxes don’t offer magical RH buffering abilities, but the empty box test did show us that they accomplish some buffering.

Looking closely at the box test that moved in and out of our HVAC storage in April 2022 shows that while temperature very quickly falls in sync with the new environment, RH may take as long as 24 hours to sync with the new conditions.

Empty Box test on second floor from April 2022. Analysis completed for highlighted areas included in tables below. Temp and RH peaks analyzed while outside HVAC storage numbered.

In addition, the test box environment has fewer peaks and valleys for RH (local maximums and local minimums), lower maximum increases and decreases in RH and temperature, and lower average increases and decreases in RH and temperature. Strangely, the test box had more temperature fluctuations while in HVAC storage. Some of the findings are included in the tables below.

While it was surprising to learn that our collections boxes don’t flatten large swings in RH and temperature, it is comforting to know that they are mitigating some of the fluctuations- not to mention protecting from other agents of deterioration like dust and light.

Analysis of Box environment against the environment outside of storage in April 2022. Outside of the HVAC storage the conditions inside the box and outside the box were similar enough to compare local maximums and minimums. Some local max. and min. values were small and have been included in larger trends in increasing and decreasing values referred to as ‘peaks’ in the following table.
Analysis of Box environment against the environment inside HVAC storage from April 2022. The local maximums and minimums did not match up for a 1:1 comparison. Maximum and average values were compared.

A New Photo of Margaret Ashley Towle

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Several years ago as we organized the Peabody Institute’s extensive photographic collection, we came across a group of black-and-white prints that had not been flattened. These images relate to Warren Moorehead’s 1920’s era excavation of the Etowah mound group in Georgia. Any attempt to unroll the images would produce a tear and threatened to damage the prints. We did some research on techniques that might help these older prints relax a little, to no avail. Help was nearby, however, in the form of the Northeast Document Conservation Center or NEDCC, one of the leading paper and media conservation organizations in the country. We’ve used them before to digitize oversized maps and to scan black-and-white negatives.

The images were returned to us after conservation recently, and we also received high resolution digital versions. Most of the photos show items from the Etowah site, but one picture was of Margaret Ashley Towle, one of the pioneering female archaeologists of the southeastern United States. The image is marked on the reverse as “Etowah Ga 1928 Miss Ashley” and has our recent catalog number 2020.3.283. It is a wonderful complement to Frank Schnell Jr’s 1999 chapter “Margaret E. Ashley: Georgia’s First Professional Archaeologist,” which appeared in Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States. She was also featured, sans photo, in Irene Gates’s Women of the Peabody blog in 2018.

Image of Margaret Ashley as a smiling young woman wearing a cloche hat and light-colored trench coat with collar turned up. She has several scarves loosely around her neck. Hazy, out of focus image of Warren Moorehead in the background.
Image of Margaret Ashley at the Etowah site, 1928. In the right background is a slightly out of focus image of archaeologist Warren Moorehead. The image has been cropped to exclude several cultural items from the site. Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology 2020.3.283.

Margaret Ashley was already well-versed in archaeology and was a skilled outdoorswoman when she worked with Warren Moorehead at the Etowah site, and went on to assist with his projects in Maine and to continue her own research in the Southeast. She also contributed to Moorehead’s Etowah Papers publication and published on her technique for illustrating pottery. According to Frank Schnell’s chapter in Grit-Tempered, Ashley married Moorehead’s main field assistant Gerald Towle in 1930. Unfortunately, Ashley’s marriage coincided with a significant hiatus to her training and research. We do know that after Towle’s death, Ashley completed her Ph.D. at Columbia with her dissertation later appearing as The Ethnobotany of Pre-Columbian Peru, number 30 of the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology (1961). Colleagues working in the Andes report that Ashley’s publication remains a significant resource. Ashley spent several decades as an unpaid research associate at the Harvard Botanical Museum where she worked with botanist Paul Mangelsdorf, who had also been encouraging Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s interests in agriculture, also around this same time.

We are delighted that we have been able to recover this early photo of Margaret Ashley Towle. If you get a chance, get a copy of Grit-Tempered–the biographical entries also include Adelaide Bullen, another pioneering archaeologist with connections to the Peabody Institute!

Repatriation and the View from the Top

Contributed by Ryan J. Wheeler

At the recent 8th annual Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) Repatriation Conference I participated in the final panel. This session, called “The View from the Top,” invited directors from a number of museums, universities, and agencies to talk about what they were doing to overcome obstacles and improve their repatriation process under the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The other institutions represented were Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, the Alabama Department of Archives & History, UC Berkeley, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the Illinois State Museum. Many of these are big university programs and still hold thousands of ancestors and funerary belongings. Since we spoke alphabetically, I went last and had a little opportunity to reflect on what others had said.

Many of the institutions had similar challenges and a variety of solutions. Several of the presenters mentioned that the law privileges museum decision-making, creating an imbalance. To counter this greater import was now given to Indigenous information, like oral history or expert opinion. Indigenous activism, often on campus, had focused attention on the need for increased engagement and compliance with NAGPRA. In California, state legislation had served this role. Most of the leaders spoke about listening and learning from Indigenous members of their campus communities and from those Tribal representatives leading repatriation efforts. One of the big topics that garnered audience interest was moratoriums on both research and acceptance of collections that might include ancestors or other cultural items subject to NAGPRA. I shared that we had not enacted moratoriums, but rather had modified our collections policies to allow for research only after consultation with culturally and geographically affiliated Tribes. And, that this applied to all of our collections, noting that it was difficult if not impossible to distinguish between NAGPRA and Not-NAGPRA collections outside of consultation with Tribes.

The Peabody also has not enacted a moratorium on accepting collections, largely because we recognize that this might be the only pathway to repatriation for some ancestors and cultural items. It was also our practice when I worked in Florida—we had laws and rules in place that allowed our state agency to accept ancestral remains for the purpose of repatriation. Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives & History, shared in the session that they had done something similar recently. Several audience members pointed out concerns about such transfers, noting a lack of trust, and also suggested that donors be directed to Tribes. Being in touch with Tribes when these situations arise is critical, but direct transfers might not always be possible. In fact, the Peabody has had a long history of accepting collections with ancestral remains and cultural items for the purpose of repatriation. In some cases, these transfers have reunited split or shared collections, while others have supported smaller museums or historical societies that lack repatriation expertise, and others have seen ancestors and cultural items move out of private hands where they could be sold or discarded.

In reflecting on this discussion since the conference, I’ve thought a couple of things. Mainly, that what is great about NAGPRA is also what is awful. The law and rule encourage creative solutions, but in order to do that there exist small gaps or interstices where institutions can lean one way or the other. Tribal perspectives and expertise can be given greater weight in determining affiliation, or the law can be interpreted very strictly, creating situations that impede repatriation. Also, there is no “one size fits all;” what works for the Peabody is not going to work elsewhere. I think too that the current focus on moratoriums is unfortunate, though I certainly understand that response. There has been too long a time when culturally unaffiliated ancestral remains and cultural items could be subjected to destructive testing or other forms of research without Tribal consent. I worry, however, that moratoriums are not really policies and do not encourage collaboration between institutions and potentially foreclose transfers that could help speed repatriation. Maybe this comes from my time in public service in Florida, but I believe museums have a responsibility not to just focus on their own NAGPRA compliance, but to support each other for the collective good.

Drawing Together: Comics and the Return of Museum Collections to White Earth Nation

Contributed by Marla Taylor

If you don’t know about the NAGPRA Comics yet, you really should take the time to check them out.

NAGPRA Comics is a community- based, collaboratively produced comic series that tells true stories about repatriation from tribal perspectives. They work with Native American communities to share their experiences with the law, from their point of view. This is an  applied/educational comic series, so it also explains what the law is and how it works. [excerpt from]

These comics are amazing teaching tools to introduce students, and members of the public, to the issues surrounding NAGPRA and repatriation. The comics focus on the perspectives of the tribal communities, highlighting their thoughts and experiences. I really love them and regularly recommend them to anyone interested in learning about NAGPRA – so go check it out!

The NAGPRA Comics team is working on several more issues and the Peabody Institute is proud to be a contributor to one upcoming issue.

In 2017, the Peabody Institute repatriated a birch bark scroll and other items of cultural patrimony back to the White Earth Nation of Minnesota. Those items left the reservation in 1909 with Warren K. Moorehead. Moorehead went to White Earth in his capacity as a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, charged with investigating non-Natives’ rampant land and resource theft and the consequences of disposition, disease, and hunger. Investigations by the Minnesota attorney general and Congress, using the testimony that Moorehead and his team collected, led to the restoration of some lands and resources.

The story in the upcoming comic is complex and rich. We are honored to be a small part of this meaningful project.

Jen Shannon, Program Manager and Curator at the National Museum of the American Indian and member of the NAGPRA Comics team, wrote a fantastic blog for the Ohio History Connection exploring the story and how it will be told in the comic. Her blog includes a glimpse of some draft pages. Take a look for yourself!

You can learn more about our work with White Earth Nation here and here.

Sample draft page of NAGPRA Comics. Courtesy of artist John Swogger.

Listen If You Dare! The Perfect Podcast List for the Spooky Season

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

It’s almost Halloween, so get in the spirit by checking out our list of the best spooky podcasts you definitely don’t want to listen to alone in the dark. From haunted places to haunting history, these podcasts will have you on the edge of your seat or hiding under the covers. Happy haunts and happy listening this Halloween!

#1 Spooked

Another season of Spooked has RISEN… cross over (if you dare) into the world of the unexplained, listening to true-life supernatural stories, told first-hand by people who can barely believe it happened themselves. This podcast challenges skeptics of the supernatural, daring listeners to confront the unknown. Be afraid.

#2 Dark House

For true crime fans who also love a good ghost story, Dark House features America’s most notorious homes. From infamous crime scenes to abandoned mansions, hosts and House Beautiful editors Hadley Mendelsohn and Alyssa Fiorentino unpack the twisted history of a different house in each episode. They research who lived (and died) there and share the creepy stories that suggest their spirits never left.

#3 The No Sleep Podcast

Too afraid to listen to true-crime podcasts because they’re all about things that actually happened? Give this podcast a try. Each episode will have you feeling like you are telling spooky stories around a virtual campfire. Run, don’t walk!

#4 Haunted Road

Amy Bruni, star of the hit TV shows Kindred Spirits and Ghost Hunters, takes listeners on a chilling guided tour through some of the most haunted locations in America with the help of expert paranormal investigators who have actually been there. Do you have chills yet?

#5 Lore

This podcast is about dark historical events that blur the lines between history and lore. Lore explores the mysterious creatures, tragic events, and unusual places that fill the pages of our history… sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.

#6 American Shadows

Join host Lauren Vogelbaum as she spans two centuries of omitted lore from our country’s history books. This show focuses on the darker stories from American history: the people, places, and things that are hidden and forgotten in the shadows. From better-known tales like the conspiracy to steal Lincoln’s body, to less-known stories, like the rainmaker who flooded San Diego. American Shadows explores the hidden tales relegated to the dusty corners of US history, one journey at a time.

#7 Unobscured

History is full of stories we think we know. They are old and dark, but time has robbed us of perspective and clarity. They’ve become obscured and misunderstood. Which is why this series exists: to dig deep and shed light on some of history’s darkest moments. To help us better understand where we’ve come from. To make it Unobscured. Each season pairs narrative storytelling from Aaron Mahnke, creator of the hit podcast Lore, with prominent historian interviews. Check out Season 1 about the Salem Witch Trials. You may even find an interview with a familiar friend of the Peabody, Emerson Baker, Phillips Academy alum, history professor at Salem State University, and author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.

#8 Midnight Library

Not just another podcast show, but a place you can go. Climb the stairs of this strange, Victorian mansion and curl up by the grand fireplace to hear tales of times long ago. Be transported through time to learn about ancient customs and mysterious happenings all from the comfort of the Midnight Library. Be sure to stay in the cordoned off areas, and you’ll be fine…

Looking for a spooky podcast for kids? Check out the podcast – Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest

Designed for kids – Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest is a wildly enchanting fairy tale podcast, featuring classic fairy tales that bring to life a world full of curious creatures and mischievous foes. Created in partnership with bestselling children’s book author, Adam Gidwitz, each episode retells a tale to a group of inquisitive kids, who anticipate plot twists, crack jokes, and share their own perspectives on these very Grimm tales. Another unique feature to this children’s podcast is each episode is rated as “Grimm,” “Grimmer,” or “Grimmest.”

For more haunted listening, check out these honorable mentions.

Tamaulipas Maize

Excavation profile with arrows indicating the location of Maize, La Perra Cave, Sierra de Tamaulipas.

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

This blog represents the thirteenth entry in a blog series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Institute through objects in our collection. 

If you travel on state routes through the Northeast this time of year, you will likely witness a continuous stream of hand-painted signs advertising sweet corn. On a recent road trip through Maine, the oft-repeating signs got me thinking about all the places I’ve seen corn cultivated: Washington State, Arizona, the Midwest cornbelt and New England. A quick search on the internet reveals that modern corn varieties can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3-11 (that’s just about everywhere!). Currently corn is an important crop for many economies across the globe (map of world corn production).

With corn seemingly grown nearly everywhere, you may wonder when and where did it first originate? This question has been the subject of debate among scientists for more than a century. Richard “Scotty” MacNeish, former director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology and influential twentieth century archaeologist, played an important role in untangling maize’s history of domestication.

While a doctoral candidate in 1945, MacNeish was sent to Texas and northern Mexico to look for evidence supporting the theory that Mesoamerican migration into North America led to the development of mound building cultures. MacNeish found no link, but he did locate a series ruins, campsites, and dry caves that had the potential for long sequences of human occupation in Tamaulipas, a state in northern Mexico.

In 1948, MacNeish returned for a field season that included the excavation of three cave sites in the Sierra de Tamaulipas. The caves housed a surprising amount of very well preserved botanical remains. During the closing moment of the excavation in Tamaulipas, the crew had all but closed up shop and shipped off their specimens and equipment when three small maize (corn) cobs were recovered from La Perra cave. The excavations in Tamaulipas pushed the age of maize cultivation back to 2,500 BC. The discovery of what was then the earliest evidence of domestication in the Americas would shape the direction of MacNeish’s archaeological research.

Pre Nal-Tel maize fragment from La Perra Cave, Sierra de Tamaulipas.

A little over a decade later, spurred by colleagues in botany, MacNeish would search farther south for earlier evidence of maize cultivation. In 1961, after years of survey in Central America and southern Mexico, MacNeish found promising dry caves in the Tehuacán valley of Mexico. There he led a multidisciplinary team in the excavation of six cave sites. Among the many discoveries were maize remains recovered from layers dating to 4,700 BC. Tehuacán was theorized as the ancient seat of maize domestication.

Radiocarbon dating techniques utilized by MacNeish in Tamaulipas and Tehuacán required large amounts of carbon, frequently charcoal, that would be destroyed during the dating process. The resulting age was then assigned to artifacts (corn, stone tools, bone, etc.) that were found in the same layer as the charcoal. Developments in radiocarbon made in the 1980s meant that much smaller samples were required, reducing the chance that sampled artifacts would be completely destroyed. When this direct method was applied to maize from Tehuacán and squash from Tamaulipas, the results were up to 2,500 years younger than previously thought.

MacNeish’s comments in the margins of Bruce Smith’s 1995 book The Emergence of Agriculture.

The revisions resulted in prickly disputes about the age of domestication in the Americas. Eventually the dust up resulting from the new dating technique settled, due in part to new dates obtained from squash seeds that rooted domestication to an earlier date of 8,000 BC in Mexico.

MacNeish remained resolute that the dates he derived were accurate up until he passed in 2001. In 2012, Archaeologists returned to the cave sites in the Tehuacán Valley in search of maize remains. The team recovered new maize samples that corroborated the younger age for Tehuacán maize.

Recent research within the fields of microbiology and DNA have focused on the teosinte plant and the Balsas River as the probable ancestor and location for earliest cultivation of maize. Analysis of the DNA suggests that the plant was cultivated as early as 7,000 BC.

The fact that MacNeish did not locate the cradle of corn, shouldn’t take anything away from the massive effort he and his colleagues undertook during their search. As for the Tamaulipas maize, MacNeish himself credits his project in Tamaulipas for planting the seeds that would develop into the multidisciplinary approach he would adopt for much of his subsequent career.

Behind the Photograph: “A Good Maine Dinner”

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Warren K. Moorehead and crew in camp, Penobscot River, Maine, 1912. Photograph by Charles A. Perkins. Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, Photograph Collection

Ever wonder what lies behind a photograph? Beyond the simple description scrawled on the back of each image? The Peabody collection contains more than 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and documents. The Peabody’s photograph collection, specifically, is extensive and contains many interesting, yet untold stories. To bring these stories and photographs to light, we would like to share them with YOU, fellow readers, in our blog series, Behind the Photograph. You can find these stories using our BehindThePhoto tag on our blog.

The year is 1912, the site is an expedition campsite located along the Penobscot River in Maine. On the right a crew member sits on the ground with his back to the camera, legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, balancing his dinner on his lap. Near the tent we see three individuals close together. One sitting through the smoky haze of the campfire, another standing with his plate in his hands – last to get his meal or maybe in line for seconds? An apron on the third individual identifies the camp cook. To the left two individuals sit on tree stumps with dinner plates on their laps, enjoying “a good Maine dinner,” as the title of this photograph describes. The individual in black, farthest to the left, is none other than Warren K. Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator and Peabody director from 1924 to 1938.

Warren K. Moorehead and Maine Expeditions

During this decade, Maine was a popular destination for archaeological field projects sponsored by the Peabody (known then as the Archaeology Department at Phillips Academy Andover.) Warren K. Moorehead’s first expedition to Maine was organized in 1912. The camping image above was taken along the Penobscot River during this expedition. This venture was so successful that Moorehead sent both survey and excavation crews to Maine each summer for the next three years. During this period, crews surveyed a large portion of Maine’s rivers and excavated dozens of sites. Maine remained the primary destination for the Peabody’s field projects for the remainder of this decade. Although Moorehead’s archaeological interests were focused elsewhere after 1920, he continued to send crews to Maine as late as 1926.

Glass Plate Negative

Much of the Peabody photographic collection is fragile. The Maine expeditions took place at a time when photography, as well as archaeology, was undergoing radical change. With the introduction of smaller and less expensive film cameras, the large and cumbersome view cameras with glass plate negatives were quickly replaced. This transition is reflected in the Moorehead photographic collection.

This image is one of 130 glass plate negatives in the Moorehead photographic collection at the Peabody. Most of these glass plate negatives (including this image) are 5 x 7” in size and appear to have been taken with a Rochester Optical Company, New Model (1890) view camera.  There are a few larger negatives in the Peabody’s photographic collection that are about 6 x 8” in size that were taken with an Improved Model Seneca view camera (1906). The Seneca view camera is still located at the Peabody to this day!

1906 Improved Model Seneca view camera at the Peabody

For further reading about Warren K. Moorehead and his archaeological excavations in Maine check out Warren K. Moorehead’s text, The Archaeology of Maine.

Petroglyph National Monument

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

This summer included a family vacation to parts of Arizona and New Mexico. That meant a drive and some short hikes in Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, as well as time in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and points in between. Unfortunately, COVID preempted our attendance at the Santa Fe Indian Market, but we are already planning a short visit next summer!

Image of human hand petroglyphs carved on dark volcanic rock at Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico.
Petroglyphs at Piedras Marcados Canyon, part of Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo by Ryan Wheeler, April 12, 2019.

Petroglyph National Monument is one of the places that I was looking forward to revisiting with my family. Most of the petroglyphs here were made by Native Americans, but there are some added by the Spanish, cowboys, or other visitors. I had a chance to make a visit during the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting in 2019, but at that time I had only went to the interpretive center (no actual petroglyphs there, but a great introductory film) and one of the canyons with petroglyphs—Piedras Marcadas, literally “marked stones.” According to the National Park Service, there are about 400 petroglyphs visible at Piedras Marcadas, but that’s only one of three separate locales within the monument. What struck me most during that 2019 visit was the proximity to suburban Albuquerque. The canyon is literally in the backyard of a residential neighborhood! What we learned during our recent visit was that community activism in the 1980s had helped save the petroglyphs and create the monument in 1990—not all that long ago.

View of Albuquerque from Boca Negra Canyon, August 2022.

This summer we decided to visit Rinconada Canyon, which is only about a mile from the Petroglyph National Monument interpretive center. The park service says you can see about 300 petroglyphs at Rinconada. Despite being right off Unser Boulevard, this site doesn’t have a residential development right next door, so it feels a little bit wilder. The loop trail took us past the canyon wall, which is littered with volcanic boulders. The boulders have a desert varnish of blacks and dark browns, making a good surface for the inscribed petroglyphs that expose the lighter colored rock below the surface. One of the most interesting parts of the monument is the decision not to interpret the meanings of the glyphs, though you can learn a little about this from Native Americans interviewed in the interpretive center film. We went early enough that we didn’t get baked.

Macaw and geometric petroglyphs, Boca Negra Canyon, August 2022.

On a bit of a whim, we decided to visit Boca Negra Canyon, the third petroglyph site in the monument. While apparently only having 100 or so petroglyphs that can be viewed by visitors, this was really the most spectacular of the three locales. At Boca Negra you climb up the mesa and really have an opportunity to get close to the petroglyphs. It’s a little more up and down of a hike, but worth it for the views and the chance to see the petroglyphs close up. The geology of the area is fascinating too. The inscribed boulders are the product of a volcanic eruption around 130,000 years ago. Magma poured out of vents and fissures in the area, creating a sheet of basaltic rock over the softer Santa Fe Formation. The softer sediments on which the volcanic rocks were deposited slowly eroded away, leaving the broken boulders.

Petroglyphs at Rinconada Canyon, August 2022.

The petroglyphs at all three monument locations were made by ancestors of the modern Pueblo people, dating between 400 and 700 years ago, though some are much older. The petroglyphs have been dated based on weathering, but also variations in style and content. There are birds, insects, animals, hands, humanoids, spirals, and other geometric forms. The petroglyphs remain culturally significant to Pueblo people and other Native Americans in the region.