Inside the Peabody Museum: April 2010

Friendship and Equality: Got the Picture?

proclamation board


The year is 1830 and relations are poor between native Aborigines and European colonists in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Martial law has been declared for more than a year, following attacks by Aboriginal people against aggressive settlement. How can the government reduce the tensions?

George Frankland, the Surveyor General of the colony, and also a linguist and artist, had an idea. He conceived this proclamation board as an attempt to communicate with Aboriginal people and convey the “real government attitude toward them.” He sketched scenes showing Aboriginal-European friendship and equality under British law. The boards were reproduced and fastened to trees, after the Aboriginal custom of drawing on the bark of trees. However, it is possible that the Aboriginal people did not understand the proclamation boards, and the effort failed completely. The board, one of only a few remaining in the world, is on display in the Museum Lobby.

Behind the Scenes: Translating Encounters Exhibition

installing astrolabeWeeks before the Exhibitions crew started to install the upcoming Translating Encounters exhibition, Conservator Scott Fulton began preparing the display cases. The fourth floor, long dedicated to the cultures of Oceania, was undergoing a transformation to welcome the special exhibition. The wood and glass Victorian cases will house a 17th-century Persian astrolabe from the History of Science department, books from Houghton Library, as well as a variety of wood, stone, leather, and metal objects from the Peabody’s own collections. Each case needed special treatment before the objects could be installed, including adjusting the humidity inside.

“Organic objects such as wood, paper, ivory, etc. absorb and release moisture. The challenge is that the books need some humidity, while the metal astrolabe, which doesn’t absorb or release moisture, needs a dry environment to prevent corrosion,” says Fulton, “but they all share the same air inside the case.” As a conservator, he’s familiar with the challenge of displaying multiple materials in a single case. The trick is to control the climate inside the case so it doesn’t damage any objects. “For example, too little humidity can cause wood to split and crack, while too much can cause swelling of glue joins, mold growth, or corrosion of metals.”

The process takes patience. First, Fulton hid ventilated containers of silica gel (the same white granulated desiccant packed with new cameras) under the wood stands for the objects inside the cases. Over a period of two and half weeks, Fulton measured the relative humidity inside the cases, while the gel worked its magic. “The stands themselves are dry,” he says, “and they remove some of the humidity.” For the astrolabe, the Exhibitions staff had prepared a small Plexiglas case-within-a-case. Fulton treated some of the silica gel to be more absorbent, then sewed it into a teabag-like pouch, and placed the pouch under the astrolabe’s stand.

Finally, Fulton determined the silica gel and the stands had absorbed enough moisture to be ready for the books and other objects. “Organic materials like these require a buffered environment,” Fulton says. “We create safe microenvironments inside the cases for all sensitive artifacts.”

Translating Encounters: Travel and Transformation in the Early Seventeenth Century opens Thursday March 25, with a reception from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. Expect to see the two student curators and their fellow students from the Travel and Transformation class touring the new gallery installation.

Museum Welcomes Archives from Landmark Archaeological Project in Peru

chan chan

See the related lecture in April.

Since January, Peabody Museum staff and students have been unwrapping and accessioning hundreds of maps, photographs, slides, field notes, and more from an important archaeological project with a Peabody Museum past.

“The Chan Chan—Moche Valley Archaeological Project (CCMVP) was a landmark research program in the history of New World Archaeology,” says Jeffrey Quilter, deputy director of curatorial affairs. “It’s part of a long tradition of research in Peru and neighboring regions by Harvard University.”

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, Chan Chan is generally agreed to have been the capital of the Kingdom of Chimor, also known as the Chimu archaeological culture, which was one of the largest states or empires in Peru immediately before the rise of the Inkas.

Dr. Michael E. Moseley directed the CCMVP between 1969 and 1975. He had recently received his doctorate in the Department of Anthropology and he carried out the research in Peru as an Assistant Curator (1969–1973) and Associate Curator. The project included a great many Harvard graduate students and students and scholars from other universities, many of whom have become leading scholars in Andean archaeology.

The focus of the CCMVP was on the large adobe architectural complex of Chan Chan in the north coast Moche Valley of Peru. The earliest occupation of Chimu Chan Chan dates to about 850 C.E. with growth and expansion until 1470 when it succumbed to Inka armies. The site consists of archaeological remains that cover between ten and twenty square kilometers, with a core area of about six square kilometers.

The dry desert conditions of the Peruvian coast have preserved perishable artifacts, such as textiles and wooden objects, as well as ceramics. Most impressive of all, however, are ten large compounds, known as ciudadelas, believed to have been the palaces and subsequent mausoleums of ten successive Chimu monarchs. Many of the ciudadelas still retain perimeter walls over 100 meters long and 10 meters high with internal subdivisions that likely divided elite residential (and burial) areas from audience chambers, storage facilities, food preparation areas, and public spaces.

Because of its impressive scale, Chan Chan has been known to westerners since the Spanish arrived in the region in the 1530s. Unfortunately, its impressiveness attracted severe looting by treasure seekers over the centuries. Peruvian authorities have greatly reduced the looting by posting guards.

Although the ruins had been sketched, drawn, and mapped by many visitors, the CCMVP was the first project to accurately map “downtown” Chan Chan, using the latest technology of the times, including large aerial photographs taken by various national and international agencies. The project also gathered information on many other nearby locales, including the earlier site complex of Huacas de Moche and its large Mochica-era (ca. 100 – 800 C.E.) adobe pyramids of Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol.

The large-scale maps and aerial photographs will be important research documents for years to come. The population in the forty years since the CCMVP has grown and spread out from the nearby regional center of the city of Trujillo, so these earlier documents provide views of sites now lost to contemporary buildings. The results of the CCMVP research were published in many articles and books, but the basic data and documents in the archive can still provide essential information as new research projects develop, including current research being conducted by Peruvian archaeologists at Chan Chan as well as research in the nearby Chicama Valley, also covered in the CCMVP, such as being carried out by Harvard Department of Anthropology graduate student Michele L. Koons and Dr. Quilter.

Dr. Moseley, now at the University of Florida, Gainesville, will be visiting the campus
in April to present a lecture and to work with Museum personnel in reviewing archive materials.

Many Peabody staff and Anthropology Department members have been instrumental
in bringing the archives to the Peabody. These include Michele Koons who went to the University of Florida to help pack and ship the materials and Peabody Collections staff, registrar, and archivists. Research Associate Sarah Quilter has been working with Harvard College undergraduate Ari Caramanica (’10) in the initial unwrapping, accounting, and cataloguing of the materials. Caramanica took part in the 2009 Harvard Summer School Field School in Peru with Dr. Quilter. Working with the Chan Chan materials is “breathtaking,” she says. “We’ve been going through the maps and photos that Michael Moseley used to get coordinates and lay out his site plans. And I have a special appreciation for the aerial photos. They offer a completely different perspective; they help you get into the minds of the builders.”

Once the documents have been accessioned, the Peabody will seek funds to digitize important documents and make them easily accessible via the Museum website. The Museum will be working cooperatively with Peruvian scholars and institutions to make materials accessible in both English and Spanish, continuing a long tradition of cutting-edge research and partnerships to share its resources.

Educators, Pencil in the Date: Thursday April 22, 2010
11:00 am-2:00 pm

Educators' Open House at the Peabody MuseumDo you know an educator who is curious about the Native North American, Maya, and other social science programs offered to K-12 groups at the Peabody Museum? Want to find out more about our new Aztec program currently in development? Know a colleague you would like to introduce to the programs at the Peabody Museum? Here is a great opportunity!

The Peabody Museum invites educators for a special vacation-week day at the museum. FREE admission for educators, with school or program ID, and their immediate families (limit 6 people) includes:

* Visit the Education Classroom and see the space groups can reserve for lunch
* Learn about curriculum-based K-12 programs, on-line resources, and other offerings that connect teachers and students to some of the finest cultural collections in the United States
* Explore three floors of galleries with exhibitions on Native North America, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands
* Enjoy program demonstrations, activity tables, and light refreshments
* Take away FREE sample projects and resources you can use with your students
* Enter for a chance to win a FREE social science program for your class

To attend the FREE open house:
RSVP by Thursday April 15 to Sheila Sibley, Education Manager, at 617-495-2916 or


See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.


March 25
5–7 pm

Exhibition Opening: Translating Encounters: Travel and Transformation in the Early Seventeenth Century


April 8
5:30 pm

Geological Lecture Hall
Gordon R. Willey Lecture: "Four Thousand Years Ago in Coastal Peru: America's First Civilization?"
Michael Moseley, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of Florida


April 19
2–6 pm

 Peabody Museum at the Bookish Ball, Harvard Coop


April 24
10 am or 2 pm

Family Program: Conservation Clues! Choice of two times, reservations required: call 617-495-2916. Free with Museum admission.


April 29
5–7 pm

Exhibition Opening: Spying on the Past: Declassified Satellite Images and Archaeology



Did you miss Dr. Lawrence Guy Straus’ lecture “Hunters and Artists of Late Ice Age Europe: The Magdalenian World”? Download the audio (mp3).