Inside the Peabody Museum: July 2011

A Tiny Hand-Loomed American Flag

miniature Navajo American flag weaverThis miniature Navajo weaver appears to have nearly completed her American flag. Chances are, it would have been for sale, as most Navajo weavers produce their wares for market rather than personal use. She's seated on a sheepskin in front of her wooden loom. A tiny infant (on the right) keeps her company, wrapped in a colorful patterned cloth. (For more views, see the Peabody Museum on Flickr.)

The weaver wears a tan satin skirt and red velvet blouse. Her hair is in a traditional knot and she is adorned with a beaded necklace, earrings, and hair ornaments.

The miniature was collected sometime in the 1980s by Harvard graduate William Wright, who first went to New Mexico in the 1950s as a worker at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Even after moving to Ohio, he journeyed to New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, eventually amassing an extensive collection of Southwestern pottery, textiles, baskets, and jewelry. Wright left his collection to Harvard in 1993.

Most Popular Request

Sudbury Bow

Of all the objects in the Peabody Museum collections, one that attracts a lot of attention from researchers is the Sudbury bow.

The long bow is made of hickory, stands over 5 feet high, and bears this inscription: "The bow was taken from an Indian in Sudbury, Masstts A,D, 1660 by William Goodnough, who shot the Indian while he was ransacking his house for plunder." It's one of the oldest North American bows still in existence, probably made by an Algonquian Indian of the Northeast.

According to the exhibition catalog Gifts of the Forest by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, “For the Native artist, the creation of the item involves an awareness of the gift of life. Trees are selected with reverence and compassion for their sacrifice. The artist acknowledges this sacrifice by leaving a gift, often tobacco, for the spirit of the tree. In the words of [Mohawk] artist Joel Monture, “The traditional artist who skins a deer, cuts a tree, or digs clay comes closer to life and earth through active, rather than passive, participation with the realization that all things come from and eventually return to earth.’”

"It's a treasure," enthuses David Rue, an archaeologist based near State College Pennsylvania who has crafted over 100 bows in the past decade. "There are so few remaining bows used by Native Americans, especially in the whole eastern half of the country, what we call the eastern woodland region." Rue, like many of the researchers inquiring about the Sudbury bow, was interested in the precise dimensions of its graceful design.

"There are an amazing number of replicators out there, including beadworkers and basketmakers." says Peabody Museum Curatorial Associate Susan Haskell. "Most bowmakers want precise measurements for the length, the grip, the knocks, and so on." Haskell frequently sends the Sudbury bow dimensions to bowmakers.

According to The Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Volume 3, this bow design "would be highly efficient, draw smoothly, and release with virtually shockless comfort." Bows of this type were used well into the 20th century.

The Sudbury bow is currently awaiting re-installation in the Peabody Museum. For a closer look, click the picture link above.

Wonders of Writing Program

writing cuneiform on a clay tablet

Imagine yourself as a cuneiform scribe in ancient Mesopotamia, carefully incising on a soft clay tablet with a stylus. Back then, scribes recorded everything from the exploits of kings to the delivery of grain and goats. Or picture yourself as a Maya scribe, painting complex signs on bark paper.

The world of ancient writing comes to life with cuneiform, Maya glyphs and Aztec codex writing in July's Third Saturday family program, Wonders of Writing (July 16). "The make-your-own-codex activity allows kids to really immerse themselves in the details they see in the original sources," says Museum Educator Andrew Majewski. "Whether they select some glyphs or create their own images for their codices, they're all paying close attention to detail."

Younger children may enjoy the drawing station, where they can make colorful rubbings of the Maya glyphs for "bat," "jaguar," and "crocodile." Museum interpreters will help visitors learn the basics of Sumerian cuneiform, Maya, and Aztec writing with hands-on artifacts.

"We discovered that writing on the clay tablets is kind of irresistible," added Majewski. "We see both kids and adults totally absorbed in trying the art of cuneiform."


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July 16

12-4 pm

Family Program

Family Fun Saturday Wonders of Writing

Free with Peabody Museum admission.


August 20

12-4 pm


Family Program

Family Fun Saturday Trash Tales

Free with Peabody Museum admission.