Historical Maps, Architectural Drawings, & Archaeological Site Plans

Collection History

storage prior to 2007

Storage conditions prior to 2007. 

The Peabody Museum’s collection of historic maps dates back to the 1840s and is associated with the Museum’s object collections and Harvard’s Department of Anthropology. These archival documents reflect the Museum’s 145-year history of anthropological fieldwork. The collection of hand-painted drawings and site plans were created by illustrators, archaeologists, university faculty, and students. Notable archaeologists represented through these documents include Samuel K. Lothrop (South and Central America), Charles Willoughby (Hamilton County, Ohio), Ernest Volk (Delaware), John O. Brew (Awatovi, Arizona), and Alfred V. Kidder (Pucara, Peru). Some illustrators took part in other aspects of archaeological excavation. Artists and architects such as Jean Charlot, Ann A. Morris, Antonio F. Tejeda, Adela Breton, and Penrose Davis as well as number of prominent Mayanists including Sylvanus G. Morley, Gustav Stromsvik, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, and Ian Graham contributed to the Museum’s important archaeological site representations. The collection is particularly strong in areas of North, Central, and South America and continues to grow with new donations and acquisitions.

Map room with new cabinetry

New storage area.

Collection Condition and Preservation:

From the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the Peabody’s oversized historic maps and field drawings were stored in tightly packed non-archival metal flat files or in makeshift acidic cardboard boxes with minimal arrangement and description. This situation hindered research, teaching, and public use. These items were stored as they were originally received: rolled, folded, and sometimes with soiling from actual field work. Documents had sustained various levels of deterioration and damage including tears, losses, distortions, and creases, insect or mold damage, excessive soot soiling from interior heating, staining, and paper brittleness. The vast majority were not cataloged. Over the last 25 years, several concerted efforts by Museum staff contributed to improved organization and preservation. To realize safe and full access and preservation for these documents, additional funds, staff and a proper work space were needed. A major limitation was removed in 2007 with the re-purposing of a room to serve as the new enlarged research and storage room for the map collection, retrofitted with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) along with humidity control. To grapple with the other issues, museum archivists and conservators identified the Institute of Museum and Library Services as a potential funding source. A grant proposal was submitted and the Museum was pleased to learn in 2009 that it was awarded $150,000 to implement condition assessment, conservation stabilization, and preservation re-storage for its large map and site plans collection.

   conservator cleaning a document

Assistant Meg Rampton cleans soiled paper-based documents.


Project Results

The Archives record-keeping for this project included applying a number to each document and creating a database record in its collections management database (The Museum System[TMS]) prior to conducting conservation treatment work. More than 5,204 new database records were created; 4,449 individual items were conserved; 6,691 were re-housed with a total of 6,959 processed documents. Conservators examined each document, recorded condition notes, cleaned, humidified and flattened them as needed, completed tear repairs and rehoused them in paper-based archival-quality folders. One benefit of flattening the majority of rolled materials was to facilitate safe access and to utilize available drawer storage efficiently in the new museum-quality cabinets. The project additionally met our goal to provide professional education and work-related opportunities for several students. The grant supported the professional development of two conservation interns and one archives summer intern, who participated in condition reporting, treatment, and re-housing activities and learned how to identify printing and image reproduction processes and correctly store different types of media for long-term preservation.

curators and conservators planning an exhibition of maya drawings

Museum and Anthropology Department staff research and planning for a teaching exhibit featuring recently humidified and conserved hand-painted drawings of Maya monuments by Ann A. Morris.

Concluding Remarks

Archaeological records are fundamental to understanding the objects excavated and for ongoing archaeological and contemporary research so it is imperative that these fragile paper-based materials receive the necessary preservation. The Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) website provides guidelines for anthropological record preservation. For further information on the Peabody Museum’s preservation project, please see the article in Collections: A Journal of Museum and Archives Professionals (volume 7 number 3 Summer 2011).