Inside the Peabody Museum: September 2013


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Amazing Archaeology at Harvard and More Fall Programs

Conserving Alaska Native Kayaks: What We Learned

Coming up at the Peabody


Fall Programs: Amazing Archaeology at Harvard and More

Pyramids of Giza in 3D

Watch a short video about a 3D view of the Giza pyramids, part of Amazing Archaeology at Harvard October 5.

Put on a pair 3-D glasses and enjoy a comfortable seated tour of Giza's famed pyramids; talk with Harvard archaeologists; or try your hand at archaeological illustration, sketching Maya glyphs in the Peabody galleries. It's all part of Amazing Archaeology at Harvard. On Saturday, October 5, the Peabody Museum and the Harvard Semitic Museum partner to offer an activity-filled afternoon of archaeology based on research at Harvard.

Amazing Archaeology at Harvard is one of over 30 programs, events, and classes in the new Harvard Museums of Science and Culture (HMSC) Fall 2013 Program guide, which details public offerings from the four HMSC museums: the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Harvard Semitic Museum, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Other highlights include a tour of campus beehives--yes, Harvard has beehives--led by Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers, (part of Bee Day on Tuesday, September 10), a screening of the landmark documentary Dead Birds and the premiere of Dead Birds Reencountered with filmmaker Robert Gardner, (part of the Ethnographic Film Series at the Harvard Film Archive in October). and many free public talks by leading scholars.

Two talks in September are of special interest: in the first, “Harvard: The Cradle of American Anthropology," author, anthropologist, and educator David Browman will bring the history of anthropology at Harvard (including the Peabody Museum) to life. The second talk, “The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease,” features Harvard's Daniel Lieberman—best known for his research on evolution and barefoot running—on the evolutionary story of the human body, examining significant transformations that the body has made over the millennia. See the links below for more information on these Peabody events or download the guide for information on all HMSC fall public programs.

Preregistration is required for some events; please see the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture Fall 2013 Program Guide for details.

Conserving Alaska Native Kayaks: What We Learned

alutiiq consultants

Alutiiq consultants reviewing several kayak models. Left to right: Susan Malutin, Alfred Naumoff, Sven Haakanson.

When the project to conserve over 100 Alaska Native objects began in 2011, Peabody Museum conservators could only make an educated guess about some of the materials and methods used to construct a rare single-hole Alutiiq kayak. For two years, conservators and curators collaborated with Alutiiq consultants—a traditional kayak-maker, a skin-sewer, and a museum director—and they've learned a great deal resulting in improved preservation and interpretation of the objects, many of them old and rare examples of their type.

"The Alutiiq consultants wanted to identify the materials of the kayak’s skin covering and stitching material," said conservator T. Rose Holdcraft. "They thought the sinew stitching on the oldest kayak might have been from a porpoise, whale, sea lion, bear, or caribou; we had it analyzed and discovered it was likely from humpback whale, while the skin covering and straps were likely to be from a common (harbor) seal."

Collecting pinhead-sized samples, Peabody Museum conservators worked with Harvard University labs (primarily Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Mammalogy Department) and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Scientific Research Laboratory to characterize and/or determine the constituents and materials of nearly 50 objects. Tests prioritized objects of strong interest to the Alaska Native collaborators, including harpoons, gut skin parkas, drums, and kayak models.

The kayaks had tears in their skin coverings, and conservators needed to stabilize them. To find the best reinforcements and adhesives, they first tested several different adhesive systems on various skin and other organic materials. "As the skins were oiled for use in the water," said Holdcraft, "the skin materials have an oily residue on their surfaces. We therefore had to look for proper adhesives that would work effectively." They settled on Japanese mulberry paper as a reinforcement.

New understandings emerged throughout the collaboration. As the team began to look together at the single-person Alutiiq kayak, new interpretations of its story developed. The kayak may have belonged to a person who was both a warrior and a whaler. The team had already identified hunting tools in the collection that likely belonged to the kayak. They shared their knowledge about indigenous perspectives on whale hunting, and had taken a close look at the hair deliberately sewn into the seams of the kayak’s skin cover. Warriors and whalers are known to have incorporated symbols of power—such as hair—into their tools, including their kayaks. One of the consultants recognized that the craft would have been built-to-size for the warrior/whaler, bringing to light a sense of the person whose life depended on the kayak.

From here the team will gather thoughts about the project’s results and set about disseminating their conclusions in scholarly and public settings.

"It has been a really wonderful collaboration," Sven Haakanson, until recently the executive director of the Alutiiq Museum, told the team during a visit to the Peabody. "This isn’t just a 'one-time come-and-visit-and-goodbye.' It’s going to be a long-term exchange of having your expertise help our museum, but also help our community bring back something that nearly disappeared in our culture—simple kayak making. Helping to share that knowledge, I think, is going to be extremely important for our kids."

Alutiiq artists’ access to the objects, sketches, images, and other object documentation has already resulted in new inspirations, creations, and ripples of knowledge. Skin-sewer Susan Malutin has integrated her knowledge of techniques and materials from the Peabody collections into her workshops with youth and other community members. Alfred Naumoff, the kayak maker, has recently completed a full-size kayak frame modeled on the Alutiiq whaler’s/warrior kayak. Carvers have replicated and improvised on the design of a unique double-bladed kayak paddle from the Peabody collections.

Conservation of the Peabody Museum historic Alaska Native kayaks and related collections was supported in part by a federal Save America's Treasures grant administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Did you miss any lectures? You can listen to them here or download them to your mobile device through iTunes U. Look for Harvard's Peabody Museum lectures.

September 19

6:00 pm

Public Lecture and Book Signing Reception

“Harvard: The Cradle of American Anthropology”

David Browman, Professor of Archaeology at Washington University, St. Louis

September 26

6:00 pm

Public Lecture and Book Launch Reception

“The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease”

Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Thursday, October 3

6:00 pm

The Tatiana Proskouriakoff Award Lecture

"Run, Don’t Walk: Sacred Movement among the Classic Maya"

Stephen D. Houston, Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Brown University

Saturday, October 5

12:00-4:00 pm

Special Event

Amazing Archaeology at Harvard

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Semitic Museum

Wednesday, October 9

6:00 pm

Public Lecture and  Reception

"Changing the Narrative: American Indians and American Cultural Myth"
Kevin Gover, Director, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Co-sponsored by the Peabody Museum and the Harvard University Native American Program

Thursday & Friday, October 10–11

Friday & Saturday, October 18–19

Film Screenings and Related Special Event

Ethnographic Film Series at the Harvard Film Archive

Sponsored by the Peabody Museum in collaboration with the Harvard Film Archive, the department of Visual and Environmental Studies, and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard

Monday, October 14 (Columbus Day)

12:00-4:30 pm

Open House

Zooarchaeology Laboratory Open House

Saturday, November 2

12:00–4:00 pm

Special Event

Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Family Event

Saturday, November 2

6:00–8:30 pm

Special Event

Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Fiesta

Free tickets available for Harvard Museums of Science and Culture members (including Peabody Museum members) on October 15; tickets for non-members available on October 22

Co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Mexico, the Mexican Restaurant Association, and Nomad