Inside the Peabody Museum: February 2014

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Spring Events Preview

From the Laboratory to the Museum

Coming up at the Peabody

Spring Events PreviewHMSC Spring 2014 Guide


A new exhibition, two weekend family programs, and lots of archaeology lectures are on the Peabody Museum's spring calendar. (Download the full Guide for Harvard Museums of Science & Culture programs, exhibitions, and classes, including all of the Peabody Museum's.) 

The season features four free public lectures on the archaeology of landscapes, from the Paleolithic in the French Pyrenees to lost cities in ancient Iraq. The first is "Lost Cities and Landscapes in the Heart of the Assyrian Empire" by Harvard professor Jason Ur on Thursday, February 20, followed by a reception in the Peabody galleries. On March 27, the Gordon R. Willey Lecture, "Forgotten but Not Lost: Unearthing an Ancient Village Preserved by Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano," features two professors from Universidad de las Américas in Puebla, Mexico. Gabriela Uruñuela and Patricia Plunket Nagoda will talk about ancient life in Mexico and how the eruption of Mexico’s largest active volcano may have shaped the future of regional cities on the rise, such as Teotihuacan.

In April, the Peabody will open The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River. The exhibition will explore the enduring importance of rivers and canoes in Penobscot tribal life and relationships between the tribe and non-Indians.

March and April will bring two family events to the museum, with colorful performances, activities, and traditions of Dominican and Japanese cultures. Dominican Carnival is on March 29, and Cat Mountain--a Japanese folktale performance and workshops on Japanese masks--is on April 27.

From the Laboratory to the Museum

Seal PMF spectrumNew developments in the sciences often have important applications in museums. Hide, sinew, and gut from different mammals can look pretty much the same to the naked eye, especially if it’s 100 years or more old. To identify materials, museums and researchers have had to rely on oral histories and visual and/or tactile examination to identify materials which can be very inaccurate. Other available techniques required destructive sampling, which is, well, destructive. But now conservation laboratories have a new method—peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF)—using microsamples, or only a few tens of micrograms, to identify proteins. PMF offers a significant step forward for museums in their efforts to understand and preserve their collections. It can help identify who made the object and where and it can help conservators choose appropriate treatments. For indigenous groups, the use of traditional materials and manufacture is an important part of cultural revitalization efforts and a frequent topic of discussion and collaboration with collecting museums. 

The process requires the close matching of the test sample with a reference sample. When the two samples match, as in the mirrored view to the right, then we know we have an accurate identification.  

Model of a single-person KayakThis 14-inch model of a kayak, given to the Peabody Museum in 1869 by the Peabody Academy of Science was PMF-tested in 2013 under the auspices of a Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. Testing determined that the skin of the kayak is harbor seal and the stitching, whale sinew. (PM 69-9-10/1203.)

The Peabody Museum has received a new grant this winter from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service, to analyze objects made from mammalian sources to identify the species from which they came. Peabody will be working with the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard FAS Division of Science to test over 100 artifacts from the Northwest Coast and California.

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



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.

Tuesday, February 4

6:00 pm

Harvard Semitic Museum Lecture and Reception

"The Sun Temple of Nefertiti: Sex and Death"

Jacquelyn Williamson, Harvard Divinity School Visiting Scholar

Thursday, February 20

6:00 pm

Public Lecture

"Lost Cities and Landscapes in the Heart of the Assyrian Empire"
Jason Ur, Loeb Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Thursday, March 27

6:00 pm

Gordon R. Willey Lecture

"Forgotten But Not Lost: Unearthing an Ancient Village Preserved by Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano"

Gabriela Uruñuela and Patricia Plunket Nagoda, Professors of Anthropology, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, Mexico