September 2014

Inside the Peabody Museum: September 2014

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Fall at the Peabody: Arts of War and More

Indian College Excavation Reopens in Harvard Yard

Culture Swaps and the Australian Collection


  Artistry in Weapons across CulturesFall at the Peabody: Arts of War and More

The Peabody will offer multiple talks, special evening hours, and a new exhibition on the arts of war this fall.

First is the September 23 talk on life at colonial Harvard by archaeologist Diana Loren, a Peabody Museum curator and Director of Academic Partnerships. As one of the instructors in the Harvard course Archaeology of Harvard Yard, she led student excavations in the Yard and co-curated the exhibition Digging Veritas: The Archaeology and History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard. Her talk will be followed by special evening hours in the exhibition. (See more about the fall 2014 excavation below.)

Peabody favorites return later in the fall: the two Day of the Dead events, Amazing Archaeology at Harvard, and the Columbus Day Zooarchaeology Lab Open House.

On October 18, the new Arts of War: Artistry in Weapons across Cultures exhibition opens, followed by a November 6 talk by curator Steven LeBlanc, and special evening gallery hours.

Other talk topics include lemurs with Indianapolis Prize-winner and primatologist Patricia Chapple Wright (co-sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History), and wine in the ancient Near East, (sponsored by the Harvard Semitic Museum).

For details on all the fall Peabody Museum events and more, download the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture Fall Program Guide


At the 2009 Harvard Yard Archaeology Project Opening Ceremony, Tobias Vanderhoop (Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head - Aquinnah) offered a prayer.Indian College Excavation Opens in Harvard Yard

This fall, Harvard archaeologists will continue excavations in Harvard Yard in the area of the 17th-century Indian College sited near Matthews Hall. This is the 4th excavation season in this area of the Yard. (Earlier excavations took place in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011). A foundation trench believed to be part of the old Indian College was found in 2009 and confirmed in 2011. This season, the class will continue to trace the Indian College foundation.

On Thursday, September 11 at 1:30 pm, the Peabody Museum, Harvard University Anthropology Department, and Harvard University Native American Program invite the public to join the opening ceremony for the fall 2014 archaeological excavation in Harvard Yard.

The Harvard University course, Anthropology 1130: Archaeology of Harvard Yard, is part of the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project, which allows students to gain academic and field experience in historical archaeology. The excavation will be in the Old Yard near the location of earliest Harvard structures, which included the 1638 Old College, the first university building in the United States, and the Harvard Indian College, the first brick building erected in the Yard in 1655. Digging Veritas, an exhibition about the excavations is on display at the Peabody Museum and online.

2005 marked the 350th anniversary of the Harvard Indian College, which rekindled interest in the stories of Harvard’s early students and the material culture of 17th-century Harvard Yard. The University continues to makes strides in scholarly programs and initiatives that relate to contemporary Native America and cross-cultural stakeholders. The public is invited to the opening ceremony to honor, learn, and share in the living Harvard history and acknowledge the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project’s many supporters and collaborators.


Australian Aboriginal baobab tree gourd with non-indigenous animal decorations. PM 22-29-70/D1703.4Culture Swaps and the Australian Collection


Dr. Shawn Rowlands is Indigenous Australia Curatorial Research Fellow at the Peabody Museum. See the July 2014 "Inside the Peabody Museum" edition for a short video with Dr. Rowlands on his favorite Peabody objects. 

The Peabody Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology at Harvard University holds a remarkable collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material culture. The ethnographic side of this collection has recently undergone intense study by three research scholars—Dr. Louise Hamby, Dr. Anne Best, and myself—Dr. Shawn Rowlands. This collection encompasses a little over a thousand objects collected from a diverse range of cultural groups and geographic regions in Australia. Primarily collected in the years between the two World Wars, there are still a great many objects dating as far back as the 19th century, and some of which have been collected more recently.

Excluding myself, each research fellow attached to the project chose to focus on a particular collection or regional representation in the material culture. As I worked on the project for a year, I instead chose to research the entire collection of Australian Aboriginal material culture, as well as the photographic and small, but significant, film archives. My own research interests have focused on the links between cultural identities through the material world, the ways in which this is perceived by observers, and the process of social construction and control, particularly as it relates to national identity.

A major area of interest for me is the phenomenon of what may be described as entanglement, which is the process of cross-cultural interaction within a frontier space as evidenced in the material culture. This may take the form of the creation of new objects to deal with foreign materials—such as the numerous tobacco pipe-tubes in the Peabody Museum made by Aboriginal people to smoke European tobacco—or it could involve using new materials as a substitute for old ones. There are numerous examples of the latter held at the Peabody, such as glass and iron spear points substituting for stone, wood, or bone; or commercially-manufactured thread being used instead of hand-woven indigenous plant fibers or human hair. And it may also manifest in less immediately obvious ways, such as on baobab gourds in the collection which show artistic carvings of animals which are not indigenous to Australia (see above).

The incidence of this entanglement in the Peabody, after a preliminary examination of the data on the entire collection, appears to be the same as other museum collections I have examined (about a quarter of the collection), with the same allowances for temporal and spatial differences. The vast majority of the European observers of Aboriginal material culture in the colonial and Federation period in Australia tended to downplay, ignore, or deride this entanglement. Instead, they characterized it as degradation and degeneration of culture. They argued that Aboriginal culture was static and incapable of adaptation and, according to prevailing social and scientific views on race at the time, inadaptability meant eventual extinction.

The reality was that the Aboriginal material culture these observers were collecting and commenting on showed ample evidence of adaptation. Australian Aboriginal people suffered disease, starvation, loss of land, and violence in the face of European expansion in their traditional country. Yet they were able to survive, adapt, and innovate. Their remarkable culture has endured, and will continue to do so. Collections like the Peabody’s are important to provide an historic and social link for Aboriginal people. But the collection is also crucial in exploring a facet of the European past, scientific and social curiosity, and the growth of anthropology as a discipline.

This research has already begun to inform several future publications, and will be incorporated into my own teaching in the future, and made available to Aboriginal people in Australia. Having had the opportunity to examine the material culture collection of Aboriginal people at the Peabody Museum has been an incredible experience, as has been the opportunity to work with scholars of international renown, and forge relationships between institutions.