Currently viewing the category: "Irene Sysak"

Time passes all too quickly as my internship is sadly coming to an end in the Anthropology Division of the American Museum of Natural History. Having worked with two large collections spanning from the 1930s to the 2000s, I was able to see the passage of time through the eyes of an “archivist”…browsing through papers, photographs and correspondence of collections, I had noticed the changes in the papers, staples, writing, ink, as well as the mode and style of the art of communication. For example, the careful handwriting within diaries of scientists, which can still be read today, and the fragile typing carbon paper of the early 20th century, with their letters typed on a Smith-Corona, perhaps, changing through time into Western Union telegrams, cablegrams and finally into the computer printed documents and emails of the present. Yet, the results are the same – communication with one another as humans and the dissemination of information, not to mention, the future needs to preserve our present modes of communication: emails, born digital websites, social networking posts, tweets and blogs.

It is a credit to our Archiving and Library professions to be able to preserve the past, present and the future collections for generations to come. I am grateful to the wonderful staff of the Anthropology Division, for hosting me as an intern, especially to Kristen Mable, my supervisor, for guiding, mentoring and teaching me so much, and also to Paul Beelitz and Barbara Mathe for the exciting tours and helpful information, many thanks!

While interning in the Anthropology Division under the supervision of Ms. Kristen Mable, Registrar for Archives & Loans, I had the opportunity to work with some very interesting collections, the first being the Papers of Junius Bouton Bird, 1907-1982, regarding his research in North America. Bird, a careful excavator and pioneer in the use of radiocarbon dating and textile studies was best known for his South American research. He became the Curator of South American archaeology at the American Museum in 1957. Bird sailed to the Arctic several times, becoming an expert sailor while doing archaeological research work in areas such as: Eastern Greenland, Hopedale, Labrador, Cape York and Southampton Island, to name a few. Artifacts from Bird’s excavations in Labrador and Southampton Island can be found in the AMNH Anthropology Division’s collections.

Junius Bouton Bird sailing, possibly on the schooner "Morrissey".

As I explored the field reports, correspondence and photographs in this collection, I came across an interesting photograph of an artifact known as the “spindle whorl”, found at the L’Anse aux Meadows Norse Vikings settlement ruins on the Northern coast of Newfoundland. This site was first discovered by Helge Ingstad, a Norwegian adventurer and writer, in 1960 by following a hunch and an ancient map. This site, found to be almost a millennium old, was believed to be the place where Vikings landed in North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The “spindle whorl” artifact was in fact, a yarn spinner, about 1000 years old, which proved that the Viking settlers included women, who performed household tasks. Bird did conservation work at the site from 1961 to 1964 and also gave a lecture on the Norse. His notes and slides from the lecture can be found in this collection as well.

The Spindle Whorl artifact found at the Norse Vikings "L'Anse aux Meadows" site on the Northern coast of Newfoundland.

This collection also includes archaeological sites in the United States, such as mastodon sites in Hackensack, New Jersey and the Kunatah rock shelter in upstate New York, among others. Also included here are Bird’s papers on his research work in Honduras and Okinawa, Japan. Junius Bird died in New York in 1982, leaving behind plentiful evidence of his illustrious archaeological research work for future generations of people, researchers, students and interns, such as myself, to re-discover. I feel privileged to have worked on this exciting collection and grateful for this unique opportunity.