Currently viewing the tag: "Anthropology Archives"

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.


The Ainu

Currently lacking identification, but not for long.

Pictured above are nine members of the Ainu, the indigenous race of Japanese, primarily found in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern-most island. As part of the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, visitors were welcomed to tour the “Living Exhibits,”–collections of indigenous races from around the world, temporarily living in recreated villages. While on display, the Ainu, as well as many of the other people in the assorted villages, taught others their native tongue, arts, crafts, hunting skills, and gave daily demonstrations of their culture and heritage.

The image here, on file in the library of the AMNH, has spotty information on the back of the card. It misidentifies one of the Ainu as John Batchelor, a Christian Missionary who spent over 60 years administrating to health and needs of the Ainu, long before the Ainu were recognized as equals to the Japanese. With help from a report by James W. Vanstone titled, “The Ainu Group at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904,” I’d like to finally change the image’s description from “husband,” “wife,” “child,” to their names–something that’s been missing for over 100 years.

From left to right:
Bete Goro, left behind a pregnant wife so that he could come to the United States. A servant in Rev. Batchelor’s house for years. From Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Santukno, wife of Sangyea. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

Yazo, 23 or 24 years old. Husband of Shirake. Lived with Rev. Batchelor for 10 years. From Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Shirake, 18 years old. Wife of Yazo. From Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Shutratek, wife of Kutoroge. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

Kiko, daughter of Kutoroge and Shutratek. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

Kutoroge. Husband of Shutratek. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

Kin, daughter of Sangyea and Santukno. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

Sangyea, husband of Santukno. From Piratori, Hokkaido.

This is only a start as I continue to pull together all the information, photographs, and items from the collections of the AMNH and its library. There’s always more to the story behind the image.

James Rodgers


Today Kelly and I continued our Phase 2 work in the Anthropology Archives. The beginning of the day was business as usual, and we made our way through a majority of Room 1. The last collection we looked at is the one that really caught our eye, belonging to Nels Christian Nelson. Nelson was a long-time employee at AMNH, serving in a number of curatorial positions at the Museum. He was also President of the American Anthropological Association, President of the Society for American Archaeology, President of the American Ethnological Society, and Vice President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

While we had written about mixed collections before, this one takes the cake! It was a mammoth collection made up of all different formats: papers, correspondence, photographs, negatives, lantern slides, maps, field journals, and film.

There were over 2,500 photographs and most were curling and brittle, even with sleeves. Luckily they are being digitized, so researchers can still access them despite their deteriorating condition. The maps were also in pretty poor shape, many were too brittle to be unrolled. However, the lantern slides and negatives appeared to be in good condition, with surprisingly no cracks and very little fading. Needless to say, it took us some time to go through and properly assess this collection, but is a great example of the different kinds of materials that make up each collection in the Anthropology Archives.

Today was Lauren’s first day in the Anthropology Dept. and Kelly’s first day in general working on the Archiving Project. We are starting in the main Archive room, which is very well organized thanks to the archivist there, Kristen. Phase 1 has already been completed in that room, so we are now on to Phase 2, risk assessment.

Our first day started out a little slow…our first collection had field notes, journals, maps, negatives, and photos…a little bit of everything! We were able to pick up the pace a little bit after that, but mixed media was the theme of the day.

One of the collections made us stop and think how to classify the materials. It was an entire collection of data cards of statues. Each card had descriptions and various types of data, but also included black-and-white prints glued to each card. Should these data cards, which we will probably run into again, be classified as a paper collection, a photographic collection, or both? We consulted Becca who informed us that the ‘mixed media’ category was created just for this type of collection.

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Well, it’s the end of my time here at AMNH, and it’s certainly been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed looking into some of the Museum’s hidden collections and making records for them so that one day they won’t be so hidden. Since most of my work was in the Anthropology Department, and because there is yet work to be done there, I’ve created a summary of what has been completed there, and what is left to be done by interns this Fall.

All locations in the Anthropology Archive have undergone Phase 1 cataloging.Todd and I began this work in the Spring semester, and thought that because the Department already had their own records this phase would go fairly quickly. It took much longer than expected because we were overly thorough in our additions to the records of things like Physical Description, and additions to the Summary field. Verifying authority records using the Library of Congress Authorities site also took considerable time.

The Server Room (Room 36), Anthropology 2 (Room 14), and the Hallway Map case have undergone Phase 2 risk assessment.Still needing risk assessment are Anthropology 1 (Room 15), Hallway filing cabinets outside of Anthropology 1, and Hallway cabinets outside of the kitchen area.



Bolding in the cataloging spreadsheet indicates new entries or information that was added to the records since obtaining the Department’s original catalog records from Kristen Mable.

Anywhere in the cataloging spreadsheet that the creator is listed as “AMNH Department of Anthropology,” the authorized heading is “American Museum of Natural History. Dept. of Anthropology.”I believe I’ve changed all of these using Excel’s find and replace function, but did not check line by line.

Field Notes were identified by determining whether the material appeared to be a first person account or observation of time spent in the field where the researcher was working.This includes field data sheets, sketches of sites, notes on what the researcher saw or heard at the site, and diaries kept while in the field.

Today in Anthropology I worked with Lauren to complete the risk assessment in Location II. There were only about 10 collections left in this location, and fortunately they were fairly large and generally only 1 or 2 collection units. We finished the risk assessment in this location before lunch, and moved on to the map case in the Anthropology hallway after lunch. Our favorite find from Location II today was this floor plan of an unknown museum from the “Notes on Museum Collections in Europe and America, 1911-1930” collection. Notice the bear hunt scene at the far left.

After lunch, we completed risk assessment on the hallway map case, and found these drawings of clay dolls from the collection of James Alfred Ford.

Next week we hope to finish risk assessment on the remaining hallway cabinets, which will bring us much closer to finishing both phases in Anthropology – hooray!

This afternoon Phoebe and I completed the Risk Assessment phase of the project for the collections in Room 36 of the Anthropology Department. This includes the Photographs Collections and oversize materials related to the Department’s Accession Files and various Curatorial Collections. Information regarding the extent, format, and condition of these collections is now gathered in a database devoted to this particular location in the Department. Below is an example of some artwork in good condition:

Having finished this phase of the project, if only in one location out of several, we got the sense that the Risk Assessment phase of the project is equally as intensive and time-consuming as the Cataloging phase. Obviously these impressions are specific to the Anthropology Department and likely not entirely applicable to the Museum’s other science departments. Nonetheless, the experience should be informative for the future of the project.

Our experience in the Anthropology Department was undeniably a positive and enjoyable one. It was a great privilege to have access to some of the amazing collections in the Museum’s possession that are not generally available to the public. Throughout our time in the Anthropology Archives, Kristen Mable was a tremendous help to us.  When we did take a step back from the projects we were focusing on, we would frequently marvel at the skill and effort required to manage such a large and active archive from day to day. We are also grateful for the support of Becca, Iris, Barbara and the rest of the team members in managing the more complex aspects of the project and allowing us to immerse ourselves in the work before us. We’re looking forward to continuing this project in the summer.

Hello all — this post, unfortunately, will be my last as this is my final day here at AMNH. And I apologize for the recent blogosphere silence on my part, but Phase II has provided me with plenty of fascinating work to get through. I’ve been in the Anthropology Archives with Becca for the last few days, marveling at the enormous amount of information that gets generated on the various archaeological digs conducted by the folks up there. This information comes to us in an amazing variety of formats: oversized maps, field forms, Mylar maps, Beta tapes, transparencies, field notebooks, audio cassettes, floppy disks (both 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ formats), photographs, bound volumes, negatives, film reels, contact sheets, and many more.

Herein lay the biggest challenges that I encountered in Phase II. Identifying these various formats was not simple, and attempting to match a particular format to its proper collection unit (Mylar???) lead to plenty of questions for Beth. Most of the records were in very good shape, but occasionally there were questions relating to how they were stored, especially when it came to items such as CDs, VHSs, and floppies. These were often still housed in the plastic cases they were sold in, which seems safe enough, but could we call it “archival” storage? We also got the sense, at times, that some of these digital formats were backups of other records. This, of course, is impossible to confirm without opening each on a computer. Another question I had related to a large store of photographs, many of which were dated to the early twentieth century and depicted Nels Nelson on various digs. It was obvious that the date referred to what the photo depicted, not to the actual date that this particular photo was developed. Is there a way to clarify this, to ensure there is no confusion over the age of the physical photograph?

I think it goes without saying that almost everything we came across was fascinating (including a New Yorker piece noting David Hurst Thomas’ “luxuriant black beard” and penchant for pipe-smoking) and impeccably well-organized. And we always had Diana Rosenthal close by to help clarify things as well as to share plenty of entertaining stories about her department!

Of course, this being my last appearance on this blog, I’d like to thank all the people I had the opportunity to work with this semester. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I was heartened by the enthusiasm of all those involved as well as those not involved who were always happy to help.

So long!

As Phoebe and I continued the cataloging phase of our project today, we created entries for the Anthropology Department’s Exhibition Files. These collections frequently contained floor plans and blueprints for both temporary and permanent Exhibition Halls that have opened and closed over the course of the Museum’s history. In addition to these documents, the collections usually contained related research, correspondence and photographs. Particularly interesting were the volumes of accumulated label copy from old exhibits. Some photographs of models prepared for the Mexican Hall were very impressive. The materials from the Blackfeet Teepee Exhibit were greatly varied and provided a great deal of insight into Native American cultural practices. Included in the collection was an informative step-by-step guide to tanning animal hides using a mixture of moss and the animal’s brain. The guide explained how the glycerides in the brain tissue are highly effective in softening the hide being tanned. Though fairly gruesome sounding, it’s a traditional practice that has been used for centuries.

Today’s work in the Anthropology Archives was greatly influenced by a project status meeting held last Wednesday. The meeting was primarily focused around establishing respective target paces for the Cataloging and Risk Assessment projects. Based on the number of collections left to be cataloged at the time of the meeting (about 50) and the time remaining before the Risk Assessment aspect of the project is slated to begin in Anthropology, Phoebe and I were asked if we could create catalog records for roughly 10 collections each day. While we fell one collection shy of meeting this daily quota, a couple of the collections we completed today were fairly large and a great deal of ground was covered. As there are only two Curatorial Field Notes Collections left to be cataloged before we move on to the Photograph Collections, we feel comfortable about our pace moving forward. It seems as if we’ve reached a certain degree of efficiency, moving quickly through the collections but still finding time to note interesting items and take some photographs for the blog.

Of note today were some sketches of Teotihuacan figurines from the collection of George C. Vaillant, the passport of Wendell Bennett from the year 1926, and a well-illustrated field notebook created by Richard Allan Gould and Junius Bird. We were also pleased to observe a collection of photographs in excellent condition from Stanley A. Freed’s expeditions to India. All of the photos were housed in plastic sleeves and stored either in leather bound albums or archival folders. There was no evidence of curling or deterioration.