THE LIVING EXPLORE THE DEAD AT PEABODY
There is a comparatively unimpressive building situated on Divinity Avenue, bearing the equally unimpressive name. "Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology." In fact, so prosaic is the appearance of the edifice that, in looks, it has often been compared with a typical. New England shirt factory. In this instance, however, looks and name are deceiving, for within the four walls of that structure are enough "finests" to phase the most blatant, peep show touter. Who would guess, for example, that there are more dead queens residing in that Museum than there are live ones in Europe today?
Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, the history of the Peabody dates back to an idea conceived by a Yale man. In 1856 Professor Othniel C. Marsh, impressed by his discoveries in an insignificant, little shell-heap in Newark, New Jersey, wrote to his uncle, George Peabody of London, that he felt it might be a good idea if a museum of American archacology and rthnology were established in this country. Peabody, having already intended to give something to Harvard, gathered in the suggestion with open arms, the result being that on October 16, 1866, a deed of trust conveying to a board of trustees the sum of $150,000 for the endowment of a "Museum and Professorship of American Archaeology and Ethnology in connection with Harvard University," was accepted.
Sea-Captains Aid Museum
In the next few decades Peabody Museum made great strides, being particularly indebted to the rough, salty New England ship masters of the period, who, through their trading packets, tea clippers and whaling ships, brought home souvenirs wrought by peoples and races in the East and South Seas untouched by the white man. Many a sea-captain must have been surprised to find, on returning home, that some basket or spear-head which he had picked up as a mere curio was sought after by the scolarly directors of a pioneer museum as an item both priceless and probably never again to be duplicated.
By title, the Peabody is a museum. But it holds its function to be something more valuable than a picturesque exhibition of anthropological material. The ground-work of collection has been well laid, a great mass of material is in its keeping, but the Peabody is now in a transitional period designed to transform what was fundamentally an exhibition hall into a means for training students in the science of anthropology. In this conection, the Department of Anthropology is virtually inseparable from the Museum, for each moves in parallel courses, and each shares their personnel and resources. Materials for the study of anthropology are gathered chiefly by the Museum and at its expense; the administration of the Museum is in its own hands; active instruction receive their whole compensation from the Departments, their work in the Museum being voluntary. Research is, however, carried on both under the auspices of the Museum and of the Departments, but in every case each profits by the facilities and abilities of the other. The Peabody and the Department are inextricably intertwined, and the line between them is almost purely arbitrary.
Striking Items Displayed
The specimens of the Peabody which are on display form a striking collection whose richness is apparent even to the layman. Some of these, gathered over the past five years by means of 25 different expditions sent all over the world, are of particular interest. In the main hallway on the ground floor is an exhibit of Eskimo culture, which illustrates the newly - conceived, "Museum" technique of exhibiting only a few objects in a case at one time. The theory behind this is that one well placed bow and arrow or a single sled will teach more to the average observer than a case chock full of implements from which he will probably turn away in complete boredom. On the fifth floor, there is a collection of Arctic mummies donated the Museum by no less and earthy organization than the American Meatpackers' Institute. The story behind this gift is a curious one: a few years ago the Institute sent a former Anthropology 1 section man to the Arctic region to see if he could exist on meat alone. While there he gathered together these mummies, which the "Meatpackers" later presented the Museum. Near this exhibit is a collection of Peruvian mummies. Most South Americans, including many of their prominent scientists, have the superstitution that these are embalmed, but the Museum has proved that the flesh on these mummies has been merely dried up and that the superstition has no basis.
Bible Is Represented
Another exhibit is of the Ainu tribe on Yezo Island in the Japanese archipelago. These people live under Nipponese rule in an environment similar to the State of Maine's but dislike the Japanese intensely and would probably be friendly to an Allied expeditionary force. The main pastime of this race seems to be in getting inebriated on the local brands of beer and wine, and one of the most prized objects in this collection is a beard cleaner which the Ainu use to brush their beards free of liquor. Another object prized by the Peabody is the mummified body of King Shabataka, who is mentioned in the Bible in chapter 17 of the 2nd Book of Kings. On the same floor is a collection of several thousand skulls, one of the finest collections of its kind in the world. The skulls are locked in steel cabinets and along the corridor which these cases form is the building's air raid shelter where all employees will go in the event of a bombing attack. Then, on a lower floor, there are the remains selected from the contents of 300 graves excavated in the famous cemetery of Magdalenaberg, Jugoslavia, by Her Highness, the Duchess Marie Antoinette of Mecklenberg, during the early twentieth century. The Peabody bought these objects, and the Duchess's descendants, regarding them as family heirlooms, have been regretting the sale ever since.
An item for special interest is the Calaveras skull, discovered by several miners in 1866 in Calaveras County, California (the same district later celebrated in Mark Twain's poem, "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.) The skull was found at a depth of 130 feet in a large Middle Tertiary gravel, and, if one could trust its position, that would indicate a great age and would prove the presence in America of a race of prehistoric men older even than the Neanderthal man. A great furor raged around this question, even invading the realm of poetry as is shown by the following verses written on the subject by Bret Harte:
The Society Upon the Stanislaus
I reside at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
I am not up to small deceit, or any sinful games;
And I'll tell in simple language what I know about the row
That broke up our society upon the Stanislow.
Now nothing could be finer, or more beautiful to see
Than the first six months' proceedings of that same society,
Till Brown of Calaveras brought a lot of fossil bones
That he found within a tunnel near the tenement of Jones.
Then Brown he read a paper, and he reconstructed there,
From those same bones, an animal that was extremely rare:
And Jones then asked the Chair for a suspension of the rules,
Till he could prove that those same bones was one of his lost mules.
Then Brown he smiled a bitter smile, and said he was at fault.
It seemed he had been trespassing on Jones's family vault:
He was a most sarcastic man, this quiet Mr. Brown,
And on several occasions he had cleaned out the town.
Now I hold it is not decent for a scientific gent
To say another is an ass,--at least, to all intent;
Nor should the individual who happens to be meant
Reply by heaving rocks at him to any great extent.
Then Abner Dean of Angel's raised a point of order--when
A chunk of old red sandstone took him in the abdomen,
And he smiled a kind of sickly smile, and curied up on the floor,
And the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.
For, in less time than I write it, every member did engage
In a warfare with the remnants of a palosozoio age;
And the way they heaved those fosslis in their anger was a sin,
Till the skull of an old mammoth caved the head of Thompson in.
And this is all I have to say of these improper games,
For I live at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
And I've told in simple language what I know about the row
That broke up our society upon the Stanislow."
The average layman would probably be skeptical about the practicality of the Peabody, yet the facts show that such doubts would be unfounded. In peacetime, for example, the bone laboratories in the Museum are often asked by the police to examine skulls for possible cases of homicide. In wartime, the anthropologist has even greater usefulness, for it is up to his research and his statistics to determine what should be the size of a machine-gun turret so as to fit the greatest number of soldiers and to draw up dimensions for uniforms to clothe the average draftee. And what man could be more valuable to the nation's war effort than the anthropologist, who, by virtue of his explorations in the Far East and South Seas, is an authority on regions over which the United Nations must regain control in order to win the present conflict?
The Peabody, then, is not only an integral part of the University but is also an important cog in the country's entire educational machinery. The very materials of the Museum are necessary to that purpose and successful in so far as they clearly exhibit the steps in the growth and multiplicity of mankind and in the evolution of material cultures. Orderly arrangement, adequate description, easy accessibility are stages to that clearness. And the progress of thought in these matters only goes when a man is given time and means to sit down with a handful of bones or a tray of pottery until he discovers something that no one before him has seen. To gather the materials and think upon them is not only the scientific way. It is the Peabody way.