Last Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to visit the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology‘s collections storage space as part of my class on collections management. It was such a great experience! We were split in to two groups, one led by the collections manager (also our professor) and the other led by one of the curatorial/conservation assistants. The first place my group went was the offsite storage facility, which I believe houses the majority of the PMAE’s collection. It was incredible. Three stories full of objects from all over the world, all within arms reach. At one point we were even allowed to hold an Acheulean flint axe head. This object was made by homo erectus, our ancestors, and is somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 years old. UM, WHAT? The oldest thing I have ever held in my entire life. It was a little ridiculous.
After the offsite storage we were brought up into the attic by the curatorial assistant, who showed us the different methods he and his co-conservators use for rehousing and storing objects in the collection. I know this employee from working at the desk at the Peabody occasionally, so it was really cool to be able to see him in his element, instead of in the front hallway. Plus, he recognized me! I (half-joking) asked if I could come hang out with him when I was on my break sometime, and his response? “Give me a few days heads up and you can come check storage out all the time!” My jaw dropped. For real? Ok, great! I also learned from the collections manager that the Semitic Museum is always looking for collections volunteers – BANGARANG. As much as I love the Waterworks Museum, I need to have experience with another collection under my belt, and the Semitic Museum’s archaeological collection would be a perfect new addition.
Tonight we’re going to be discussing repatration, specifically related to NAGPRA and the NMAI Act, which I’m becoming more and more interested in. It’s certainly a global discussion at the moment as more and more countries are requesting (sometimes demanding) that artifacts be returned to their rightful owners instead of remaining in the museums that acquired them centuries ago. Maybe I’ll post about it.