“Beyond the Wunderkammer”: The curious roots of discovery

Picture 6

A new exhibit at the Art Institute of Boston inspires curiosity and pays homage to the origins of collecting.


Archaeology Day: Fairs, Fun, and Family

Archaeology Day began in Boston three years ago, through the imagination of Ben Thomas, from the Archaeological Institute of America. It started small, as something in Boston. It developed into a collaborative project between 180 organizations and 16 countries.

“We wanted an event that was a celebration of archaeology,” Thomas said.

So the AIA created an event called the Archaeology Fair. It is hosted by the Museum of Science and is scheduled on Archaeology Day every year.


The Museum of Science and the AIA have been hosting an Archaeology Fair for seven years now. With the advent of Archaeology Day three years ago, the fair can now be scheduled on a regular day- October 19. The fair lasts for two days though, and began on October 18. Between the two days, 5,000 to 6,000 people visited the Archaeology Fair, said Meredith Langlitz, the Programs Director of the AIA.


Today was the second day of the Archaeology Fair. The first day was school groups. Today, the AIA welcomed families to the fair. This weekend was intended mostly for kids. Members of the AIA handed out pins and gift-bags to incoming visitors.


Alan Leveillee, from the Public Archaeology Laboratory, used a hands-on demonstration to get kids excited about archaeology. He showed kids how early Native Americans made fire.”With a little bit of science and a little but of imagination, you can become a time traveler,” he said. This is his sixth year presenting at the Archaeology Fair. He comes for the energy and excitement. “It is great to get kids interested and involved,” he said. Most of our past is behind glass in museums, but here kids can touch things, he said.


Kids even had the opportunity to get their hands dirty. Members of the National Park Service tried to introduce kids to the science behind digging. Children were mostly enthralled just to throw dirt around. But getting excited about getting dirty is a big part of archaeology.


Jon Voelkel showed kids the Maya math system. Voelkel and his wife, Pamela, wrote a serious of children’s books. The Jaguar Stones series introduce kids, mainly 9-12, to the Ancient Maya. They work closely with archaeologists and teachers to raise kids’ interest in archaeology. Today they offered signed copies of their books to families.


Kids learned how early Native Americans made flour at Alan Smith’s exhibit. Smith, an associate of the Robbins Museum and the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, has been doing archaeology for 30 years now. He focused on showing kids that archaeology isn’t just in some distant land– it can be right in your backyard. And he helped kids draw connections to their daily life. After showing them how to grind flour, he told the kids, “You can make granola out of this by adding nutmeg!” He keeps his exhibit hands-on so that the kids remember. Archaeology is a tough field, because it it cultural, he said, so it is the first thing to be cut in times of economic downturn. It’s important that the kids get excited about his, he said.


The Society for American Archaeology encouraged the development of future archaeologists as well. The kids are our best chance at cultural preservation, Leveillee said, “Maybe something here will encourage them to want to help preserve the past.” He is hopeful about raising the next generation of archaeologists. Last year, he said, a little girl came back with a stone she had kept from a previous Archaeology Fair. The little girl told Leveillee that she had decided to become and archaeologist. “If we can get them excited about cultural heritage before they become developers,” Leveillee said, “we still have a chance.”

Photo Essay: Fall Construction

Street construction seems like a normal part of urban life nowadays. Sometimes you get the idea in your head that ‘construction season is almost over’! But it never really ever seems to end.

This morning, paving interrupted people’s commutes once again.

Construction at Dartmouth St. and Commonwealth Ave. caused traffic this morning.

The infamous orange construction cones lined the corner of Dartmouth St. and Commonwealth Ave. this morning. Traffic funneled through with relative ease.

Boston officials direct bikes and cars through the traffic.

Both bikers and drivers tried to navigate through the mess. Boston city officials were on the scene, but were not directing traffic. That task was up to the commuters themselves. Luckily, most cars kindly yielded to bikers.

Chemicals litter the street as construction workers pave the street.

Chemicals littered the sidewalks, too. People passing by could smell the fumes from the street paving. The toxic smell was unmistakeable.

Morning pedestrians watch their step as they cross the street.

Sidewalks were closed on both Commonwealth Ave. and Dartmouth St. Pedestrians had to watch their step as they crossed the street.

Construction equipment compliments the Fall colors in the Boston Commons.

Construction equipment was even in the Boston Commons. No commuter– biker, driver, or walker– could easily by-pass the street construction today.

Nice to meet you!

My name is Dee Fuller and I am an Archaeology and Journalism student at Boston University. I have spent time excavating Hohokam ruins in Tucson, AZ and dedicated time at an archaeobotanical lab here in Boston. I am an insanely curious and adventurous person, which is perfect for an archaeologist. Not everyone enjoys digging through mud and dirt and then meticulously recording scientific notes, though– just as I don’t enjoy trudging through numbers and figuring out the economics behind capitalism. We each have our own place in this world!

This brings me to the point of this blog: there is a long human narrative preceding our current state! And it is this human narrative that continues to connect us all. It begins with our earliest ancestors (dating approximately 10 million years before present) and hurdles us through tumultuous cultural transitions and human migrations. The timeline is con-fus-ing.  I am not here to bore you with the details though. Instead, I am here to bring you the highlights- the finds that will connect your life now to someone else’s life in the past!

As archaeologists continue excavations and investigations, it is growing more and more evident that there is modern relevance to these ancient discoveries. As a community, we are continuously striving to draw connections between our ancient past and the way we know and live today. After all, our society today had to evolve from something else. It just turns out that it took 10,000 years of earlier civilizations for our society to emerge as it has today.

Some of the parallels between your modern lifestyle and ancient life-ways will blow your mind! Here are some modern things that archaeologists are connecting to ancient origins:

1. Cultural Traditions
2. Architecture
3. Infrastructure
4. Societal Organization
5. Tools
6. Foods (specifically plants)
7. Artistic Motifs
8. Sports!

Not only are our traditions, technologies, and lifestyles deriving from 10,000 years of progress, but these connections are becoming more and more useful in advancing our knowledge of interdisciplinary topics: medicine, manufacturing, irrigation, astronomy, and diversified crop output. The potential that archaeological discoveries can hold for our future is unlimited!

As the archaeological community searches for greater discoveries, our work takes them into remote places.  As scientists, and as people, our goal is not to overtake someone else’s property and steal their cultural goods, their heritage, and their history. Instead, archaeological investigations are intended to work with modern indigenous peoples in order to construct a more accurate and more justified discovery of our past. Unfortunately, this often results in international conflict over the rights of cultural property. I will introduce you to some recent human conflicts involving the complexity of cultural properties- in the hopes that a greater understanding can be gained of indigenous struggles instigated by our own curiosity.

Mostly, however, the journey of archaeology is full of mysteries and hilarious stories. Over the years, archaeology has been associated with brute adventure. There are a slew of movies on the market that deserve reviewing and critiquing for the sole purpose of laughing at how incorrect they are!

I invite you to adventure with me through the modern relevance of our ancient relatives. And to the readers from Boston: I promise to keep you up to date on the archaeological exhibits on display, so that you can get a first-hand look at all the fun!

Happy reading!