The Peabody Museum of Anthropology shares the same roof as the Harvard Museum of Natural University. They are both located in a large, long brick building on Oxford Street, right on the campus of Harvard University. One nine-dollar ticket gets you into both places. The Peabody Museum begins with the current exhibition of “Storied Walls”, a look at the pre-Columbian murals of the Aztec and Inca cultures. Many colorful reproductions and photographs of several excavation sites from Mexico, Guatamala and Peru reveal the dedicated work of Harvard’s professors and students, as they undergo the tedious task of unearthing an ancient archaeological site.
Adjacent to this temporary exhibit is another room that is filled with many fascinating artifacts (and a few molds) from the ancient cultures of Latin America. The architectural friezes and stellae from the Mayan world were the displayed items that first grabbed my attention and it should be noted that the collection included many wonderful artifacts from all across Central and South America.
For a look at Native American culture, north of Mexico, visitors only had to proceed to the first floor, where an extensive display of totem poles, birch bark canoes, painted teepees and ash baskets awaited the curious visitor. While one walked passed the many glass cases that housed items from many of the numerous tribes of the United States and Canada, traditional music was played in the background.
Much of the display on the first floor was devoted to the journey of Lewis and Clark, which took the two explorers across the breadth of North America, in a day and age, when the land was primarily used by the original inhabitants. Historical paintings and drawings (or reproductions thereof) abound to help depict the reality and drama of everyday American Indian life in the early nineteenth century. The two-hundredth anniversary of this great journey has just recently occurred, yet our national fascination with this extraordinary journey has not faded one bit.
To complete the tour of the Peabody, one has to climb up to the fourth floor, where there is another permanent collection. This time it is the indigenous cultures of the South Pacific that are put out to attract our attention. Again we find the native watercraft on display, but this time they come in the form of longboats and outrigger canoes. These are lightweight seagoing vehicles that never fail to feed the imagination and mind of the viewer. Alongside the big canoes are other items from the region that include Tiki God statues, native clothing and some fabulous examples of primitive painting and printing on bark paper, a technique and art that the Oceanic residents are famous for and that is still practiced today.
The South Pacific display completes the tour of the Peabody Museum. What impressed me the most about the Peabody and Harvard University was the ability to undertake highly challenging archaeological ventures in the far corners of the world. All of this is of course made possible by the excellent financial health of this educational institution that continues to make Harvard University of the most well endowed universities in the nation.