Thursday, December 22, 2011

Visit to the Robbins Museum

I have a friend, Tom Todd, whose grandfather gave an arrowhead collection to what became the Robbins Museum in Middleboro (see here) and so, yesterday, he and his brother and I drove down to the museum. By pre-arrangement we were going to take a look at that collection. Middleboro is a bit out of the way, unless you are driving to Cape Cod, but WOW! That museum is a building filled with hundreds of arrowheads and other treasures worth going out of the way for.

We ended up spending several hours more than I expected looking at arrowheads and talking with the museum staff. To my pleased surprise, long time NEARA member Ted Ballard was there as one of the interpreters and also Curtis Hoffman. Curtis is the current editor of the bulletin of the MAS, chair of an archeology/anthropology department at Bridgewater State and one of Massachusetts' only archeologists who both has practical experience with digging sites and arrowheads as well as an interest in rock piles. I alternated between chatting with these old colleagues, looking at the museum's exhibits, and going into the room where they were unwrapping the Todd collection. This family comes from Concord and many of the arrowheads are from Concord. Apparently some more of the collection got moved to the Concord Museum. Much of what we saw at the Robbins Museum was broken and I wonder: where is the good stuff? Maybe in Concord.

Let me make some comments about the museum. A lot of the collection is magnificent. They have "whale tale" atlatl weights made of banded slate and others made of jade-like stone that are exceptional. They have bird stones, boat stones, celts, and gouges. They have examples of the only inscribed pendants I have seen using representative art (pictures of turtles or of figures). They have lots of grooved axes. They also have a few random non-New England artifacts mixed in with parts of the collections. I saw a couple of points made from materials that I have never seen elsewhere. I saw a small jade celt that looked like a pretty good match for some things I have seen from China. Looking at some of the cases of a hundred or so examples of the same small quartz triangular point shape, I had the feeling that excessive numbers tend to denature the beauty of the single item. I got the same feeling at the Louvre where Napolean's bounty is crammed in together with every other item ever collected by the French Empire. I wonder if this is the best way to display the beauty and the information of these arrowhead collections? In any case if you want to have your fill of Massachusetts arrowheads, the Robbins Museum is very much worth the trip. I had arrowhead images dancing in front of my eyes all evening and still this morning.

In my own collection I have examples of many of the types of item they showed at the museum. I do have some kind of atlatl weights, I have gouges, and I have grooved axes (which I did not find but got from my in-laws). I have examples of many of the basic arrowhead types and materials. I do not have a celt although I hope I find one someday. I have considered buying one in the meantime. The museum also showed examples of some cruder items - called "hoes" or "choppers" and I have a few items like that also. But I have a large number of crude old stone tools, like axes, hatchets, and large pebble choppers that were in no way represented at the museum. Sure enough, these old crude tools are still flying beneath the archeological radar. Similarly, although Curtis Hoffman is working at the Museum, there is no acknowledgement of the rock pile as an archeological artifact. It would be nice to see the museum represent these artifacts as well, to give a more complete picture of what you can find out there on the ground.

No comments :