Visit Harvard’s Peabody Museum collection online

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

In the March 2011 issue of American Anthropologist, Meg Gaillard reviews the website of the online collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

The online database webpage notes:

The Peabody’s Online Database offers access to over 300,000 records for which there are images. The site offers users the opportunity to browse preselected groups of commonly requested objects, a simple search function, and an advanced search function. Additional options for researchers are available on request.

You can search the online collection in multiple ways, including by putting “Georgia” in the “where” search. At present, this returns over 200 objects (shown, however awkwardly, only ten at a time).

Peabody Museum artifact 86 22 1039054

Here’s an example, a portion of an object described in the online records as a “groundstone bowl fragment,” Peabody Number: 86-22-10/39054. Fortunately, the online record include scans of the original ledger pages relevant to this artifact, then numbered 39.05.04. It looks in the photograph like it’s steatite (soapstone), and, indeed, the original cataloguer notes it as a fragment of “soapstone pot.” Archaeologists usually are careful to attempt to identify the type of raw material an artifact is made of. Likewise, museum curators usually are careful to note raw materials, too. In this case, the online record, however, merely notes that it is “groundstone.”

Peabody Museum artifact 86 22 1039054 ledger 1

There well may be a lesson here: while digital records are easy to search, maintain, and reproduce, if they are incomplete or do not faithfully reproduce original documents and information, important data may be lost.

When artifacts are curated, what information about the collection situation should accompany them? How do we ensure that the maximum data are maintained in digital versions of artifact collections? What other issues arise when we create online collections?


As with many otherwise expensive or unavailable academic journals, the American Anthropologist offers a few issues and articles free online. Currently, all articles in the first issue of 2011 (vol. 113, no. 1; March) can be read online and downloaded in PDF form. The American Anthropologist is the journal of the American Anthropological Association, an organization with members from around the world. Read Meg Gaillard’s website review article, “Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University: Collections Online” by clicking here.

Take a look at the online collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University by clicking here.