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Meeting of the Board of Regents | June 2003

Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 11:00pm




The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents


Carole Huxley 


Cultural Education


Deputy Commissioner�s Report


May 28, 2003




Review of the Status of Museum Research and Collections


Goals 2, 4, 5



The Cultural Education Committee will hold its June meeting at the State Museum. Most of the meeting will be devoted to a "site visit" for the purpose of reviewing current collection stewardship, gaining understanding of the collection�s use in research, and establishing a context for the OCE Collection Stewardship/Space Plan that will be discussed at your September meeting.

One way to view the collections is as a research library of specimens and artifacts, all primary source material. Through scholarly publications and exhibitions, the results of that research are broadly shared. Much of the collection, if lost or destroyed, is irreplaceable. Many items are unique; others were collected at a particular place and a particular time and represent information from a date and environment that cannot be replicated. Because of its early establishment in the 1830s, the Museum has many collections of international significance. The record they create of our natural and cultural history continues to grow to this day.

In preparation for your visit, I have attached excerpts from a report by Dr. John Hart, head of the research and collections unit of the Museum, highlighting the anthropology/archaeology collections and the significant collections-based work that has been accomplished in the past two years. In subsequent reports, Dr. Hart intends to summarize similarly the biological, geological, history and paleontological work that has been accomplished, which I will also share. Together these reports should provide a clear picture of the scope, quality and value of the Museum�s collections and the research they support.




Acquisition, Curation, Research, Education, and Public Programs, 2001 and 2002


Anthropology collections at the New York State Museum (NYSM) include approximately 3,000 catalog entries for ethnographic objects or groups of objects and over 200,000 catalog entries for archaeological materials, representing at least 2 million artifacts. The chief focus of our ethnographic collection is on items made and used by the Iroquois and Algonquian peoples of New York and the surrounding region during the past two centuries. NYSM archaeological collections are almost entirely from sites within New York, covering over 12,000 years of human occupation from the Late Pleistocene through the early 20th century. Supportingdocumentation, including correspondence, collectors� catalogs, field notes, maps, photographs, and analytical test results, makes it possible to utilize these collections for research and education.

Augmenting the anthropology collections, upgrading their care, and making them available to researchers and the general public are our primary concerns.


Upgraded storage conditions: Through a special legislative initiative, over 75% of our old, damaged, low-quality storage cases have been replaced by new high-quality cabinets, which buffer collections against rapid swings in temperature and relative humidity and protect against mechanical damage, light damage, and water damage. A controlled-environment dry storage area for paleontological, geological, and archaeological specimens adversely affected by high humidity was constructed, to which some 20,000 metal archaeological and ethnographic objects are being moved. (Objects requiring low temperatures [e.g., photographs] or mid-range humidity [e.g., wood, bone, leather, textiles] for their preservation have yet to be accommodated.)


Conservation: Thousands of objects in our collections are in need of conservation treatment to arrest active deterioration. Unfortunately, the NYSM has no conservators on staff. As funding allows, we utilize contract services to provide treatment for selected high-priority items from our older collections. In 2001-2002, 11 fragile 18th and 19th century Mohican and Iroquois textile and leather items were treated and rehoused, and 22 at-risk metal artifacts from the 18th century Key Corp site in downtown Albany were stabilized. Early in 2001, we completed a 2-year grant-supported project to conserve and rehouse the renowned Lewis H. Morgan Collection of mid-19th century Iroquois objects (see details at


New acquisitions: For the ethnographic collections, the most notable acquisition is a traditional beaded wedding dress, commissioned in 2002 from Tuscarora Iroquois artist Rosemary Hill, which will form the centerpiece for a new exhibit. This continues the tradition of the Governor�s Collection of Contemporary Native American Art, initiated in 1996 to spotlight the living culture and thriving art of the Native Peoples of New York. An oral history project was initiated to gather information from New York Iroquois and Algonquian artists about themselves, their work, and its cultural context.


Museum archaeological collections continue to grow at a rate of approximately 10% per year. New acquisitions included materials from 45 sites excavated by the NYSM Cultural Resource Survey Program, a number of other Museum-sponsored excavations, and 26 additional collections excavated or gathered by other institutions, companies, and individuals. A highlight of 2001 and 2002 was the donation of a large collection of Mohawk Valley materials gathered by three generations of a local family, the Swarts.

Cultural Resource Survey Program: CRSP conducts field surveys and excavations to help State agencies meet requirements under federal and State historic preservation laws ( State agency clients include the Department of Transportation, Office of General Services, and Department of Correctional Services, among others. Archaeological and architectural (buildings and structures) sites are identified in survey and investigated in subsequent phases. Additional archaeological studies were carried out in 2001-2002 under agreements with the National Park Service, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the private, not-for-profit Charitable Leadership Foundation.


CRSP work contributes to several goals of the museum. These include providing research and regulatory service, making scientific collections that relate to the history and prehistory of New York State, and contributing to the Museum�s educational programs. CRSP staff completed 98 technical reports during 2001 and 2002, identifying approximately 250 previously unknown archaeological sites. Laboratory staff processed approximately 60,000 artifacts, ranging in time from 5,000-year-old stone tools to materials from early 20th century domestic, commercial, and industrial sites.


Other archaeology field programs: In 2002, NYSM and SUNYA conducted a joint archaeologicalfield school at a prehistoric Schoharie Valley archaeological site, introducing undergraduate and graduate students to survey, excavation, and laboratory methodology. This will be continued in 2003, with the addition of a special weeklong workshop for primary and secondary school teachers.

Under the auspices of a new program in geoarchaeology, which applies geological theory, methods, and techniques to archaeological problems such as the physical formation of archaeological sites, NYSM staff joined with avocational archaeologists from the Thousand Islands Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Society to investigate the enigmatic Perch Lake Mounds in Jefferson County.


Collections-based research: During 2001 and 2002, 48 individual researchers and 19 groups, including Native Americans, scientists, artists, teachers, students, re-enactors, and others, visited the NYSM anthropology collections for study purposes. Two dissertations with major use of our collections were completed. A bioarchaeology dissertation project was initiated under a new joint program with SUNYA to encourage collections-based research. Recent collections-based research by NYSM staff has concentrated on the State�s Native American occupations, including studies of the history of maize-bean-squash agriculture and inter-regional interaction patterns. In 2001 and 2002, their publications included 4 books and 20 articles. Research on the collections increases their scientific value through the creation of new data and knowledge.


Exhibits, public programs, and other outreach: Anthropology staff regularly serve on teams to develop in-house exhibits and select objects for them, prepare loans to other institutions for exhibit and research, answer inquiries, conduct workshops, and give public presentations and gallery tours. A few of our projects during the past two years included a summer workshop for teachers that focused on the Iroquois longhouse, participation in two evening lecture series on research in archaeology and ethnology, behind-the-scenes tours for New York State Archaeological Association members in connection with Archaeology Month 2002 as well as for a number of school groups, development of exhibit materials for the new Terrace Gallery, and replication of 25 typical Iroquois weapons, tools, and containers for a new Visitor Services cart. We continue to add to web-based virtual exhibits (e.g.,,


Volunteers and interns: Anthropology Collections is fortunate to attract a large number of top-notch volunteers and interns, without whom we would be unable to accomplish many important projects, such as organizing, cataloguing, and labeling large private archaeological collections donated to the museum. CRSP also provides internship and volunteer opportunities. Through work on general collections tasks and individual projects, interns earn academic credit as they are introduced to museum curation procedures and collections-based research. Occasionally, archaeology fieldwork opportunities also are available. During 2001 and 2002, we mentored 36 undergraduate interns from Brown University, Hudson Valley Community College, SUNY-New Paltz, Providence College, and The University at Albany, and 8 graduate interns from Bard College, State University of New York at Buffalo, and The University at Albany (four of them under the auspices of the NYSED Graduate Intern Program and one under a joint program with The University at Albany). Four long-term regular volunteers and 10 shorter-term volunteers, including 4 high school students and 5 undergraduates, worked with us during 2001 and 2002, providing aid in collection documentation, inventories, storage reorganization, and archaeological fieldwork.