BENNINGTON -- Students at Mount Anthony Union Middle School had the unique opportunity on Thursday to tour Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology right from their classroom.
Andrew Majewski, the museum's education specialist, gave seventh-grade students a guided tour through the intricacies some of the museum's Aztec and Mayan artifacts. Majewski and their teacher, Amy Moriarty, had developed the presentation through what Moriarty estimated as 11-13 conversations, over the video-conferencing program Skype and in person.
The video chat was the first of its kind in the museum's long history. Majewski was intrigued when Moriarty, who was at Harvard for a conference, asked him if the museum would be interested or able to speak with students and show them around the museum via Skype. Majewski said the museum had never done anything like that, but he spoke to Polly Hubbard, the education manager at the University, and together, the three worked together to make it a reality.
The Peabody Museum is one of the oldest anthropology museums in the world, founded in 1866. It features the largest collection of artifacts known to have survived the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as well as over 5,000 ancient Peruvian textiles, and a large collection of Mesoamerican artifacts, which were the interest of Moriarty's students, who had been studying the ancient cultures "forever," according to one of the students.
MAUMS' technology specialist, Dave Hansen, set up a webcam and a microphone in the front of the classroom, while Majewski worked off a computer on a mobile cart in Cambridge. Students could see projected on the front of the room the Skype video-call, side-to-side with a slideshow designed in tandem by Majewski and Moriarty. Students also had a handout that allowed them to see more clearly some of the finer details Majewski was pointing out.
Majewski began his tour of the third floor gallery with a look at the statue of K'ahk Uti' Ha' H'awiil, also known as Smoke Imix. He asked the class what they though the statue might be of. Raising their hands, the students began to hazard guesses, including "a ruler," "a warrior," "a priest," and "a god," all of which, said Majewski, were correct. He broke down the symbolism on the statue that allowed archaeologists to determine who Smoke Imix was, or at least how he portrayed himself, including a divine staff of rulership in his hand, and symbols representing the conquest of several other gods adorning his body.
Majewski also showed the class a model of an ancient Aztec city, and showed the students where the Aztecs shopped, worshipped, and played ball. One of the students' favorite artifacts was a square stone structure, on which the (at-the time) ruler was depicted, followed by his entire lineage, wrapping around the structure, until it came back to the founder of the city, who was depicted handing the staff of rulership to the ruler, representing the ruler's claim to authority.
At the end of the presentation, students described it as "Awesome!" and "Cool!" They all agreed that Majewski did an excellent job presenting.
Hubbard praised Majewski, saying, "A lot of that was new to us, not just the technology. He did a great job working with them."
Majewski spoke highly of Moriarty as well, saying, "You are an amazing teacher to come to us and ask if we could do this."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB