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Welcome to the Haffenreffer Museum blog, a place for museum staff and guests to reflect on the work of the museum. Visit the museum web site to learn more about us.

Using RTI and Digital Epigraphy at the Haffenreffer

Today’s post is from Jen Thum, doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute, and proctor at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

Hello, readers!

As you may remember from my last post,  I’ve been doing on the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Old Kingdom relief block, which is from an ancient Egyptian private tomb of the 5th or 6th Dynasty (ca. 2494-2181 BCE).

The block came to the museum through a series of donors, and we do not know its place of origin. It is in poor condition, with cracks, worn areas, and residue from reconstruction (at some point in its history, it broke into pieces and was repaired). It is hard enough to see the details of the carving on this block with the naked eye, and it is even harder to get a good photograph using conventional methods. All of these problems made the block an ideal candidate for Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and digital epigraphy.

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It is difficult to read the inscriptions and see the figures on the block with the naked eye. The shiny sphere circled in red makes RTI possible (see below). Photo: Jen Thum

RTI is a light-based technology that merges a series of photographs, each with light coming from different direction, so we can shine light digitally over a composite image of the object. Note the shiny sphere I have circled in the picture above: it reflects the light in each photo, allowing the computer software to “read” the direction the light is coming from. In the photo below you can see a composite image of the object, with the color stripped out, as it appears in our RTI Viewer software from Cultural Heritage Imaging.

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A screenshot of the program displaying a composite image. Photo: Jen Thum

Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions through drawing and recording. Digital epigraphy is the computer-based version of epigraphy, where a tracing is made over a picture of the object using drawing software. To digitally draw our block, I am using Adobe Illustrator. But I cannot simply draw over ordinary pictures of it, since the details aren’t clear enough—instead, I am drawing on the RTI images. To get the best angle of light for each section of the block, I divided our RTI image into 16 rectangular sections, and took four “snapshots” of each one. These are arbitrary numbers that I chose after considering how much detail each section of the block would show.

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A mock-up of the block using RTI snapshots. Photo: Jen Thum

Each of the snapshots shows the same section of the block, but with the light shining from a different direction. Below you can see two of these snapshots side-by-side: see the difference the light makes! Now, when I want to draw a detail on the block that I cannot see too well in one snapshot, I can “turn on” the other three to see if one of them will give me a better view.

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A side-by-side image of two RTI snapshots from the same section of the block. Photo: Jen Thum

I’ve already started to draw the block—not just the figures and hieroglyphs, but also the damage and restoration. Here’s what it looks like so far:

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My drawing progress to date. Photo: Jen Thum

On the final line drawing, I will mimic the effect of raised relief by adding some shadow, as in the picture below.

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In the circled area, I have added shadow to show that this is raised relief. Photo: Jen Thum

This project will take a while longer, but I’ll keep you posted—in the meantime, come see the block on display in Manning Hall‘s CultureLab, and follow my progress on the Museum’s Twitter account at, with the hashtag #EgyptoloJen!

Thanks Jen!  Readers, if you’d like to hear more about this, Jen is giving a short talk TODAY, December 9th, for Brown University’s Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies Colloquium at 1pm on the 3rd floor of Wilbour Hall (home of the Egyptology Department).

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, blog editor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Schevill Maya Textile Collection: Relationship Building, Collaboration, and Public Engagement

Today’s post comes from Robin Wheelwright Ness, Digital Production Specialist at Brown University Library.

Museums strive to partner and collaborate with other institutions, engage the public, and build lasting relationships within communities. There is no foolproof recipe for success, but there are indeed successes that demonstrate how collaboration and community relationship building can lead to active public engagement with museum collections.

Chichi weaver, 1985, Ikat tzute. Photo: Margot Blum Schevill

I am responsible for the coordination of work on digital projects in Brown University Library’s department of  Digital Production Services; I am also a part-time graduate student in the Master’s program at Brown’s Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. These intersecting roles have allowed me a unique understanding of just how inter-institutional collaboration and public engagement intersect to expand what the museum is, what it does, and who it is for.

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology holds a collection of over two hundred hand-woven Maya garments collected by anthropologist and Brown alumna Margot Blum Schevill, a specialist in Guatemalan weaving practices. In the past few years, Schevill has also donated correspondence and thousands of slides and photographs documenting Mayan weaving practices and Guatemalan village life to the Haffenreffer.

Back-strap weaving demonstration at Museo Ixchel, Ciudad de Guatemala. Photo by Margot Blum Schevill

Recognizing the need to digitize Schevill’s many images, curators at the Haffenreffer approached Digital Production Services in the fall of 2012. It proposed that the Schevill slides be scanned and added to the Brown Digital Repository, to which the museum plans to link as it builds its online collection database. Digital Production Services has previously provided digitization and metadata services to, and preserved digitized components of, projects including Mashapaug Pond and the Fox Point Project. The library was pleased to join in the effort to help make the Schevill materials available to a larger audience.

Two Public Humanities students, Anna Ghublikian ’13 and María Quintero ’13, took the opportunity to work on cataloging the textile component of the Schevill collection. I taught Anna, María, and another Public Humanities student already in our employ, Jacqueline Harris ’13, to digitize the collection (using our Nikon Super Coolscan5000 slide scanners) and to use our internal tracking system to record metadata about the images. Schevill was meticulous in recording not only the locations and dates of her visits, but also the types of looms, materials, and weaving techniques employed in the creation of textiles she photographed. This information can be used to create metadata records, providing a variety of access points and, ultimately, adding value to the user’s experience with the digitized collection.

Anna and María’s work paralleled a documentary and arts project, led by Brown undergraduate Alexander Crane, which partnered with the Maya-Guatemalan Weaving Collective Oxib’ B’atz, located in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. Oxib’ B’atz was formed, in part, in order to keep alive the tradition of the immigrant’s native Guatemalan practice of back-strap loom weaving. The connection to, and overlap between, the Schevill collection and the ongoing work of the collective inspired an exhibit at Brown University’s Carriage House Gallery, and planted the seed in Anna & María’s minds for further expansion of the project.

As the digitization work proceeded, Anna and María began building partnerships with institutions and weavers in New Bedford, MA. This ultimately led to an exhibition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives: Maya Textiles from Guatemala and New Bedford, exploring Mayan weaving as a form of storytelling. Working as co-curators, María and Anna brought additional students into the project to form an exhibit team. They displayed garments from the Schevill Collection alongside contemporary examples woven by members of Oxib’ B’atz. The exhibit featured demonstrations of back-strap weaving by members of the Oxib’ B’atz, school vacation week programming, Spanish language content, and free admission to New Bedford residents.

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1960s huipil from the Haffenreffer’s Schevill collection on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Photo by Robin Wheelwright Ness

The work I performed conducting quality control and correction on the digitized slides facilitated the selection of images for use in the exhibit. Jacqueline has written about her involvement in the project on the DPS departmental blog, Curio, while Anna and María have written about the project in a previous post on this very blog. And — good news! — upon graduation, María Quintero became a curatorial fellow at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where she continues to work on enhancing ties between the institution and local communities.

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A member of New Bedford’s Oxib’ B’atz collective demonstrating back-strap weaving at the exhibit’s opening. Photo by Robin Wheelwright Ness

One of the next steps in working with the Schevill Collection is to make the digitized images of the collection available to the general public so that those with interest in ethnographic costume and Maya Guatemalan weaving traditions worldwide can make use of this valuable resource. Stay tuned for updates on the digital component of this project as it enters the Brown Digital Repository.


A woman weaving in the Guatemalan mountains. Photo by Margot Blum Schevill

Thank you Robin. We love this project, and are excited about making these images available to the public in the Brown Digital Repository. More on that soon!

Meet the Postdoc: Sean Gantt

Today’s post is from Sean Gantt, Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies at Brown University.

Halito, Sa-hochifo yát Sean Gantt. Charlotte, NC si-aiálhi. Chahta hicha Na Hollo siyah. Iksa Comby akanomi. (Hello, my name is Sean Gantt. I am from Charlotte, NC. I am of European and Choctaw descent. I am related to the Comby family.)

I am the new postdoctoral fellow in Native American Studies hosted in Anthropology at Brown University. I am happy to join the department for the 2013-2014 academic year. I am very excited to be at Brown University and I look forward to working with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, as well as the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA), Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown (NAISAB) , and the student group Native Americans at Brown (NAB).

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Sean Gantt defending his dissertation on July 29, 2013 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of Sean Gantt

I am new to the area, recently moving from Albuquerque, NM where I completed my PhD in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. My dissertation, titled “Nanta Hosh Chahta Immi? (What are Choctaw Lifeways?): Cultural Preservation in the Casino Era,” investigates the long-term impacts of tribal economic development programs on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) reservation in East-Central Mississippi. Before going to grad school in New Mexico I earned my BA in Anthropology from Davidson College in North Carolina.

I am a visual and public anthropologist with training in both archaeological and ethnographic research methods. I specialize on Southeastern U.S. Native American Studies and focus on tribal economic development, Indigenous self-representation, and identity. My work builds on the growing body of theory and research in Decolonization and Tribal Critical Race Theory, as well as critical Indigenous scholarship.

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Sean Gantt recording in the field for his video project “New Mexico Flintknappers: Breakin’ Rock,” (2008) 13 minutes. Photo courtesy of Sean Gantt

In the spring I will be teaching ETHN1890H: Introduction to American Indian Studies at Brown, and look forward to the opportunity to work with students in an engaging class looking at some of these issues. The class will certainly approach Native American Studies from a critical perspective, but there will also be flexibility for students to investigate research areas of their own choice as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the class to contact me via email at

If you are interested in learning more about me, my research, or my video work please check out my website:

Yakoke, hachi pisa la chine (Thank you, see you all soon)

– Sean E. Gantt, PhD

Thanks, Sean — we’re glad you could join us!

Readers: we welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, blog editor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Last chance to see “Reading Love Medicine

“Reading Love Medicine: Beads, Bark, and Books from Ojibwe Country” closes Thursday, October 24 — so you have a few more days to visit the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library on the Brown University campus to see it. If you are not a Brown id-holder, please be prepared to show some form of identification for entry.

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“Reading Love Medicine” supports the 2013-2014 Big Read in Rhode Island, a set of programs dedicated to Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine. The exhibit focuses on stories that can be told about objects from Ojibwe country. Drawing on objects from the collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, including beaded bandolier bags and birch bark baskets, the exhibition highlights the role that objects play in establishing and maintaining identity and relationships over time and across space. It foregrounds connections between tribes across the woodland regions of North America, and between American Indian and non-Indian communities. The exhibit is curated by Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University (and Haffenreffer blog editor). It is informed by her research with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.

The Big Read is hosted by the Tomaquag Museum, a Native-operated museum that tells the stories of Rhode Island’s Indigenous peoples. Sponsors include Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, its Third World Center, Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown, and Native Americans at Brown.

Join us at the next Big Read event, on Friday October 25, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, when Loren Spears, Director of the Tomaquag Museum, speaks at the Providence Athenaeum. Her topic is “Native Arts: Healing Communities”; she will address themes such as family, community, historical trauma, and intergenerational trauma. She will reflect on how Native communities are addressing these issues today by using traditional arts to build a vibrant future.

And stay tuned for more information about a Round Table Discussion of Love Medicine to be scheduled for November and hosted by Native Americans at Brown. Hope you can join us!

For more information on Big Read events, see

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Egyptian Archaeology at the Haffenreffer: Meet Jen Thum

Today’s post is from Jen Thum, doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute, and proctor at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology this term.

Hello Haffenreffer Blog readers!

I’m Jen, a second-year PhD student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown’s Joukowsky Institute. One of the features of my program is the “proctorship”: a semester-long term of service for the Brown community. The Joukowsky Institute’s close relationship with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology means that I have the pleasure of working with the Museum’s collections several times per week this semester.

Photo by Jen Thum

Jen Thum, HMA proctor, climbing out of an Iron-Age oven at Tel Megiddo. Photo by Jen Thum

I am an archaeologist who studies ancient Egyptian culture, with ongoing fieldwork at the Roman Period site of Amheida (ancient Trimithis) in Egypt’s Daklheh Oasis, and at Tel Megiddo and an adjacent settlement in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. When I learned that I would be working at the Haffenreffer, my first question was: Does the Museum happen to have any Egyptian objects that need to be researched? The answer turned out to be yes — there are about forty Egyptian items in the Haffenreffer collection — and the rest is (ancient) history!

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Two of the Museum’s painted wooden funerary statues. Photo by Jen Thum

A few weeks ago I began researching and describing these objects, most of which are currently in the Museum’s research facility in Bristol, Rhode Island. Soon they will travel to Manning Hall on the Brown campus, where visitors can see them up-close. A wide range of materials are represented in this group: we have bronzes, wooden statues, faience (a glass-glazed ceramic made from powdered quartz) and the molds used to shape it, stone vessels and figurines, and even a piece turquoise incised with images of two Egyptian gods.

Photo by Jen Thum

An Old Kingdom limestone votive object, with an inscription identifying the man who donated it. Photo by Jen Thum


Brown senior Aida holds a piece of turquoise incised with an image of the god Horus. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

My goal is to get the public excited about the collections through hands-on activities. On most Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December you can find me in the CultureLab, explaining what some of the Museum’s Egyptian objects are and how they were used. Visitors who join me on these days have the opportunity to put the fancy object-handling gloves on themselves, hold the objects, and ask me questions. I can’t promise to have an answer for everything, but I like a challenge, and I am always happy to whip out the microscope for some in-depth investigation!


Our mold for a small rosette-shaped faience object, under the microscope. Note the ancient fingerprints we saw under the microscope! Photo by Tony Belz

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History graduate student Sam handles a small faience mold. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Speaking of interactive activities, if you happen to be around campus on Saturday, October 19, you can join me at 11:30 am in Manning Hall for a demonstration of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). I will use this light-based technology to examine the Museum’s Old Kingdom relief block, and visitors will have the chance to help me out.

By the end of this term, the information I have garnered from my objects research will be available for visitors to the Haffenreffer and its website. In the meantime, stop in for a visit, and follow my progress on the Museum’s Twitter account at, with the hashtag #EgyptoloJen.

Ir Hrw nfr! (That’s Ancient Egyptian for Have a nice day!)

Thanks Jen, and good luck in your work this term!  Readers, be sure to come by to see Jen at Manning Hall this Saturday, October 19 as she examines the Haffenreffer’s Old Kingdom relief block — with your help! The event is part of the Haffenreffer’s programming for Brown University’s Family Weekend and for International Archaeology Day.

Welcome, New Director Bob Preucel!

A belated welcome back and best wishes for the new academic year at Brown and beyond! HMA Blog kicks things off with greetings from our new director, Robert Preucel.



Kuwatsi Hopa!

I am very excited to be the new director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. I owe a great debt to the past directors and past and current staff members who have made this museum such a wonderful beacon of light for the study of anthropology.

The Haffenreffer Museum is one of the leading anthropology museums in the country. It was founded by Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, the industrialist and philanthropist, as the King Philip’s Museum around 1920. His main interest was Native America with a special focus on the archaeology and history of Native New England. Upon his death in 1955, the museum was donated to Brown University and J. Louis Giddings was hired as its first director. Giddings transformed the museum into a modern institution and expanded its archaeological and ethnographic reach to encompass the world’s cultures.

Anthropology museums have a special role in our society today. They are uniquely positioned to serve as key intellectual sites for the production of global understanding of the world’s peoples and cultures both past and present. Such museums provide unparalleled opportunities for students and faculty to explore social issues in all their complexities and nuances. “Teaching with things” can give students hands on experience of these issues in ways that they might not otherwise acquire. These museums also are the loci for didactic exhibits that can engage students and general public with contemporary topics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, health chances, urbanization, population flows, and globalization.

One of my goals will be to make the collections even more accessible. One way we are doing this is through our new Faculty Fellows program. This program gives faculty an opportunity to use our collections in their teaching. We are using CultureLab as the venue for students to encounter museum objects. Another way we are doing this is by digitizing our collections. Putting photographs online enables anyone with a computer  to see these remarkable objects and to potentially conduct research on them.

I also hope to develop some exciting new exhibitions that help mediate our experiences with the modern world. We are already doing this and a good example is the City-Plaza-People exhibition that opened last fall. This exhibition, prepared by Professor Rebecca Carter’s class, examined public spaces in transition and used Providence’s Kennedy Plaza as a case study.

I also want to reach out to descendant communities, the people whose ancestors made the objects in our collections. For example, we recently hosted a group of expatriates from the Kingdom of Bangwa in western Cameroon. They came to examine a collection of 19 masks that were collected in the mid-1960s. They wanted to reconnect with artwork that could serve as important inspiration for current and future generations.

I would like to build ties with local museums and institutions. One way to do this is to develop collaborative exhibitions that take greater advantage of our mutual interests in art, history, and society. For this reason, I also want to expand our program of acquiring contemporary Native American art. It is a powerful way to show that Native peoples are still here and that they have profound things to say not only about their communities, but also about world events and issues.

I feel honored to be part of the distinguished history of the Haffenreffer Museum. Indeed, I feel a special connection with Giddings since, like him, I come to you from the University of Pennsylvania. Please feel free to contact me about your thoughts about the museum. My email is

Robert Preucel

P.S. Kuwatsi hopa means “hello everyone” in the Cochiti language.


Thank you, Bob! We’re happy to have you, and look forward to hearing more about these initiatives over the coming year.

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in the News

The Providence Journal urges readers to visit the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology to see our new exhibit honoring donors Dwight B. Heath, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brown, and Anna Cooper.Heath. The exhibit showcases collections from  Mexico, South America, and Africa.


See the exhibit, The Spirit of the Thing Given, in our gallery at Manning Hall, Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m

Read about Heath’s research, not treated in the exhibit, on cultural variation in drinking practices from Malcolm Gladwell and the New Yorker.


Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has recently reported on research on Viking travels in Newfoundland conducted by Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Haffenreffer. Smith argues that, a thousand years ago,  Vikings traveled further into the Northern Peninsula than was previously thought; there, they were turned back by the Beothuk in a confrontation that might be  “first big encounter between [indigenous people] and the western world.”


Hope to see you in Manning soon!