I arrived at the Haffenreffer Museum of the American Indian, as it was then called, in 1958, after all but one of the cigar-store Indians had been sold and the proceeds used to create the lower gallery (four-sided stand-alone boxes for small items, a platform along one wall for large items, and a bank of four or five glass cases). Dr. Giddings had borrowed items for this display from the University Museum in Philadelphia where he had connections; other items were in the extant collection. That galley turned what had been a collection of Amerindian artefacts into an Anthropology museum. The rest of the building, including the entry room, had heavy glass cases filled with shallow boxes where arrowheads rested on yellowing cotton cushions.
Giddings left me pretty much to my own devices, aside from shepherding school groups around and sometimes tending the place on weekends and later supervising interested Brown students and others in numerous rather tedious tasks. So I created an Alaska display in a room that housed a very heavy, round safe and a display in one of the free-standing coffin-like cases of Indian stone artifacts with cut-outs of various contemporary tools. Gradually, over the years, the arrowheads were replaced with groups of artifacts from particular “culture areas” and new displays were mounted in the room that connected the two galleries.
I should add that the workroom also housed stone artifacts and continued to house some, while banks of drawers replaced others. These were for the collections from Alaska that Giddings and his student assistants excavated each summer. During some of those summers I took charge of the Museum and then, with student help, catalogued the findings. We all became quite expert at writing numbers on very small pieces of stone (starting with the Denbigh Flint Complex).
There are many stories to be told (and not told) about those years. There was the dramatic first arrival of Ina in a military vehicle from the Mt Hope “installation”. She had rolled her car in a ditch on the way in. (Read Ina’s story here.) There were the boxes and metal tins of stone adzes that Barry Bainton excavated and indeed found some treasure. There was my expedition with Ina to the Newport Museum, which wanted to get rid of items not directly related to marine matters, where we garnered objects brought back from far-off places, graciously taking them away. And another expedition to the collection of the late greatest iris grower in Rhode Island, but his estate wanted to sell all the stuff as a single lot and we did not think the Museum would want so many very large Chinese pots.
By the time I left the Museum to gain a PhD from Bryn Mawr in Anthropology (I already had an MA from Brown), Douglas Anderson had taken over the Alaskan archaeology enterprise, following Giddings’ tragic death, Bill Simmons had returned from his PhD research in Africa, Ina had acquired a BA and MA at Brown and was beginning a PhD at Brandeis. All those students I had overseen as volunteers at the Museum had or would go their own way.
The original Haffenreffer was a rather unique place, set as it was on the shores of Mt Hope Bay with great fields of grass and stands of trees and lots of rabbits and ticks. When the Giddings family moved from the house at the shore below the Museum to the mansion on the hill, I moved into the little house, and when I left Doug and Wanni moved in.
An Alaskan Saga
Near the strait named after Bering
Where the voyager lost his daring.
On the sound named after Kotzebue
Our heroes, our heroes sought to find a clue.
On the cape named after Krustenstern
Hidden from sight was lots to learn.
Under the crests of the old beach ridges
Undaunted they sought to find the bridges
That time had hidden away to show
The life of the former Eskimo.
Here our heroes Doug and Giddings
Dug into old Alaskans’ diggings.
Here our heroes Diggings and Dug
Inspected the diggings they had dug
To search for traces of early man
And learn how Eskimo life began.
They found a beach ridge seriation
Which caused an archaeological sensation.
This stratigraphy horizontal
Showed history from back to frontal,
Vertical dating had had its day,
Relying on cultural overlay,
Archaeologists tended to ignore
The chance that every Eskimo floor
Had been dug into a former mound
And the objects therein tossed above the ground.
This created a false illusion
That led to scholarly confusion.
Digging and digging faster and faster
They came upon a prehistoric disaster.
In a burned up house, Ipiutak dated,
They found some folks who had been cremated.
Ma and the kids before Pa got back
Had been victims of a fierce attack.
The house was fired and though they tried
They couldn’t dig their way outside.
A tale such as this leaves most people sad
But it made our archaeologists glad
For goggles and Toggles and adzes and picks
Tell a livelier story than mere stones and sticks.
On an old beach far away from the sea
Whalebones were found where they shouldn’t be.
With a touch of luck and great foresight
They brought the village, Old Whaling, to light.
Large end blades for harpoons were found
Placing the site on ancient whaling ground.
Alaskan whaling three thousand years ago
Diggings had always suspected so.
And now he had proof positive
That on whale meat they used to live.
They found something else they never expected
Notched scrapers and points were also connected
With the culture of whalers so long ago
In the land now known as Eskimo.
With an instinct astutely insightful
They found a man acutely delightful.
A grinning skull he did display
As if happy to see the light of day.
After so many years in the ground
He was pleased as punch to be found.
And so “Old Smiley” got his name
Could he ever have dreamed of his present fame.
An archaeologist with a practiced eye
Happened upon a cache nearby.
In a site looking very innocent
They found a cache absolutely magnificent.
A squirrel at Battle Rock did disturb
A burial containing gifts superb.
Arrowheads in abundance of workmanship fine
And a new art style featuring a triple line.
They searched the shores of Kobuk and Noatak
For archaeological data of which there is a lack.
Each one aware there was much more to learn
Vowed to himself, “I shall return”.
An Alaskan Saga has been told
Of heroes who the past unfold
We’ve dealt with our heroes’ past glory
Now we’ll sing their future story.
On a Fullbright boat full of bright scholars
They’ll go to study on Fulbright dollars—
With a little Guggenheim thrown in
To take along the wife and kin.
A warning to Danes about these guys
They could dig up a whole country Denmark’s size.
There our heroes Doug and Giddings
Will delve into Danish diggings.
There our heroes Giddings and Doug
Will show the Danes what they have dug
To solve the riddle of early man
And how Eskimo life really began.
We wish them luck and a fruitful year
And remind them to drink Carlsberg, not Tuborg, beer.
Dr Judith Huntsman is a world expert on the anthropology and history of Tokelau. While she has written widely about the Pacific, her major publications have concerned the tiny atolls of Tokelau: Tokelau: A Historical Ethnography (1996), written with Antony Hooper, which was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards, and The Future of Tokelau: Decolonising Agendas, 1975–2006, written with Kelihiano Kalolo (2007). She majored in anthropology at Brown University and worked there while completing her MA and starting her PhD. She completed her Masters thesis, “A Study of the Alaskan Whale Cult”, in 1963 with J. Louis Giddings as her advisor, and went on to do her PhD on Tokelau at Bryn Mawr College. From 1970, she worked at The University of Auckland, retiring as associate professor in early 2001 and taking up an appointment as Honorary Professorial Research Fellow in Social Anthropology. Dr Huntsman has been the secretary and a council member of the Polynesian Society and she has served several stints as the editor of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.