NHA Receives Major Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

NANTUCKET, MA – The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is pleased to announce it has been awarded a $190,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) supporting a project to better understand and catalog the NHA’s archeology collections. These include Native peoples and English settlers collections estimated to number at least 5,000 stone tools, pottery, and ceramic fragments.

This project will include creating digital images and records that will be publically accessible on the NHA’s online collection database. Artifacts will be rehoused in new museum-quality enclosures for better protection.

To commemorate the 360th anniversary of the first contact between Native peoples and English settlers on Nantucket in 2019, the NHA staff set a goal to revive and build on archaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Little’s lifetime work of groundbreaking research. This is a multi-year effort that will impact every department in the organization. The NHA will work with Plimoth Plantation, the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council, and noted archaeologists. A Collections Specialist has been hired to undertake this work, working closely with a consulting archaeologist familiar with the artifacts and under the supervision of collections staff. A public exhibit is planned for 2021 inside the Jethro Coffin House, aka the “Oldest House.” There visitors will be able to examine the collections along with interpretive materials.

Amelia Holmes, NHA Director of Collections, notes: “The archaeology collection forms one of the NHA’s largest artifact groups, estimated to contain at least 5,000 items. The objects divide broadly into four groups. The largest contains lithic spear and arrow points made by the Native peoples who inhabited Nantucket from about 8,000 BCE to the eighteenth century. There are 2,000–3,000 items in this category, documenting hunting practices and tool-making materials spanning from thousands of years before European settlement into the post-contact period. The next group of objects contains larger Native American stone tools, including ax heads, mallets, fishing weights, and mortars and pestles. There are about 200–300 of these items in the collection. The third group contains animal bones and seashells excavated at native dwelling and hunting sites across the island. The number of items in this group is approximately 500. The last grouping holds 1,000–2,000 historic-period ceramic and glass fragments excavated at English colonial and early American sites on the island. A majority of these items document daily life at historic houses and sites now under the care of the NHA and were uncovered during digs at those sites.”

To provide expert advice and direction, the NHA has also engaged Mary Lynne Rainey, Principal Senior Archaeologist, Richard Grubb & Associates, Inc., to work alongside NHA project manager Amelia Holmes, Director of Collections, as well as Michael Harrison, NHA Obed Macy Research Historian, and Karl Wietzel, NHA Collections Specialist.

The NHA board and staff thank the IMLS for recognizing the importance of this project and for its support.

“As pillars of our communities, libraries and museums bring people together by providing important programs, services, and collections. These institutions are trusted spaces where people can learn, explore and grow,” says IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “IMLS is proud to support their initiatives through our grants as they educate and enhance their communities.”


Photo:  Wampanoag projectile points, Gift of Alice and Alfred Shurrocks, 1940.1. Photography by Jeffrey S. Allen.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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