Contributed by Pam Kosty Public Relations Director, Penn Museum

PHILADELPHIA, PA Spring 2017—On a beautiful morning in early May, two Penn students—Kristen Pearson, a junior majoring in Classics, and Lauren Aguilar, a dual degree Master’s student in Architecture and Historic Preservation at the School of Design—were out at the Morris Arboretum’s Bloomfield Farm, engaged in flight training. Their aircraft: a new DJI Mavic Pro drone.

Kristen and Lauren were among 13 students, graduate and undergraduate, from multiple disciplines, taking Spatial Analysis of the Past, a new course taught by Dr. Peter J. Cobb, Kowalski Family Teaching Specialist for Digital Archaeology in the Penn Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM).

Student walking through grass

Throughout the semester-long course, students gained experience creating, gathering, and manipulating 2d and 3d spatial datasets. They practiced using a variety of analytical techniques on data to draw archaeological and historical conclusions. They worked with numerous tools, including relational databases, geographical information systems (GIS), global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), raster image processing, photogrammetry, and 3d spatial modeling software.

One great way to gather spatial data is by flying an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (aka UAV or drone). Earlier in the semester, the students had a chance to practice with a lightweight drone, the type purchased for hobby use, in the Museum’s inner courtyard. At less than a tenth the cost of professional equipment, these drones are good for first time pilots getting a feel for the job, but they could be hard to manipulate. “We started with three practice drones at the beginning of the semester; now we only have one that’s still flying,” Dr. Cobb noted.

CAAM purchased one DJI Mavic Pro—a professional quality, unmanned aerial photography and videography platform drone—for the class, and Dr. Cobb wanted to make sure every student had an opportunity to get experience on the equipment in a safe and visually interesting setting. The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, located in Chestnut Hill, features acres of a diverse rolling landscape, and Bloomfield Farm, a large area not open to the public, was an ideal location. Bryan Thompson-Nowak, Assistant Director of Continuing Education and Penn Student Outreach with the Morris Arboretum, helped coordinate the spring visits, as students, in pairs, traveled from the Penn Museum to the Arboretum with Dr. Cobb for flight training. "It’s great to have students discover the Arboretum and the various ways it can be incorporated into their student life," Bryan noted. "We’re always excited to make new connections like this and can’t wait to have them back next year.”

Students flying drone

While students learn to employ a whole tool set of technologies in the course, Dr. Cobb acknowledged that flying the drones was especially fun. Via aerial photographs and video, drones collect the rich sets of data, and the multiplicity of angles, that provide the researcher with a more holistic view of a given landscape.

For Kristen, both flying the drone, and a visit to the Arboretum, were first time experiences. “I was really surprised at how easy it was, because I had a lot of trouble with the toy drone. I thought that I was never going to be able to do it. It was kind of cool, you actually get the hang of it really quickly, manipulating the camera and taking photos. It’s pretty rewarding to see how you can start to use it.”

A Classics major with minors in CAAM archaeological science and linguistics, Kristen has a special research interest: an avid horse rider growing up in Norwich, Vermont, she wants to study horsemanship in Mongolia—something she’ll be doing this summer as she travels to Mongolia to work on an excavation. “I’m hoping to apply what I learn about modern horsemanship in that (Central Asian) landscape to looking at the impact of horse domestication in the Bronze and Iron Ages.” Her Penn advisor is Dr. Katherine Moore, CAAM’s Mainwaring Teaching Specialist for Archaeozoology. Kristen has had access to a strong collection of comparative domesticated animal bones, including horse bones, in the CAAM zooarchaeology lab.

The Spatial Analysis class offers additional skills applicable to her research interests. “I think I will probably use ArcMap a lot. ArcMap is a tool to do analysis of spatial data, so I can use it to look at navigational strategies in archaeological landscapes. I’m interested in how travel changes when you introduce horses and horseback riding into the equation.”

Droning On!

Students flying drone

As a dual Master’s degree major in Architecture and Historic Preservation in the School of Design, Lauren Aguilar, who hails from Temecula, California, has interests and a path that lead in a different direction. Even so, the skills she learned in this course are proving surprisingly useful.

Though she was initially tentative about learning to fly the drone, Lauren’s Arboretum flight will not be her last: she will be on a team flying drones to survey building conditions in her summer job with Historic Building Architects of Trenton, NJ in the early summer. In July, she leaves for the archaeological site of Aphrodisias, Turkey, where she’ll be conducting a field survey—and finding herself again working with drones.

Of the drone training, she noted, “before I started the class, I was very nervous about it. I definitely feel a lot more comfortable with it now. I’m taking the exam for an FAA Unmanned Aircraft License this month.”

CAAM Takes Flight

Students flying drone

The Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM), a joint endeavor between the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences and the Penn Museum, completed its third full academic year of classes in May 2017. In the fall of 2014, CAAM offered its first class, ANTH 148 Food and Fire: Archaeology in the Laboratory, a freshman seminar, to 14 students. The popular fall course now draws more than 50 undergraduates who get an early introduction to the Penn Museum’s international collections and research activities.

CAAM offers the facilities, materials, equipment, and expert personnel to teach and mentor Penn students in a range of scientific techniques crucial to archaeologists and other scholars who seek to interpret the past in an interdisciplinary context which links the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities.

The digital archaeology specialty was added in the fall of 2016. In fall 2017, Dr. Cobb teaches a new class to introduce undergraduate students to 3d modeling and data management of archaeological objects: The Material Past in a Digital World.

Today, CAAM is staffed by Teaching Specialists with expertise in ceramics, digital archaeology, archaeobotany, archaeozoology, skeletal analysis, lithics, archaeometallurgy, and conservation offering four or five in-depth, hands on courses at the graduate and undergraduate level, as well as a Minor in Archaeological Sciences.

Information about the CAAM program, and Penn student opportunities for learning in a Museum environment, are online:

Contributed by: Sharee Solow, Freelance Landscape Designer, Consultant, Lecturer,

Gardens are where childhood memories take root as deeply as any plant that goes into the ground. Every day is different when a child goes outside. Our connection to the elements  comprises what we sense as the whole composite thing called nature. Water, dirt, plants, insects, wind, and shade exist in cities, suburbs, and farms, but how we interact with them changes drastically. Gardening teaches patience and flexibility. You cannot control the heavy rain washing young seeds out of the ground, but you can replant them and try again. When some unknown insect chews the leaves overnight, a science project becomes very important if you want to see a tomato next month. You can't procrastinate doing your homework in the garden because nature won't wait for you to get it together. Nature wins every time.

There are some things you can do some things to encourage new gardeners, depending on their age, such as preparing a planting space, watering seedlings, providing real tools (you don't prepare dinner with plastic knife), letting them ask questions at a garden center, making plans for the flowers or vegetables they will grow, helping them find a recipe if they grow something edible (flowers too), and keeping it simple at first. Things they will probably like doing will be picking slugs, learning about caterpillar frass, making labels for each plant, painting a container that is their patio garden, or hanging small things on strings near fruit to scare the birds. 

One of the easiest ways to get hooked on gardening is through propagation. Show children how to grow plants from cuttings. Cut some coleus stems and put them in a glass of water on a windowsill to see the miracle of roots coming from nowhere. I might have been 8 when I picked up a brick that had a hydrangea branch underneath and saw roots. Then I saw a Victory Garden episode where the host scraped a hydrangea stem, wrapped it with moss in a plastic baggie, and later in the season had a new plant. Yes, I still remember it vividly.

Seeds are cheap and easy. My mother showed me how to collect seed from portulaca, marigold, daylily, and morning glory. Seeds we ordered from her many catalogues, which I looked through all the time to see the pictures, were radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, alyssum, and things that were just pretty and locally unavailable. Plants we bought were strawberries, chives, mint, oregano, and basil. I would recommend all of these today for anyone starting out for the first time.


Website Resources:

University of Illinois

Contributed by: Joyce H. Munro, Morris Arboretum Archives Volunteer

It’s only after many years of loyal service that an employee receives a gold watch, like twenty, thirty years. So why did Miss Morris give William Russell a gold watch after only two years’ service as her secretary? And this was no ordinary watch from Wanamaker’s or Gimbel Brothers. This was her brother John’s own watch. The fourteen karat gold, minute-repeating pocket watch made in Geneva, Switzerland, by Haas Neveux & Cie that John himself bought for 1500 francs in 1895, when he and Lydia were touring Switzerland. The watch inscribed with his name and the year.

John T. Morris pocket watch

The watch inscribed a second time by Miss Morris years later. And the words she chose make it all the more mysterious:


William H. Russell


Lydia T. Morris

“Thank you”

Very cryptic of Miss Morris. We’re left wondering what William did to deserve such a treasured belonging. Did he arrange to have the Pierce Arrow limousine repaired after that accident in Philly. Or cajole the Chestnut Hill Police Department into assigning officers to patrol Compton after the burglar alarm started malfunctioning. Or negotiate with contractors for all those repairs at the Pine Street townhouse.


 Inscription to William Russell

More likely it was handling the aftermath of John T. Morris’s unexpected death while vacationing in New Hampshire. There was much to handle afterwards and it likely began when Miss Morris asked William to begin pulling together all of Mr. Morris’s Byzantine coins, Roman glass, Japanese armor, Alaskan amulets, Chinese lacquers, books, maps, swords, knives. So here was William Russell, an immigrant from Scotland with his reliable Kilmarnock brogue, surrounded by ancient curiosities. It would have taken months for him to inventory hundreds of items which, according to Mr. Morris’s will, were not to leave the premises unless a museum wanted to borrow something. All except Mr. Morris’s own watch, which Miss Morris, out of gratitude and sorrow, gave to William.

Certainly, William was well-qualified for an inventory job this immense. Prior to joining Miss Morris’s staff, he had served twenty-one years in the Office of the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. Yes, there once was an architectural division within the Treasury, tasked with determining the need for federal buildings and getting them built, not only in the District of Columbia, but across the country. So staff like William created inventories, draftsmen drafted plans, contractors received contracts and voila, towns like Camden, South Carolina and Evanston, Wyoming got new post offices, Philadelphia got a new mint.


Actually, William was over-qualified for the position of Secretary to Miss Morris—he held a law degree from George Washington University. Yet here he was, William Henry Dunlop Russell, L.L.B., approving invoices for everything from azalea pots to dairy pails to screwdrivers to a new 1927 Pierce Arrow limo in standard green with optional heater and bracket headlamps.

William Russell Sr., circa 1940

Mr. Morris’s watch was not the only thing Miss Morris gave William. Under the terms of her will, he received a $5,000 legacy and college education for his sons. She also ensured his future employment by declaring him Secretary to the Morris Foundation, the position he held the rest of his life.

And during those years, William heard things at meetings of the Board of Managers, things that must have made him hold his tongue at times. But he didn’t hold his tongue when it came to the whereabouts of important Morris family papers. He had them. Letters, bills, deeds, bank books, business correspondence. Dating to the 1700s. Enough material for a book. And he would be happy to make everything available to the foundation, he informed them shortly after Miss Morris’s death.

Evidently the managers weren’t interested, but William’s son certainly was. As a matter of fact, William Russell Jr. was most interested and began researching the papers salvaged by his father—ten linear feet of papers—for a book on the business history of the Morris family and their associates. But that was the year William Russell Jr. was elected to the faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. His scholarly interests shifted and the book was never written.

In 1964, William Russell Jr. donated the Morris family papers to the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. The book is still waiting to be written.


Photos courtesy of the Russell family.


Contributed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

There’s plenty of “ha-ha” at the Morris Arboretum!  You know - big, loud, hearty laughter.  It's easy to hear while you’re there.

Yet, “ha-ha” is more than intense giggling.  A Ha-Ha is also a landscape earthwork; basically, a hidden boundary wall or sunken fence.  So, it's not always noticeable right away to a casual viewer's eye.  Even today, Ha-Ha landscaping is used at the Washington Monument.

Why the funny name?  Because, a Ha-Ha causes surprise, when unsuspecting people suddenly become aware of its stealthiness.

The Arboretum's stone Ha-Ha wall - a landscape earthwork; recessed into a grassy hill and adjoined to a wide walkway located near to the Oak Allee​

Step up the grassy hill about 30-40 feet, look downward toward the Ha-Ha wall, and the wall and walkway disappear from your view!


At the Arboretum, there is stone Ha-Ha wall.  On one side, it is recessed into the bottom of a broad sloping grassy hill. On its other side, the wall adjoins the wide walkway leading to the Oak Allee.  Here, the Ha-Ha serves as a boundary between the hill and walkway. It is both decorative and functional (i.e. suited for sitting).  But, if you step up the grassy hill about 30-40 feet and look downward, the wall and walkway disappear from your view.  Poof, they're gone!  I can't stop laughing every time I look down the hill.

In history, the Ha-Ha was a design innovation for 18th century large English gardens. Then, it was a sunken fence:  a grassy area sloped down into a deep, long ditch and a masonry wall rose up from the ditch to ground level.  Thus, viewed from a distance, it was a cleverly hidden, unnoticeable barrier separating a formal garden from the agrarian landscape beyond.  

This design feature was important because it prevented freely grazing cattle, deer, and sheep in the landscape from entering the owner’s refined garden (i.e . lawn, and terrace), while preserving the owner’s uninterrupted views of the agrarian landscape.  Prior to this, the other means of animal control - above ground fences and walls - were visually intrusive.

Find the Ha-Ha wall at the Arboretum and have a great laugh!