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Ice Cream with a Goddess: 3-D scanning in the Central Himalayas

by Bernard K. Means

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The temple at Ranihat

Last month, I had ice cream with a goddess.  I was not alone in enjoying this frozen confection. Indian archaeologists Mohan Naithani and Nagendra Rawat each had a scoop of ice cream while we were in a temple at Ranihat, across the Alaknanda River from the town of Srinagar-Garhwal. The three of us were in the temple at Ranihat to 3-D scan the sculpture of the Goddess Mahishasuramardini, an incarnation of Durga. Durga takes this name after killing the demon Mahishasura. Ranihat was the first site excavated by HNB Garhwal University when it was founded in the 1970s. Mohan is a staff archaeologist at HNB Garhwal University and Nagendra recently obtained his Ph.D. from the university.

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We had with us an Einscan Pro 2X scanner that belongs to the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Mohan and Nagendra selected this sculpture for 3-D scanning because it was one of the largest that existed in this part of the central Himalayas. We had a minor issue before we started. The temple’s electricity was not working when we arrived, but Mohan and Nagendra arranged to obtain power from one of the houses close to the temple.

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With our power issue addressed, I began 3-D scanning the Goddess sculpture, when I heard a faint cry that sounded like “ice cream, ice cream.”  I assumed I was hearing some word in a local dialect that sounded like ice cream, but, no, there was an ice cream peddler who was walking through the neighborhood. Once he came close, we took a break from 3-D scanning on an already hot day to enjoy our ice cream.

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The 3-D scanning itself was a quite successful effort.

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Statue of Goddess Mahishasuramardini in the temple at Ranihat

After we finished 3-D scanning at the temple at Ranihat, we stopped at Dominick Pizza  in Srinagar-Garhwal to split a pizza. We did not have the Cheese Burst, tempting as it looked.

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The 3-D scanning at Ranihat was part of my fifth annual trip to Srinagar-Garhwal as part of a cooperative research project between HNB Garhwal University and the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU. As with the two previous years, this 2019 trip was partly funded by the VCU Humanities Research Center.

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Dr. Vinod Nautiyal on the bridge over the Alaknanda River

This co-operative project was initiated back in 2014 after I met with Dr. Vinod Nautiyal to discuss digitization of their archaeological collections, including numerous items in the HNB Garhwal University Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography (the Museum). Dr. Nautiyal retired at the end of 2018 but remains committed to this project. In addition to Mohan and Nagendra, staff archaeologist Sudhir Nautiyal has been an integral member of the project team.

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Vinod Nautiyal, Mohan Naithani, myself, Nagendra Rawat, and Sudhir Nautiyal stand in front of the HNB Garhwal University Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography

The excursion to the temple at Ranihat was not typical of our work this past May. We primarily worked in the Archaeology Laboratory or in the Museum itself. Mohan and I worked with the University’s NextEngine 3-D scanner to 3-D scan some smaller objects.

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These included an iron boat nail from Ranihat, two cordmarked vessels from a shaft tomb excavated recently in the Spiti Valley, and a monkey figurine made of terracotta from the site of Jhusi.

I worked along side Mohan and Sudhir 3-D scanning terracotta and stone sculptures in the lab that were brought over from items on exhibit at the Museum using the Einscan Pro 2x scanner, including a terracotta brick from the site of Moradhwaj with a human face and torso and a statue of Ganesha from Ranihat.

When I was not working in the Archaeology Laboratory, I was over at the Museum 3-D scanning some of the larger sculptures which were impractical to bring over to the Archaeology Laboratory due to their size or weight.

I also did some smaller sculptures while in the museum, including this one of a votive temple sculpture from Ranihat.

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Although focused on archaeological remains, I did 3-D scan three fossils for the HNB Garhwal University Geology Department. One fossil was a 2.5 million year old cow skull, and the other two were fragments of the mandible of a 1.7 to 2.5 million year old horse known as Equus sivalensis. These two mandible fragments were found with two maxillae fragments that I 3-D scanned in May 2018 and maybe belong to the same individual.

In the suitcase I brought with me, I had 3-D printed replicas of the two Equus sivalensis maxillae fragments, other fossils I had 3-D scanned in 2018, and terracotta sculptures, bricks, stone sculptures and clay vessels that I had 3-D scanned in 2018 and some from earlier visits. HNB Garhwal University’s Archaeology Department has begun to use 3-D replicas in their teaching and outreach, as well as in a small exhibit outside the Archaeology Laboratory of 3-D printed replicas I had brought in past visits. HNB Garhwal University is looking into doing their own 3-D printing of their 3-D scanned items, and I’ll be working with them to help make this possible.

As was true for the previous two years, I stayed on campus in their Guest House. The University is a gracious host and I would certainly encourage other researchers to consider coming to this campus, and, of course, spending time in the Museum. One other highlight that I should mention is that I was asked and able to present on how the Virtual Curation Laboratory fits into the teaching mission of VCU—especially with giving students experiential learning opportunities—and the general state of higher education in the U.S.

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I want to close by stating that, in addition to the support of the VCU Humanities Research Center, the success of my research would not be possible without the help of the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences Technology Services. John Seo who was instrumental with obtaining the 3-D scanner I used on this trip, and Ramont Reed and Logan Bishop helped with some of the technical details.

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