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Preserving the Past and Teaching the Future: Spring Break in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director

As yet another winter storm barrels through the eastern U.S., I am working to prepare the Virtual Curation Laboratory for Spring Break.  Is it time for fun in the sun? Beach balls and sand between the toes?  Probably not.  No, my Spring Break is book-ended by two conferences where I will present some of the latest work by the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s cadre of employees, interns, volunteers, and also students in my Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology course.

 

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At the beginning of Spring Break I will be attending the Virginia Association of Museums 40th Annual Conference, which is being held in the exotic location of Richmond, Virginia.  There, on Sunday, March 8, 2015, I am part of a workshop with Jamesown Rediscovery‘s Jeff Aronowitz and Mark Summers entitled “Printing the Past: Fostering an Interdisciplinary Approach to Museum Education Through 3D Scanning & Printing.”  We will focus on different facets of how 3D printing and the partnership between the Virtual Curation Laboratory and Jamestown Rediscovery is and will benefit outreach and education efforts at Historic Jamestowne, as well as the research needs of undergraduate students and even alumni from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).   I will report early next week with a fuller discussion of our workshop and presentations, as well as any feedback from conference participants.

Sturgeon scutes, recently printed, on the left, and in various stages of being painted on the right.  Note also the two caltrops, printed and painted the same day, and the delft jar that was digitally mended from two sherds, and then painted.  All artifacts from Jamestown Rediscovery.

Sturgeon scutes, recently printed, on the left, and in various stages of being painted on the right. Note also the two caltrops, printed and painted the same day, and the delft jar that was digitally mended from two sherds, and then painted. All artifacts from Jamestown Rediscovery.

At the end of Spring Break, I will be in Ocean City, Maryland, at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, where I will present Friday morning in the Conservation in the Mid-Atlantic session organized by Howard Wellman. My paper is “Preserving the Past and Teaching the Future: The Promises of 3D Scanning and 3D Printing.” I’ll talk in general about how the Virtual Curation Laboratory team members work each day to digitally record artifacts to preserve them, including some objects that, due to a variety of issues, will not otherwise be preserved.  Our 3D models and their 3D printed artifictions are all that will remain of these objects.

Cowbell found by Brenna Geraghty in her garden.

Cowbell found by Brenna Geraghty in her garden.

Brenna Geraghty holds a 3D printed and half-sized version of her cowbell.

Brenna Geraghty holds a 3D printed half-sized version of her cowbell that she recently painted.

Virtual curation can complement or replace traditional methods of archaeological conservation and in a non-invasive fashion.  During a past research trip to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, I 3D scanned two objects that had been recovered from a wet environment and kept frozen until further conservation treatments would be possible.  The challenge with scanning the two objects is that they needed to remain frozen to retard decomposition so I could only do one scan of each in the time I had available.

Wooden doll carved from a spindle.

Wooden doll carved from a spindle.

A man's shoe

A man’s shoe

The wooden doll made from a spindle was successfully digitally captured in one scan, but the man’s shoe could have used another scan.  In the future, I would scan each object, save the file, return the object to the freezer for a time, and then recover for a second scan.

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The Virtual Curation Laboratory will exhibit many of its recent models, as well as do some 3D scanning, in the exhibits room at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  I will be joined by three VCU students (Lucia Aguilar, Rebecca Bowman, and Brenna Geraghty) and one VCU alumnus (Carson Collier) who will be presenting as part of a workshop I have organized on Saturday afternoon entitled P*O*W/E*R: Public Outreach Workshop for Engaging Research. More on that as well, post-Spring Break!