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VCU Archaeology

Facing the Past: 3D Archaeology and The State Museum of Pennsylvania

By Bernard K. Means, Project Director

Bernard K. Means examining American Indian tobacco pipe at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

On Friday, February 10, I traveled to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, PA, to return some artifacts we had just finished scanning from Fort Hill and Gower—these were two Monongahela Tradition villages excavated as WPA projects in 1939 and 1940.  Details of these excavations can be found in the archaeology section of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission web site.

I spent much of the day working with curator Janet Johnson to select additional artifacts that would help further test the strengths and weaknesses of our 3D object scanner.  We focused on several kinds of artifacts, including various types of formal chipped stone tools, some bone tools, pipe bowls and stems, and several effigy vessel rim sherds.  Some of the pipe bowls are quite amazing, including various zoomorphic forms such as a wolf’s head and what appears to be a bear.  The most spectacular objects were the effigy rim sherds that took the form of various kinds of faces, and, in rare cases, full figures. For a good example of one of these vessels, go to ExplorePAHistory. Janet and I discussed how the digital topological models of these objects will help us further explore their meaning and significance.  We also considered issues with the dissemination of these digital data files.

Kristen Currey examines a Susquehannock effigy face rim sherd.

Over the last week, the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU has been documenting and scanning these objects.  So far, we’ve measured and taken digital images of a dozen Contact-period objects from Lancaster County, PA—largely Susquehannock face effigy rim sherds.  Assistant collections manager Kristen Currey has been examining the objects with our digital microscope and VCU archaeology student and volunteer Allen Huber helped with weighing and measuring the artifacts.  In the coming weeks, we will be creating animated GIF files of these objects and we will be posting these on our blog.  And, soon, we will be able to create resin (plastic) replicas of these items!!!!

VCU anthropology student measures a Susquehannock rim sherd with digital calipers.

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