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VCU Archaeology

Smoke Dreams: 3D Imaging of American Indian tobacco pipes on exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania

By project director Bernard K. Means (written March 13, 2012)

The coffee shop/bookstore I went into this morning in Harrisburg is in the same location where a Starbucks once was located.  Same sort of tattooed and pierced servers as before, but the Gregorian chants playing over the loud speaker and the Christian iconography suggested that the proprietors had a different world view than typical of corporate Starbucks.  They also had free WiFi—well, free from the place next door.

Human head effigy pipe bowl (clay) in the process of being scanned.

With coffee in hand, I met Janet Johnson at the Keystone Building—a forbidding edifice that holds several state government offices.  We went over to the closed State Museum building—cylindrical in shape, and an imposing structure in its own right.  We opened up one of the exhibit cases and removed seven pipes for scanning—one of steatite, one of an unidentified stone, and the remaining made from clay.  An optimistic number for scanning in one day! Two of the pipe bowls, however, have no major attributes in their bowls that we can capture easily with our scanner, so we only needed one 40 minute scan of each object to get the major characteristics of the bowl.  Normally, we would scan an object twice, with the second scan at a 90 degree angle from the first—this enables us to capture details at the base and top of the object that are otherwise missed during the scanning process.

The American Indian smoking pipes I scanned included: a solid bird effigy, probably broken off of a pipe; a pipe bowl with punctate design, including zoomorphic images; a human head effigy pipe bowl; an effigy bird pipe bowl (probably a loon); a steatite pipe (complete!) with a human face masquette on the bowl, facing away from the smoker; and, a second steatite pipe (not complete!) with the bowl molded into a human face, facing the smoker.  This last one was still processing as I left The State Museum for the day (….I finished it the next morning.)

Susquehannock pipe (steatite) with face effigy on bowl.

I did manage to take a break mid-day to enjoy the Keystone Buildings cafeteria—the food was adequate, the ice tea was marked at $109 (turns out it was really $1.09) for a small, and the ambiance (e.g. proximity and free WiFi) was wonderful.  I could even gaze outside wistfully at the warm, sunny, late winter day in the 70s F.

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