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VCU Archaeology

Virtual Archaeology and the Realities of War: Creating 3D Digital Models of Civil War Artifacts

By Project Director Bernard K. Means

Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, watches as the dynamic digital artifact models are demonstrated.

On March 31, I gave a presentation at the James Lee Community Center in Annandale, Virginia, entitled “Virtual Archaeology and the Realities of War: Creating 3D Digital Models of Civil War Artifacts.” This was part of a day-long symposium—“ Archaeology of the Civil War”—on how archaeology can help us all better understand the Civil War and also preserve the legacy of this violent episode in our nation’s history.  The symposium was sponsored by the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology (FOFA).

Dr. Stephen Potter (left) and I discuss potential applications of the 3D scanning to documenting Civil War archaeological remains.

The first speaker—and the keynote for the session—was Dr. Stephen Potter, Regional Archaeologist, National Capital Region, National Park Service.  He gave a great and provocative presentation that, among other topics, demonstrated how archaeology can correct historical inaccuracies in accounts of Civil War battles… literally lay the forgotten dead to rest.  He was followed by Dr. Matt Reeves of the Montpelier Foundation who discussed archaeological traces of Civil War camps. I followed with my talk.  All three of us had an attentive audience of about 70 people who asked some great and insightful questions.

Symposium attendees gather around to watch an artifact being scanned.

Before, during, and after our three talks, I scanned some artifacts from Fairfax County, including a Civil War Eagle uniform button, a copper alloy gunpowder “pouch” with a spectacular hunting scene, and an American Indian ceramic recovered by the Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) (see more of CART at: http://cartarchaeology.blogspot.com/).  I also set up an interactive demonstration, where symposium participants and presenters could manipulated digital models of artifacts from Jamestown, George Washington’s Ferry Farm, and other archaeological sites from throughout the region.  Laura Galke of Ferry Farm assisted me with this interactive display. The first person who came to see our demonstration was Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.  Drs. Stephen Potter, Matt Reeves, and Elizabeth Crowell (archaeologist for the Fairfax County Park Authority) all came by as well, and Dr. Crowell provided some artifacts for scanning, as did Chris Sperling and other members of CART.

I would like to thank Elizabeth Crowell for inviting our participation in this day-long symposium on Civil War archaeology.  My interaction with professionals and general members of the public always leads me to think of new ways we can use the digital models that we are scanning for research and general dissemination of archaeological knowledge.

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