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VCU Archaeology

A Day of Scanning at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, and Gardens

By Mariana Zechini

Mariana Zechini is excited about 3D scanning at Mount Vernon.

On Tuesday, July 17, Dr. Bernard K. Means, Courtney Bowles, Ashley McCuistion and I went to Mount Vernon to scan some artifacts in the archaeology lab. It was my first time ever scanning and I was very excited to learn about the process. Esther White, Director of Archaeology for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, was very nice to allow us in the lab to scan. After a little trouble finding the lab (and a lot of help from a volunteer named Margaret), I found the lab and was ready to start my first day of scanning!

Ashley McCuistion sets up a headless figurine prior to scanning.

Our first two scans were of two headless figurines made of clay. The first scan was of a headless woman and the second scan was of a headless man. They are believed to be from the Lawrence Washington era. We scanned each object twice at about 26 minutes per scan and everything went smoothly.

The third object we scanned was a copper trunk plate with “Gen. Washington” engraved on it. We had a little bit of trouble scanning this one. On our first try we noticed a data hole on the right side of the trunk plate due to differential patina (and possibly curvature) so we powdered the trunk plate and attempted to scan it again. On the second attempt, there were still some holes but it looked a little bit better. Dr. Means rotated the trunk plate ninety degrees on our third attempt, hoping that setting it upright would solve our problems. On the third attempt there were still some data holes so on our fourth scan we slightly rotated the trunk plate and noticed that the edges showed up more. For the next two scans, we kept on rotating the trunk plate until the signature was fully shown in the digital model.

Checking the “Gen. Washington” trunk plate

Luke Pecoraro discussed the excavations with Mariana, Courtney, and Ashley.

We were able to take a break during the day and visit the archaeology excavations currently taking place at Mount Vernon. We talked to Luke Pecoraro, Assistant Archaeologist at Mount Vernon, who explained what they were trying to find this year.  He also showed us some of the original maps of Mount Vernon by artist Samuel Vaughn. We also met the other very welcoming archaeologists working at the time and I felt bad for the difficult test unit they were excavating! Courtney, Ashley and I were also able to visit the gift shop and while we got 50 percent off food by using the volunteer badges, we weren’t so lucky in the gift shop.

The final scan of the day was of a colonoware bowl. There is a hole on the side of the bowl and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association is interested in learning the purpose of the hole. Some think the hole was used to hang the bowl and other theories include that the hole represents a missing piece, handle or spout. The bowl took only two scans and didn’t give us much trouble.

Thanks to Esther White, Luke Pecoraro, and Laura Tancredi, Keeper of the Archaeology Lab & Excavation, who were all so very nice and helped us out on our day at Mount Vernon.  Overall the day was very exciting and interesting. I’m really looking forward to the next time I can scan some more artifacts!


Mount Vernon intern Caroline Kellough helps with scanning.

Dr. Means returned alone to scan artifacts on Wednesday, July 18, for the morning.  He successfully scanned a cup with an Aesop’s Fable design and a smoking pipe bowl with armoral decoration.  He was assisted by Caroline Kellough, an intern at Mount Vernon.

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