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VCU Archaeology

Scanning at Washington’s Birthplace

Amy Muraca watches as the 19th Century pipe scans.

By Ashley McCuistion, Virtual Curation Laboratory Multimedia Coordinator

Dr. Means and I visited the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Colonial Beach, Virginia on Monday, July 30.  We were there to do some scanning, which we were very excited about as this is the only home of George Washington that we had not yet taken the project to.  I arrived shortly after he did, and was graciously welcomed by Amy Muraca, Museum Curator for the National Park Service.  They had just begun scanning a beautiful 19th Century smoking pipe that had an elaborate design with a castle, a crown, and the word “Egypt” on it.  While it was scanning, Dr. Means talked to Amy about the project and showed her how the scanner works, which she really seemed to enjoy.  We then sorted out the rest of the artifacts that we would be working with that day, which included some glass wine bottle seals, a ceramic Bellarmine face sherd, a tooth with a hole drilled into it, and a Savannah River projectile point.

Dr. Means covers the skylight.

As we photographed and began the paperwork for each of the artifacts, we periodically checked on the pipe to see how it was progressing.  Unfortunately, the image that was developing was very fuzzy and the color did not record well at all.  After struggling with the issue for a while, we determined that the problem may have been caused by the amount of light that was streaming into the room from a small skylight in the ceiling.  We asked Amy if there was any way we could cover it, and she promptly provided us with a piece of cardboard and some tape, which Dr. Means then skillfully fastened to the ceiling.  The next scan of the pipe worked a bit better without the sunlight interfering, but we were still not completely pleased with the quality of the image.  We decided to try it again using a different light setting, as sometimes the scanner does not record white objects well in the “neutral mode” that we usually use, so we hoped that changing the setting to “light mode” might solve the problem.  It worked quite well, and we were finally able to move on to the next artifact!

“AW” wine bottle seal.

We decided to scan the wine bottle seals next, as they were both very unique and important artifacts from the site.  The first one we scanned was a whole seal that had the initials “AW” on it, which stands for Augustine Washington, George Washington’s father.  The surface of this artifact was rather shiny, so we were not sure if the scanner was going to be able to capture it without any powder, but we tried anyway and were pleasantly surprised by the results!  The image was near perfect within the first few rotations of the scanner, and even the color was captured without any problems.

The “N.Pop” wine bottle seal as I set it up (above), and the scan of the artifact (below).

Once that seal was finished, we quickly moved on to the next one, which was broken on the right side and had the letters “NP”, which represents Nathaniel Pope, and the year “1715” on it.  This one was far more heavily patinated, making the surface less shiny and therefore much easier to scan.  The results were once again perfect, and we were even able to notice from the image that the letters actually spelled “N. Pop”, which would have read “N. Pope” when the seal was whole.  I really loved these artifacts, as it is not very often that we can put a name and a face to the objects we work with.

Our next artifact was the Bellarmine face sherd, which came from a Bellarmine jug.  Amy very kindly showed me a chapter in a book about this unique type of ceramic, which I enjoyed reading as it helped me learn about and better appreciate the artifact I was handling.  The sherd scanned beautifully, but by the time it was finished it was time to go!  We packed up the equipment and thanked Amy for hosting us for the day, but before we left, Dr. Means and I walked the grounds and saw the reconstructions of the house, some outbuildings, and the animals and gardens.  We had a wonderful time visiting Washington’s Birthplace, and I can’t wait to return!

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