you're reading...
VCU Archaeology

Bones, Bugs, Fossils, Oh My! 3D Scanning @ the Virginia Museum of Natural History

by project director, Dr. Bernard K. Means

Ray Vodden, Research Technician, and Dr. Alton “Butch” Dooley, Curator of Paleontology, both of the VMNH, watch as the MakerBot Replicator creates a plastic replica from one of our scanned objects.

Last Monday (August 20), I traveled to the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville, Virginia, at the invitation of Dr. Elizabeth Moore, the Museum’s Curator of Archaeology.  Dr. Moore had asked me to give her and her colleagues a demonstration of both our 3D artifact scanner, but also our 3D printer.  I was happy to oblige, as the VMNH is not only a state-of-the-art facility, but has a very diverse range of archaeological and non-archaeology material as well–material that would allow our project to further test the capabilities of our scanner.

Among the archaeological items we scanned were a bone awl from a Contact-period American Indian site in West Virginia, a glass blue bead from California, and several wax casts made by the late Ben McCary as part of his extensive fluted point survey.  The tan, gray, and red wax casts were scanned fine with our laser scanner–but the black wax casts proved too much of a challenge.  We could try coating the black wax casts with a white powder, but that will only happen as we exhaust all other possibilities for scanning black objects.

Scanning a wax replica of a fluted point.

Crayfish set up for scanning.

I also scanned a few non-archaeological items, including a fossil fish vertebra that is too delicate to cast using traditional techniques.  The fish vertebra had some thin edges and I’m not sure we have a good enough 3D model to make a replica–although we can certainly create a 3D animation of the vertebra.  Other items I scanned included several invertebrates, including a crayfish, a scarab beetle, and a mayfly.  Invertebrates are rare on most archaeological sites due to preservation issues, but they do occur.  The mayfly proved too delicate and its wings were to translucent to be scanned, but the crayfish and scarab people seemed to scan fairly well.

One non-archaeological object that I scanned is more likely to be preserved in an archaeological context–a raccoon scapula.  Our scanning project is interested in creating 3D digital models of animals common to eastern North American that could become part of online type collections that could be used in the field or laboratory settings.  Dr. Moore loaned us a raccoon skeleton from her extensive zooarchaeological collection to scan over the next year.

Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Curator of Archaeology at VMNH, compares a plastic replica (red) of bead stock from Fort Hill to a right radius of a wild turkey.

Dr. Moore also helped identify the bone used to manufacture an artifact from Fort Hill, a 13th century A..D. Monongahela village site located in Somerset County, Pennsylvania–and excavated by the WPA in 1939 and 1940 (for more on Fort Hill, click here).  This artifact consists of a bird bone scored along its shaft in three locations, with the obvious intent of the maker to create three beads. Having an expert identify the type of bone  used to manufacture an artifact is not normally all that unusual.  However, in this case, Dr. Moore made the identification using a plastic (red!) replica of the bone bead stock that was created from a scan of the actual artifact.  The real artifact is safely tucked away in the collections of the Division of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, almost 350 miles away from Martinsville, Virginia.  Comparing the red replica to her type collection, Dr. Moore determined that the original object was manufactured from the right radius (an arm bone) of a wild turkey.  So, our plastic casts are not cool “toys” as a few critiques have suggested–but have real research value.

Right turkey radius (above) and plastic replica of bead stock (below)

Many thanks to Dr. Moore and her colleagues at VMNH and we look forward to working more with the VMNH in the future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 166 other followers

%d bloggers like this: