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VCU Archaeology

One Million Years of Technology

A one million year old Acheulean handaxe being scanned in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

By Ashley McCuistion, Virtual Curation Laboratory Multimedia Coordinator

The Virtual Curation Laboratory has finally settled down back in Richmond after a wonderful summer of travel, and we are ready to begin a brand new academic year!  We have a lot of editing to do in the lab and some artifacts waiting to be scanned, but before starting any of that we were presented with a very special scanning opportunity.  Dr. Amy Rector Verrelli, Instructor of Anthropology at VCU, was kind enough to loan us a beautiful Acheulean handaxe that was found on a farm just outside of Cape Town, South Africa and is roughly one million years old!  Needless to say, this was a very exciting opportunity for us, especially as this is officially the oldest artifact the Virtual Curation Lab has ever scanned.

Mariana Zechini and I work on scanning the hand axe.

On Wednesday, August 22nd, Dr. Means, Mariana Zechini and I all got to work on it, carefully setting it up on the scanner and hoping for the best.  We had a great deal of trouble getting an acceptable image at first, but after powdering it and manipulating the scanning settings a bit, we were able to get two good models that were ready for editing!  I came back the following Monday to begin the editing process, but as I was trimming I began noticing a number of data holes and other issues with the scan.  I proceeded anyway, merging the two images, trimming the excess data once more, and then attempting to finalize the process by fusing the scan.  Unfortunately, the software froze up at 50% and I was unable to fuse the model.  I tried several more times over the course of the week, but was unsuccessful each time.  It was quite discouraging at first, but we eventually came to the conclusion that the scan was probably not good enough and our best bet was to try again.

We borrowed the hand axe again and on Friday, September 7th I rescanned it, paying close attention to make sure that the digital model was as good as it possibly could be.  This is not only a significant endeavor for the lab, but for myself as well, as that this is the first time I have had the opportunity to scan and edit something entirely on my own, so I am quite determined to make it work!  The images I got on Friday were fantastic, so I will be returning to the lab this week to start editing.  I am very optimistic that I will be able to successfully merge and fuse these new scans without too much trouble, and I very much look forward to publishing the 3D model we create from it!

Click on the image to see a quick animation of the handaxe that Dr. Means put together using the data we had.

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