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VCU Archaeology

Transformations: From the Real to the Virtual to the Tangible

by Bernard K. Means, Project Director

VCU Student Crystal Castleberry shows the digital model of the steatite zoomorphic smoking pipe.

VCU Student Crystal Castleberry shows the digital model of the steatite zoomorphic smoking pipe.

VCU student Crystal Castleberry, an intern in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, spent part of her semester scanning and then editing the digital model of a steatite zoomorphic smoking pipe bowl. The pipe bowl is from York County, Pennsylvania.  The digital model she created can be manipulated on screen from the comfort of one’s home–the model can be rotated, expanded, and measured with freely available software.  The actual object is normally  held in trust in the archaeology collections at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg–and is not widely accessible to the general public, partly due to curatorial concerns about the object.  Digital models certainly open up unique and fragile artifacts to a wider audience of researchers, scholars, and the general public.

Digital model of steatite smoking pipe.

Digital model of steatite smoking pipe.

The digital model that Crystal created does allow us to create a tangible object that people can handle.  VCU student Allen Huber used the digital model to create a plastic replica through our MakerBot Replicator.  This plastic model can be readily handled and manipulated–and is remarkably accurate.  The color and the material is obviously different than the actual object, but the size and morphological details closely correspond to the actual object itself.

The actual and replica zoomorphic pipes

The actual and replica zoomorphic pipes

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