By Bernard K. Means, Project Director
Members of the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) journeyed to Virginia Beach, Virginia, beginning March 7 to attend and participate in the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC). In addition to myself, several Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students who are integral to the function of VCL or have done research in the VCL presented papers or research posters. The student presenters included (alphabetically): Courtney Bowles, Crystal Castleberry, Allen Huber, Rachael Hulvely, Ashley McCuistion, Jamie Pham, and Mariana Zechini. VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program provided travel funding for six students and also graciously printed our four research posters.
VCL actually got its first mention at MAAC by Dennis Curry of the Maryland Historical Trust in the Foundations of Middle Atlantic Prehistory session on the morning of Friday, March 8. He was discussing individuals who had made or are making important contributions to Middle Atlantic prehistory and he mentioned my work with VCL. Later that morning in the same session, I discussed the evolving role of technology in the study of Middle Atlantic prehistoric, beginning with the humble shovel and trowel, and ending with a discussion of archaeological visualization, including 3D artifact scanning.
In the afternoon, Crystal presented her research on how 3D virtual models can promote the study of African American archaeology. She emphasized that African American archaeology is more than the study of enslaved Americans by showing digital models of artifacts scanned from a free community in early 1800s Philadelphia. Crystal also highlighted material from enslaved contexts at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.
Rachael and Huber arrived by mid-morning and we set up the MakerBot replicator in the exhibits room. The MakerBot replicator worked (generally) quite well Friday afternoon and all of Saturday, making satyr heads (finial from a teapot lit) from Montpelier, a Susquehannock pipe from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and wig curlers from George Washington’s Ferry Farm, among other artifacts. Our little replicator attracted considerable attention from conference attendees and sparked quite a bit of discussion and comment.
Saturday was quite the busy day for VCL. We set up the scanner in the exhibits room to keep the 3D printer company, and both worked all day. Various members of VCL were on hand off-and-on throughout the day to answer questions, and we were joined by VCU student Stephanie King who helped us as well. In the morning, Ashley, Allen, and Rachael all presented papers. Ashley spoke about virtual archaeology and its benefits to education (K-12 and undergraduate) as well as scholarly research. Allen discussed the trials and tribulations associated with 3D printing. Rachael outlined her research into Susquehannock effigy representations in smoking pipes and ceramic vessels. Dr. John Nass of California University of Pennsylvania identified one of the animals represented by an effigy pipe as a fisher, sometimes called a fisher cat, from one of Rachael’s animals.
In the afternoon, VCL participated in the “Celebration of Small Finds Workshop” organized by Laura Galke and Mara Kaktins, both of George Washington’s Ferry Farm. All of us had either digital models or plastic replica artifacts (often both) with our posters, and both attracted considerable attention. Ashley and I presented a group poster highlighting general aspects of our 3D archaeological visualizations efforts. Jamie and Crystal considered African American archaeology and outreach. Crystal was even to give some of the archaeologists from Poplar Forest a plastic replica of one of their stone pipes. Courtney focused on theoretical considerations with respect to 3D archaeological visualization. And, finally, Marianna covered her work with Zooarchaeology. Mariana was even able to show Dr. Nass the printed replica of a raccoon skull alongside the real raccoon skull that he had loaned us for 3D imaging.
We had a pleasant surprise when we attended the reception and awards ceremony Saturday evening.
Ashley won the best undergraduate student paper competition. The judges liked her research comparing receptions to 3D digital models and printed replicas between high school students and undergraduate students, as well as between undergraduates with different interests.
I think that my students and I can agree that this MAAC meeting was very beneficial and enriching to all of us. We look forward to other archaeology venues where we can present our forays into 3D archaeological visualization!