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VCU Archaeology

What’s the Point?: Bringing Plastic Replicas to the Classroom


A projectile point (left) and two plastic replicas (center, right)

by Ashley McCuistion, Digital Curator

For the past couple of weeks I have been working on creating a typology of projectile points that we have scanned and printed in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  This was in preparation for a lesson on projectile point analysis and identification in the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Archaeological Methods and Research Design course, taught by Dr. Bernard K. Means.  When I took the class last spring, there were a very limited number of projectile points for all of the students to work with, and each of us had to come into the lab in small groups during scheduled times outside of class.  It was not ideal, but necessary given the fact that we do not have a substantial collection of points to work with at VCU, or a lot of lab space to accommodate such a large number of students.  This year we wanted to do something a little different by incorporating our plastic replicas into the lesson instead of using real artifacts, as we have plenty of digital models to work with and can print as many of each type as we need.

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Dr. Means instructs students in the Archaeological Methods class

I was very excited to be involved in this lesson, as I have been interested in seeing just how effectively our plastic replicas can be used for this kind of research for quite some time.  I began my part in the preparations by gathering all of the points we had and beginning to identify them.  I went through all of the steps that the students would have to, such as measuring the points and taking note of their physical characteristics, and also looked each point up in our database to gather information on the actual artifact, including origin and material.  I then entered all of this data into a chart and proceeded to type each of our points using a series of books that Dr. Means gave me.  I found it surprisingly simple to properly identify each point based solely on the plastic replica, and ultimately only used the information on the real point to confirm my findings.

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Students working with plastic replicas of projectile points in the classroom

Once I finished typing all of the points and we were pleased with the quantity and variety we had, we were ready to take them to the classroom!  We set up four stations with an assortment of plastic points around the room, each labeled with their VCU number.  Dr. Means had the students analyze and identify ten of the fifteen points using the same paperwork from last year, as all of the questions still applied except for “weight” and “material”.  The students were able to gather all of the information they needed from the points in the classroom, and took photos of them to take home and type later.

All in all, I think this lesson went quite well, and it was definitely a success for 3D archaeology and the Virtual Curation Laboratory!  Using plastic replicas of points was a great way to teach the students how to recognize everything they needed to regarding point morphology and give them an appreciation for the size and feel of the points without requiring the school to have a large number of the real artifacts on hand for handling by the students.  Having replicas also allowed multiple students to study copies of the same point at the same time, creating more consistency in the lesson and saving time!  I think these are an amazing tool for teaching, and I plan to start processing more of the very large number of points we have in our database for use in future lessons and demonstrations!



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