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VCU Archaeology

Preserving Pennsylvania’s Past through Archaeological Visualization and 3D Digital Modeling

By Bernard K. Means, Project Director

Sites in Pennsylvania from which the Virtual Curation Laboratory has scanned artifacts. Map created by Natalie Petrizza.

Sites in Pennsylvania from which the Virtual Curation Laboratory has scanned artifacts. Map created by Natalie Petrizza.

For over a year, the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has partnered with a number of individuals and institutions to preserve Pennsylvania’s past in a dynamic, three-dimensional (3D) digital format.  Artifacts dating from the American Indian occupations of the Paleoindian period to early 19th century free African American neighborhoods have been loaned to the Virtual Curation Laboratory from the Allegheny Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, California University of Pennsylvania, William C. Johnson, Bob Oshnock, the Westmoreland Archaeological Society, and, of course, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.  At the 2013 Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology meeting held this past weekend (April 19 to 21) in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, I presented a paper that discussed some of the artifacts that my team and I have virtually curated.  The paper was co-authored by Ashley McCuistion, Natalie Petrizza, Crystal Castleberry, Rachael Hulvey, Mariana Zechini, and Allen Huber—all current VCU students.

Smoking pipe from early 19th century free African American site in Philadelphia.  Scanned by Chrystal Castleberry as part of her research.

Smoking pipe from early 19th century free African American site in Philadelphia. Scanned by Chrystal Castleberry as part of her research.

Our paper included a number of animated 3D models, which the attendees appreciated and certainly highlighted the potential of 3D scanning for helping virtually curate at least part of Pennsylvania’s past. The tremendous research and educational potential of the3D digital models and plastic replicas created by the Virtual Curation Laboratory was a major consideration of our paper.  As we have seen with other audiences, it was the printed replicas of artifacts that seemed to hold the attention of both avocational and professional archaeologists.  Individuals really liked having something tangible they could hold in their hands—even while acknowledging that the digital models offer the greatest research potential.  This feedback is key to deciding what direction in which we plan to take our virtual curation efforts in the future, and we had offers of additional material for research. For the 2014 Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology meeting in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, I hope to bring along some of the student researchers with the excellent work that they have been doing in the Virtual Curation Laboratory. That meeting is sponsored by the Westmoreland Archaeological Society, who have been kind enough to loan us several artifacts from the Consol site, a multi-component Monongahela village.

Worked deer rib from the Consol site, courtesy of the Westmoreland Archaeological Society. Animation created by Ashley McCuistion.

Worked deer rib from the Consol site, courtesy of the Westmoreland Archaeological Society. Animation created by Ashley McCuistion.

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