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VCU Archaeology

Unbending the Past at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

By Bernard K. Means, project director

Mariana Zechini begins scanning the silver porringer fragment.

Mariana Zechini begins scanning the silver porringer fragment.

At the invitation of Emily Williams, archaeological conservator at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, I returned to Williamsburg on Friday, April 26, 2013 to scan an historic artifact.  I was accompanied by Virginia Commonwealth University students Mariana Zechini and Crystal Castleberry, both of whom have been actively doing research in the Virtual Curation Laboratory over the last year.  The artifact that we came to scan was an early 18th century silver porringer recovered during archaeological excavations in Williamsburg.  Porringers are small shallow bowls used for soup or similar foods—not surprisingly including porridge! This particular example was bent and twisted, with part of the metal folded over.  Emily and her colleagues are interested in a 3D scan of this object, with the idea that they can “unbend” the digital model to get at its true shape.  Unbending the original object itself cannot be done without causing it irreparable harm.

Scanning of the silver porringer in progress.

Scanning of the silver porringer in progress.

Bernard K. Means coats the silver porringer fragment with a fine powder to aid with scanning.

Bernard K. Means coats the silver porringer fragment with a fine powder to aid with scanning.

We did two scans of the silver porringer fragment.  In the first, we did not powder the object in the hopes that the scan would be clear enough without too much noise generated by the highly reflective metal.  The object had fine etching that would be potentially obscured if we coated it with a fine talc powder.  The scan was of decent quality but we definitely had noise caused by the scanner’s lasers reflecting off the shiny silver surface.  We did a second scan where we powdered the object, and its shape was much more clearly delineated by our scanner.  We’ll have to wait until processing to determine how much of the fine engraved design was picked up during the scanning process.  Once we process both models, we will provide the resulting digital files to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in a CAD format that will allow the virtual manipulation of this unique archaeological find.  I’ll follow up on this in a future post.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Unbending the Past at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

  1. Cool article and it will be quite a boon if the silversmiths choose to reproduce it.

    Posted by Shel Browder | April 28, 2013, 2:19 pm

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