By Bernard K. Means, Director
The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) was invited by Alex Jones and Amelia Chisholm of Archaeology in the Community (AITC) to participate in their international Day of Archaeology event, which was held July 27 at Turkey Thicket Park in Washington, D.C. According to information they provided us, “Archaeology in the Community is a network of archaeologists, anthropologists, teachers, and volunteers working together to make archaeology accessible to youth, schools, and community organizations though creative programs and community projects.” We at the VCL were more than happy to join this amazing network of advocates for public archaeology.
The VCL’s own Digital Curation Supervisor, Ashley McCuistion, joined me early Saturday morning in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to make the trek up I95 and I395 to Turkey Thicket Park. We got slightly lost but were rescued by technology—the GPS on Ashley’s phone. Once arriving at Turkey Thicket Park, and securing a very close in parking spot, we took the VCL’s public education material over to our designated location, which consisted of a 6-foot table under a white portable shelter.
To the left of us was Maureen Malloy, who does public archaeology and outreach for the Society for American Archaeology, and to the right of us were representatives from Mount Vernon, including Karen Price who was my teaching assistant for the 2012 Virginia Commonwealth University field school at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.
Other organizations represented at the Day of Archaeology event included our good friends with DC Archaeology (technically DC HPO), PBS’sTime Team America, the Benjamin Harrison Society, Montgomery Parks, Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning, the Urban Archaeology Corps of the National Park Service, the Environmental Programs Division of the National Guard, the Archaeological Society of Maryland, PBS’s Time Team America, and of course the Day’s sponsor, AITC.
Ashley and I quickly moved to set up our display shortly after our 9 am arrival. Knowing that we would be outdoors surrounded by plentiful sunshine, but with probably issues of access to electricity, we opted not to bring our 3D printer or the 3D scanner itself. Instead, we set up a laptop with digital models that could be manipulated within Adobe Acrobat, and arranged plastic artifact replicas printed from items that we had scanned across our display table. Maps showing places from which we have scanned artifacts, projectile point classification criteria, and a picture of a raccoon skeleton were taped to the table (it was a windy day!), and we grouped the replica artifacts around these illustrations. Or, at least, they started around the illustrations.
As people of all ages came to the table, items began to move from place to place as they were picked up and put back down again. Fortunately, the VCL’s Digital Zooarchaeologist, Mariana Zechini was able to join us before the morning was too far along, and helped us deal with the crowds.
We also had to deal with the natural elements. Unlike the real artifacts, our plastic objects had little weight, and some were carried off our table by the stronger winds. Fortunately, unlike the real objects from which their digital models were generated, the plastic replicas readily survived a fall from the table. And, these replicas readily survived being handled by children whose agile minds were matched by agile hands. Our visitors were certainly intrigued and challenged by our replicas.
Many asked questions about the function of the items the replicas represented, or the places where they were originally found. Others were curious about the process of generating the replicas—particularly the 3D printing process that has graced the news lately on an almost weekly basis, from the horrific ability to print guns to the almost miraculous creation of replacement parts for fractured skulls.
Fortunately, we were able to direct visitors to this blog site using a flyer with a QR code inserted on the back. Our laptop with digital models that could be manipulated proved to be of less interest than the plastic replicas created from the models.
Ashley, Mariana, and I also too some time to make food-grade silicone molds of archaeological objects. This process would be risky and likely damaging to many real artifacts, but can be easily done with our accurate plastic replicas. As we will blog about in a future post, we use these food-grade silicone molds to make replicas in other media—including chocolate. Ashley and Mariana, feeling creative, also made their own ceramic vessels out of clay that hardens when exposed to air at the DC Archaeology booth.
We at the VCL very much enjoyed our participation in AITC’s Day of Archaeology event, and look forward to returning next year. Mariana, Ashley, and I had meaningful and insightful interaction with individuals who might otherwise not encounter archaeology outside of the television set, and we plan to incorporate lessons we learned this year into our future public archaeology events.
Certainly we are inspired by the creative ways of promoting archaeology to the public by the other participants invited by AITC to this event. Kudos to AITC, our fellow Day of Archaeology event participants, and the Day’s fine sponsors!!