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VCU Archaeology

Conservation One Scan at a Time

by Aaron Ellrich, Virtual Curation Laboratory Intern

Photograph of the author inside VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Photograph of the author inside VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Aside from the newly-arranged furniture, the Virtual Curation Laboratory is a familiar space to me. Since spring 2013, I’ve been a part of VCU’s Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST). Part of the reason why I became involved with 3D scanning is because of my training as an art historian. One of the many themes covered in museum studies courses pertains to artifact conservation. Quite simply, no matter how much effort you put into preserving an artifact—including airtight facilities, climate control technologies etc.—material culture slowly (or quickly, depending upon conditions) breaks down. All we can do is slow that process down; and for me, 3D scanning technology is a new tool for preserving our cultural heritage.

Currently a senior, my 3D scanning internship began this past summer. While my primary objective is to learn how to use 3D scanning technology and its accompanying software, I have been working on a focused project that deals with Native American projectile points borrowed from James Madison’s Montpelier. In a nutshell, my project with Montpelier involves three important features: to test the limitations of our NextEngine desktop scanner on lithic material, add to our growing body of digital models, and to share the digital files (and 3D printed replicas) with Montpelier and other interested parties.

One of the many digital models I’m working on from Montpelier.

One of the many digital models I’m working on from Montpelier.

So far, my experience with the Virtual Curation Laboratory has been remarkable. Under the leadership of Dr. Bernard Means, I have been able to meet other students interested in archaeology, as well as professional archaeologists outside VCU. This opportunity has not only enriched my undergraduate experience but has enabled me to develop a working relationship with professionals actively involved in archaeological research. In fact, my research project on Native American projectile points from Montpelier will be presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia. This will be my first conference paper—which means I’m excited and nervous!

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