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VCU Archaeology

E-Femora: Scanning Animal Bones and Whale Fossils at the Virginia Museum of Natural History

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Preparing for the public lecture at VMNH

Preparing for the public lecture at VMNH

Last Thursday (October 10), I was invited to give a public lecture at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) on our 3D scanning efforts here in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, partly because I am a VMNH Research Associate. The VMNH has an excellent collection of animal bones–both modern and archaeological–so I arrived a day early to scan some animal bones to add to our digital zooarchaeological type collection.  We have been working with the Curator of Archaeology Dr. Elizabeth Moore for some time on this effort. On this particular visit, I initially focused on scanning dog, cat, opossum, and turkey femora, all from the left side of the respective animals.

Left femora of a dog, cat, opposum, and turkey (from left to right).

Left femora of a dog, cat, opossum, and turkey (from left to right).

Not only will the resulting digital models be a solid addition to our digital zooarchaeological type collection, but the models can also be used for Dr. Moore’s educational work with Martinsville high school students.  She plans to have them examine the different femora to understand the similarities–and differences–between the same element on different animals.

Dr. Moore holds a right turkey radius and replica made into bead stock.

Dr. Moore holds a right turkey radius and replica made into bead stock.

The cat, opossum, and turkey are all from recently deceased animals.  The dog remains are from an intentional interment at the Claggett Retreat Site, a prehistoric American Indian village located in Frederick County, Maryland. In addition to the left femur, I also scanned the left humerus, the left pelvis, and the right scapula from this archaeologically recovered specimen.   The left scapula was too fragile for 3D scanning.

Scanning a dog scapula from the Claggett Retreat Site.

Scanning a dog scapula from the Claggett Retreat Site.

Scanning the third cervical vertebra of a Miocene whale skeleton.

Scanning the third cervical vertebra of a Miocene whale skeleton.

On the day after my public lecture, I spent some time scanning another fossil whale vertebra from the Miocene era (roughly 14 million years old)–this time the third cervical vertebra. Dr. Moore, VMNH Curator of Paleontology Dr. Alton Dooley, Jr., and myself are seeking funding to scan the remainder of the VMNH’s fossil whale as part of a cooperative project with Nina Huff, a teacher at the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology. The goal of the project will be to involve juniors in the Governor’s School with editing digital scans created by Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate students working in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, and then using a 3D printer to produce replicas that can be incorporated into an exhibit. I’ll post more on that project as it develops.

Matthew Wade, Fab Lab coordinator, sets up their 3D printer.

Matthew Wade, Fab Lab coordinator, sets up their 3D printer.

Speaking of 3D printing, I also met with Matthew Wade, the Fab Lab coordinator at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville. Matthew and I discussed various issues related to creating 3D printed models from digital files, as well as the respective merits of different printers.  He has also been kind enough to print some additional replicas of items that we have scanned, some of which will be incorporated into an exhibit that will open in the James Branch Cabell Library here at Virginia Commonwealth University next week (and online–and more about that later, but soon, as well).

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  1. Pingback: Animated Object of the Day: Femur (left) of a Cat | Virtual Curation Museum - December 28, 2013

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