Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory
Last Friday, October 25, the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) presented a slate of papers at the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV) annual meeting focusing on our first two years of work in the VCL. A team of undergraduate researchers has been working under my direction the last two years, creating 3D digital models of archaeological objects from around the world. These models are used for public outreach, K-12 and undergraduate education, and for research presentations by my students and myself at local, regional, and international conferences. Our work includes projects funded by the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program, a Council of Virginia Archaeologists research grant, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and a Faculty Council grant from Virginia Commonwealth University. Following my introductory overview, six students presented their research. Their abstracts are provided here in order of their presentation.
Mariana Zechini: “Zooarchaeology in the 21st Century”
The Virtual Curation Laboratory, located in Richmond, Virginia, has received faunal remains from several archaeological sites including passenger pigeon bones and a post-cranial raccoon skeleton loaned by Dr. Elizabeth Moore from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, a raccoon skull loaned by Dr. John Nass from the University of California, Pennsylvania, a groundhog skeleton from George Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm, and two cat skulls donated to the lab by a student. As the Digital Zooarchaeologist of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, my goal over the course of the next year will be to scan these faunal remains and test the applications of zooarchaeology to three-dimensional scanning and digital curation. By using three-dimensional technology, archaeologists can enter a new age of faunal analysis, which can provide digital comparative collections to be shared among professionals.
Allen Huber: “Broken Bones: Digital Curation and Mending of Human Remains”
The curation of human remains is a critical, sensitive issue in anthropology that has no simple solution. Digital curation, while not solving any cultural or political issues inherent in the process of recovering and repatriating human remains, offers an effective method for both retaining and disseminating data after repatriation. Using the resources of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU, this is an experimental study into the effectiveness of the NextEngine Desktop Laser Scanner for recording and displaying various aspects of human remains. Using the included software and various freeware programs, skeletal characteristics and landmarks can be measured and related to one another in a virtual space, thus rendering the physical possession of the remains unnecessary. Also tested here is the ability of various digital rendering programs to mend broken and shattered bones that would otherwise be too physically or culturally sensitive to mend traditionally. This concept is then taken a step further with the use of the Makerbot Replicator 3D printer, used to create plastic replicas of individual bones, bone fragments, and mended 3D models, creating the possibility of physically sharing data with other researchers and the general public. Overall, the goal of this paper is to encourage archaeologists to embrace technological advancements in digital curation and make an attempt to incorporate virtual materials in future projects as the resources to do so become increasingly available.
Lauren Volkers: “The Missmeasure of Artifacts? Examining digital models of artifact replicas to observe variation in size and form”
Three dimensional (3D) scanning and artifact replicas are becoming more and more popular in today’s world. Being able to 3D scan and replicate artifacts makes it easier to transport and show off artifacts to the public without damaging the original artifact. The materials used to make different replicas with a contact mold may have an effect on the size and shape of a replica. By analyzing the replicas and the contact mold made from an artifact, I can see whether the shape, size, and detail of an artifact are affected by the materials used. Using 3D scanning both helps with measuring the different replicas and provides a digital model of the artifact. Knowing if there is size, shape, or details lost when making replicas can be helpful for scholars, museums, schools, and other organizations that need replicated models that are as similar to the original artifact as possible.
Ashley McCuistion: “One Million Years of Technology: Lithic Analysis and 3D Scanning in the 21st Century”
New developments in technology are rapidly expanding the way that artifact curation and analysis is handled. The Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University has been exploring these possibilities for two years now, using a NextEngine 3D Scanner and MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer to create three-dimensional models and plastic replicas of artifacts from sites around the world. A large number of the artifacts we have scanned are stone points and tools, the earliest being an Acheulean Handaxe from South Africa. This paper will address the benefits of 3D scanning and printing technology in lithic analysis, with a special focus on projectile points that have been found at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Aaron Ellrich: “Lithics and Lasers: 3D Scanning Prehistoric Projectile Points from James Madison’s Montpelier”
The pace of technological development is something archaeologists face when conducting research, assessing data, and disseminating knowledge. Historically, archaeology and disciplines related to the study of the past have been at the forefront of the use and development of advanced information and communication technology (ICT). Unlike Neo-Luddisms’ resistance towards computer age technology, the development of 3D scanning and printing has, and continues to, assist in archaeological research. This paper addresses a partnership with James Madison’s Montpelier and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virtual Curation Laboratory. Testing the performance capabilities of a NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner on prehistoric projectile points from Montpelier’s collection, my analysis reveals the potential for 3D archival informatics, database circulation, and 3D virtual curation.
Rachael Hulvey: “Manipulating Montpelier: Creating a Virtual Exhibit of Life at Montpelier for the Madisons and their Enslaved People”
The Madisons and the enslaved people at Montpelier who performed domestic, agricultural, and other specialized work deposited differing assemblages of material culture around the President’s plantation home. Also, certain items—including a selection of ceramics and other small finds—found in the slave quarters originated from the mansion. With the use of digital models of select interpretive artifacts, a virtual exhibit featuring items from sites across the property can demonstrate to the general public how various groups of people led different lives at Montpelier and how a selection of objects were passed between the disparate communities. Visitors can manipulate virtual artifacts that illustrate the distinctions in life and common threads between the Madisons and their enslaved servants or between enslaved workers with different vocations.
We are certainly pleased that Aaron won the best student paper award at the ASV annual meeting.
After our early Friday morning session was completed, we set up our Makerbot Replicator and plastic replicas in the ASV’s exhibit room. This attracted quite a bit of attention, and was a great way for us to interact with the professional and avocational members of the ASV…. As well as the stray Knight of Columbus whose convention spatially and temporally overlapped our archaeology conference. We’ve given other public exhibitions of virtual curation at other conferences, and each time we better learn what interests—and does not interest—our audiences. More specifically, seeing 3D scanning or manipulating digital models is not something a general or even professional audience really wants to do in this setting, but 3D printing is very, very popular!