by Bernard K. Means, Director
This past weekend, October 10-12, saw the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV) annual meeting, which was held in Richmond, Virginia—just a few miles away from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). ASV is a student-friendly venue, and this is the second year that the VCL has had a significant presence at the ASV annual meeting. The ASV must be commended for providing all student presenters at the meeting with free registration this year—something students on a tight budget appreciate!
Both Friday and Saturday the VCL took advantage of the free space provided in the exhibits room to highlight our research and outreach efforts. VCU students and alumni associated with the VCL interacted with attendees, in some cases discussing replica objects associated with their own presentations at the ASV meeting. VCU student Kaitie Lyford, who is volunteering in the VCL, was the main presence at our two display tables both days, assisted the first day by VCU student (and ASV presenter) Carson Collier and the second day by the remainder of the VCU students presenting at ASV.
With the exception of a break, the afternoon of October 11 was devoted to a session that I organized entitled You Dug It Up, Now What? Conservation, Public Outreach, and Research of Archaeological Collections and the papers in this session explored different dimensions of artifact collections, from recovery through analysis. All too often, our attention in archaeology focuses on the discovery and recovery of archaeological remains. These archaeological findings inform our presentations and publications, but also generate archaeological collections. Careful conservation is necessary to ensure that collections have a future for study, public outreach, and research. Conservation techniques include physical intervention with the objects themselves, as well as virtual curation through 3D artifact scanning.
The first two presentations were by partners in the heritage community who work closely with the VCL. Katherine Ridgway of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) discussed her work with graves exposed by Hurricane Sandy on Tangier Island in Mother Nature Versus Burials: The Challenges of Preserving Human Remains from an Eroding Cemetery. Ms. Ridgway was followed by Laura J. Galke (The George Washington Foundation) and Christopher M. Stevenson (Virginia Commonwealth University) who are taking a scientific approach to studying the large number of wig hair curlers found at George Washington’s Ferry Farm with their paper Tressed for Success: Residues on Wig Curlers from George Washington’s Boyhood Home, an IR-ATR and SEM-EDAX Analysis. The VCL has 3D scanned numerous artifacts from Ferry Farm, including wig hair curlers as detailed here. The remaining presentations in the session were largely by VCU students or alumni.
Ms. Ridgway is a key partner with the VCL in our internship program, and she is or has worked with VCU students Ivana Adzic, Rebecca Bowman, and Lauren Hogg, all of whom presented on their cooperative internship projects at the ASV annual meeting. Ivana Adzic followed the wig hair curler study with her presentation on trying to make underwater archaeology in Virginia more visible to the public in Realizing the Research Potential of 3D Underwater Archaeology off Virginia’s coast at VDHR. Rebecca Bowman compared the challenges and benefits of traditional archaeological conservation versus the potentials of digital techniques using 3D scanned artifacts in From Physical to Virtual and Everything in Between!
John Bush gave a lively presentation after Rebecca, where he detailed his efforts to understand past peoples with a personal journey through experimental archaeology with A Pointed Inquiry- Understanding Tool-Making Behavior and Landscape Usage Through Experimental Archaeology. Brenna Geraghty has long had an interest in pre-Paleoindian and Paleoindian sites in Virginia, and she presented on her efforts related to 3D scanning of material from the Cactus Hill site with The Future of the Past: Building a 3D Field Guide for Early Sites in Virginia.
Following the session break, which we spent in the exhibits room talking with fellow meeting attendees at our own display, VCU alumnus and current Digital Curator in the VCL, Lauren Volkers, explored our efforts to 3D scan artifacts from Jamestown with Resurrecting Jamestown: Digitally Scanning America’s First English Colony. VCU alumnus and this past summer’s public archaeology intern at Ferry Farm focused on public archaeology and 3D printed replicas with I Cannot Tell a Lie: The Educational Benefits of 3D Printed Artifacts for Public Archaeology at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.
Lauren Hogg discussed her internship in VDHR and her efforts to interpret thousands of artifacts from an archaeological site with only two small exhibit cases to reflect thousands of years of human history in her talk Jordan’s Journey: Going Public through 3-D Printing.
Carson Collier, who has an interest in environmental archaeology and public outreach, discussed her educational activities involving 3D printed objects with Shelling Out: Bringing Zooarchaeology into the Classroom with Aquatic Species from the Chesapeake Bay Area. I closed the session out in a paper written with Elizabeth Moore of the Virginia Museum of Natural History and Mariana Zechini, a VCU alumnus and current graduate student at the University of West Florida. (For more on what Mariana Zechini is up to in Florida, I recommend this Virtebra blog entry.) Our paper, Poor Martha, Gone These 100 Years: Digital Zooarchaeology of Passenger Pigeons and other Extinct Animals, explored our efforts to create a digital Zooarchaeology of animal remains, including extinct species like the passenger pigeon and the hairlip sucker.
One of the great things about presenting research is the feedback and collaborative projects that can arise from making other people aware of our work. One of our presenters, Laura Galke, made what is in retrospect an obvious comment after seeing the student presentations–we have the opportunity with virtual archaeology to have multiple people across the globe working simultaneously with the same digital object. I was still trapped in the notion derived from dealing with real artifacts that the relationship would always be one researcher mapped to one object. We also are developing a new project with canal boats that plays towards Ivana’s interest in underwater archaeology, and VMNH’s Elizabeth Moore expressed interest in the activities that Carson has developed for possible use in VMNH educational programs.
Our next step will be to turn the papers into publishable form, probably as a themed issue of the Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia, as we did with the papers from the VCL session at the 2013 ASV annual meeting. These were published early this year, and included:
2014 Lithics and Lasers: 3D Scanning Prehistoric Projectile Points from James Madison’s Montpelier. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):57-68.
2014 Broken Bones: Digital Curation and Mending of Human Remains. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):37-45.
2014 Manipulating Montpelier: Creating a Virtual Exhibit of Life at Montpelier for the Madisons and their Enslaved People. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):69-74.
2014 One Million Years of Technology: Lithic Analysis and 3D Scanning in the 21st Century. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):47-56.
Means, Bernard K.
2014 Two Years Before the Past: Activities in the Virtual Curation Laboratory @ VCU from August 2011 to December 2013. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):3-16.
2014 The Miss Measure of Artifacts? Examining Digital Models of Artifact Replicas to Observe Variation on Size and Form. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):17-28.
2014 Zooarchaeology in the 21st Century. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):29-36.