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VCU Archaeology

Digitally Measuring Vessel Wall Thickness on 3D Scanned Whole Vessels

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Yesterday, November 8, 2014, I was at the day-long workshop on archaeology and climate change held at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  One of the speakers was John Hart of the New York State Museum, who examined the history of maize cultivation in northeastern North America. Among other things, he noted that residue analysis (phytoliths and carbon isotope rations) showed that maize cultivation well preceded the rise of nucleated villages–something he and I considered in a paper back in the dusty days at the beginning of this millennium (Hart and Means 2012). A solid overview of our knowledge about the history of maize can be found in a recent article by John Hart and his colleague William A. Lovis (Hart and Lovis 2013).

2014-11-07 15.51.00

In his talk, Hart showed how vessel wall thickness got thinner when intensive maize cultivation began (see Hart 2012)–a technological response to address the longer cooking times needed for maize. It just so happened that the day before this talk, I was deep in the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania and 3D scanning a vessel with a Sense 3D scanner.  The Sense 3D scanner does not have the resolution of the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner, so it is not ideal for capturing the surface of vessels with a high degree of fidelity–my scan of a Susquehannock vessel with face effigies along the rim was wildly unsuccessful. However, the Sense 3D scanner can more readily capture the interior as well as the exterior of a vessel (with considerable patience on the part of the operator)–interiors of whole vessels, especially jars, are difficult to capture with the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner.  After numerous attempts, mostly with deciding the best way to orient the vessel to get the interior and exterior, I produced a scan of an American Indian vessel that I could then digitally cross section–short of breaking the whole vessel, this is not something that could otherwise be readily done.

vessel measure

Once I digitally cross-sectioned the vessel, I could use the freely available 3D-tool viewer to measure wall thickness.  I did have to focus on the left side of the vessel, because after digitally cross-sectioning the vessel, I realized that I had not fully captured one wall, and the Sense 3D scanner software extrapolated to fill in the data “holes,” creating a thicker wall here. Still, a promising new way for archaeologists to use this low-cost scanner and meet some real analytical needs.


References cited

Hart, John P.
2012 Pottery wall thinning as a consequence of increased maize processing: a case study from central New York.  Journal of Archaeological Science 39:3470-3474. 

Hart, John P. and William A. Lovis
2013 Reevaluating What We Know About the Histories of Maize in Northeastern North America: A Review of Current Evidence. Journal of Archaeological Research 21 (2):175-216.

Hart, John P. and Bernard K. Means
2002 Maize and Villages: a Summary and Critical Assessment of Current Northeast Early Late Prehistoric Evidence.  In Northeast Subsistence‑Settlement Change: A.D. 700 ‑ A.D. 1300, edited by John P. Hart and Christina Rieth, pp. 345-358.  New York State Museum Bulletin 496. The University of the State of New York, Albany.



2 thoughts on “Digitally Measuring Vessel Wall Thickness on 3D Scanned Whole Vessels

  1. A great application of this technology.

    Posted by Laura Galke | November 10, 2014, 11:11 am

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