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VCU Archaeology

A Pocketful of Plastic: An Ode to the Virtual Curation Lab

by Brenna Geraghty, Intern, Virtual Curation Laboratory

I spent a good part of this semester covered in acrylic paint, dust, and flecks of sanded plastic.  When I wasn’t, it was because I was frantically clacking away at my keyboard, trying to tackle another research paper or poster for a conference.  Long days in a freezing lab forced me into the folds of a Snuggie as I sat poring over one piece of paper and one piece of plastic for hours on end.

Working with Hannah Lickey, a fellow intern, who is in the right on this image.

Working with Hannah Lickey, a fellow intern, who is in the right on this image.

It was the greatest semester I’ve ever had.

 

3D scanning a Clovis point.

3D scanning a Clovis point.

The Virtual Curation Lab (thanks to the VCU School of World Studies, the Department of Defense, and Dr. Means’ bountiful patience) offers internships where students can get hands-on experience with an assortment of artifacts, 3D scanners and printers, and partner institutions to explore archaeology.  The artifacts available in the lab and from outside sources like the Jamestown Rediscovery Center and the Virginia Museum of Natural History allow interns to focus on anything from zooarchaeology to exhibit design and everything in between.

 

For me, this meant taking past research to a whole new level.  I’d been intrigued by the Cactus Hill site, a pre-Clovis settlement here in Virginia, since my freshman year.  Dr. Means not only introduced me to Mike Johnson, one of the head archaeologists at the site, but also secured Dr. Johnson’s collection of real and replica artifacts from Cactus Hill for study.  Those blades, scrapers, and flakes filled my brain, my papers, and after a while, my pockets.

Clovis point replicas, with the one on the left re-imagined as an architectural brick.

Clovis point replicas, with the one on the left re-imagined as an architectural brick.

 

When I first started working in the lab, I liked to show off a 3D printed Clovis point to help explain the internship to people.  Their reactions were usually awe and fascination as they admired the fine detail rendered in plastic.  By November, however, that one replica had multiplied into nearly a dozen, mostly from Cactus Hill, along with toy soldiers, building blocks, and a few other pointy objects printed in the lab.  Putting my hands in my pockets became hazardous. My teaching opportunities were invariably prefaced by a Shamu-style show of enthusiasm from the contents of my burgeoning pockets.

Sets of replicas created for Rediscovery Jamestown.

Sets of replicas created for Rediscovery Jamestown.

 

This wasn’t the only method of endangering my fingers and pride I learned in the internship.  I also learned how to present papers at conferences, how to use the 3D printer and scanner, how to clean the plastic matrix off the replica after it had been printed, and how to paint the replica to look like the original.  Some of those replicas were even sent to Jamestown to be used by interpreters as educational tools.  I learned to work collaboratively with others and appreciate the work it takes to keep a lab running smoothly.  I could go on for pages, but suffice it to say that after this semester I feel exponentially more aware, competent, and humbled about archaeology, and I can’t see myself pursuing any other career.

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