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VCU Archaeology

A (Virtual) Passage to India: the Virtual Curation Laboratory and HNB Garhwal University

by Bernard K. Means, Director

In India, which is 10.5 hours ahead of the eastern U.S., millions are celebrating the 66th Republic Day, which acknowledges the adoption of the nation’s Constitution.  U.S. President Barack Obama will soon be the first American president to attend India’s Republic Day parade, an action that is taking to foster stronger relations between India and the U.S.  Here, at the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we are doing are own part to strengthen the bonds between the U.S. and India–at least in terms of archaeology. Dr. Vinod Nautiyal of the Archaeology Department of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna (HNB) Garhwal University and I have been working, along with our respective students, since late last year on our shared interests in virtual archaeology.  HNB Garhwal University is located in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. Fittingly, Dr. Nautiyal and I first met virtually–he had found out about our project through this blog and via my Facebook posts on virtual curation.  We quickly realized that we had strong overlapping research and educational interests that revolved around the creation of digital artifact models, and that developing a cooperative relationship would be mutually beneficial to the two of us, our students, our institutions, and even our countries. Fortunately, Dr. Nautiyal and I were able to meet in person when he made a recent trip to Washington, D.C..  I’m still more comfortable in many ways with face-to-face contact rather than simply interacting over cyberspace.

Dr. Vinod Nautiyal holds a 3D printed Civil War pipe and a passenger pigeon bone printed at 300 % of actual size.

Dr. Vinod Nautiyal holds a 3D printed Civil War pipe and a passenger pigeon bone printed at 300 % of actual size. We met in the National Gallery of Arts.

Dr. Vinod Nautiyal and his team of students have been excavating sites in northern India in the Trans-Himalayan region. From these excavations, Dr. Nautiyal is sharing 3D scanned artifact models with undergraduate Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students working as interns in the Virtual Curation Laboratory and participating in my new Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology course here at VCU.

Mohan Naithan 3D scanning a Terracotta figure dating to 300 BC from the Himalayas. Courtesy of Dr. Vinod Nautiyal.

Mohan Naithan 3D scanning a Terracotta figure dating to 300 BC from the Himalayas. Courtesy of Dr. Vinod Nautiyal.

The VCL began assisting Dr. Nautiyal and his students in January 2015 with editing their digital artifact models as they are being shared across cyberspace, as well as creating 3D printed replicas in the VCL of these models. In the first half of January 2015, Dr. Nautiyal and his students shared a digital model of a plaque of Buddha from the Mordhwaj site located in the foothills of Garhwal Himalaya, Uttarakhand, India.  This site is basically a temple structure made of bricks and dated between 440 BC and AD 400. The incomplete digital model was edited and 3D printed in the VCL the same day it was received via email.

Digital model of Buddha plaque (left) and its 3D print, both created in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Digital model of Buddha plaque (left) and its 3D print, both created in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Dr. Nautiyal and I are developing a project in which VCU students will create physical exhibits using 3D printed replicas of archaeological items from India that will be hosted simultaneously at VCU and the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and will have an online extension as a virtual museum exhibit created for this purpose. Undergraduate VCU students will work virtually with Dr. Nautiyal and his students to create the exhibits and the VCU students will conduct their own original research on Indian culture for presentation at campus and other suitable venues. If our project is funded, I will visit Dr. Nautiyal in India to examine more closely his archaeological investigations and HNB Garhwal University’s Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography and offer my technical expertise on 3D artifact scanning. In return, he and one of his students will travel to the Virtual Curation Laboratory and provide their perspectives on Indian archaeology and virtual curation to my students and colleagues. If successfully funded, our project will not only virtually and tangibly link our respective archaeological research facilities, it will further strengthen the ties between our two great democracies. This project would also take me back to India, where, in another lifetime, I was part of the Vijayanagara Research Project.

Taking a coracle ride across the Tungabhadra River to Anegundi.

Taking a coracle ride across the Tungabhadra River to Anegundi in the state of Karnataka, India.

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