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VCU Archaeology

A Busy Year–and It is Only February

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Today, as sufficient snow blankets Virginia for Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to cancel classes, I thought I would take some of the time I normally use on commuting (one hour, each way, from my home) and talk about some of the activities of the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) so far this year.  We are only two months into the year, and we have already been quite busy.

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In the first part of the year, from January 7 to 11, I was at the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) annual meeting in Seattle, Washington.  I can say that it is amazing how many 3D printed artifacts one can fit in a suitcase and one’s carry-on baggage.  The latter was bereft of any sharp replicas in case the Transportation Security Administration objected to objects, no matter how brightly colored, that were reproduced from actual pointed items–including steel projectile points from Jamestown Rediscovery.  I had all of these items with me because I was participating in the SHA’s Technology Room, which is designed to make archaeologists aware of the latest technological equipment available, and how it can be applied to understanding, analyzing, and presenting findings from historical archaeological investigations.  Bringing the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner was impractical, but I could show the results in a wide range of 3D printed artifacts from Jamestown Rediscovery, George Washington’s Ferry Farm, Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and many other locations–many painted in exquisite detail by VCU students interning in the VCL.  I did bring the low-resolution but also very portable Sense 3D scanner with me to scan a number of the participants. I had numerous interactions with attendees, although a more prominent location for the Technology Room would have been ideal.

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I also participated in a panel and an education forum, both on January 10.  In the morning, I participated in Hit Them Where They Learn: Educational Policy and Archaeologists as Architects, organized by Steve J. Dasovich, where I discussed virtual curation as a form of teaching. In the afternoon, I presented a 3-minute presentation  If They Can Build It Will They Come? Using Artifictions and Ecofictions to Teach the Past. This was in a session I organized entitled “Can Lightning Strike Twice? Thrice? Sharing Tips and Tricks for Engaging the Public.” Doug Rocks-Macqueen graciously recorded all the presentations in this session, and I will make his videos available after the editing process is completed.

Brainstorming in the Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology class.  Yes, we can write on the walls.

Brainstorming in the Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology class. Yes, we can write on the walls.

The next week, on January 12, classes began at VCU. I am teaching two courses that incorporate 3D printed objects as key elements.  In Archaeological Methods and Research Design, I will use the 600+ printed replicas (and more each day the VCL is open) to teach students how to identify and analyze projectile points and animal bone from their shape and size.  Multiple copies of the same object ensure that students divided into groups have the potential to learn the same concepts at the same time.  I am also teaching Visualizing and Exhibiting Anthropology, where 3D printed replicas will figure into exhibits the class is designing, including for the Virginia Museum of Natural History as part of new archaeology exhibit to open in the fall. And, of course, all of this is made possible by VCU students working in the VCL as part of Spring 2015 internships.

VCL Interns, or '90s Alternative Rock Band--You Decide!

VCL Interns, or ’90s Alternative Rock Band–You Decide!

Not to rest on our laurels, I traveled with a group of interns to Jamestown Rediscovery to scan a couple of artifacts on Friday, January 23, but largely to meet with Jamestown’s Jeff Aronowitz and Dr. Glen Bull of the University of Virginia.  The latter is a noted expert in the application of technology in education, and Jeff and I were discussing our collaborative efforts at Jamestown.

VCL interns painting replicas of artifacts at Jamestown in reference to the real items.

VCL interns painting replicas of artifacts at Jamestown in reference to the real items.

This research came up when I spoke to a group of fourth graders at the Richmond Waldorf School–a return engagement–on January 26 about archaeology.  I used 3D printed artifacts that had traveled with me to Seattle just two weeks earlier for the SHA meeting, including a number from Jamestown Rediscovery, as all the young children had visited Jamestown as a class.

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Because I simply cannot do enough presenting about the archaeological and educational potential of 3D scanning and 3D printing, I spoke at the February 7 Gunston Hall forum on archaeology “Recent Discoveries: Archaeology in the Chesapeake Region,” which was sponsored by the Friends of Fairfax Archaeology. My paper was 3D Scanning, Printing, and Painting the Past: The Virtual Curation Laboratory and Archaeology in the Middle Atlantic.  The audience seemed engaged by this and the other presentations at this forum, and I also set up replicas for participants to see during the breaks on two tables provided for this purpose.

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Two days later, student members of the 3D scanning and 3D printing club, the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team, journeyed for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Virginia War Memorial by Curator Jesse Smith.  We brought along our 3D printed and painted replica of the nonagenarian Russell Scott, which will be placed eventually on a model of the plane that he was in when it was shot down over Italy during World War II.

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Finally, yesterday, the VCL hosted a Richmond-area Junior Lego League, to talk about the 3D printing and scanning we are doing.  We had some of our Lego-compatible objects printed and available for the young League members to play with, and they were definitely very interested in the 3D printing process.  I gave every one of them a copy of the small arrow point from Jamestown Rediscovery that we scanned at an early trip to Jamestown Rediscovery.  They were also very excited to see the VCL’s mummy–of an opossum!

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The coming weeks will find us preparing for the Virginia Association of Museums annual meeting with Jamestown Rediscovery and an educational workshop as well as a presentation at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, at either end of our VCU Spring Break. But, more on those later.

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