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VCU Archaeology

Acronymicon: from VAM to VAST, with a side of MAAC and IMLS

by Bernard K. Means

Lately, the Virtual Curation Laboratory, or VCL, has been quite active with presentations and workshops, beginning two weeks ago at the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) 40th annual meeting, held in downtown Richmond, Virginia, in the Omni Richmond Hotel (which, by the way, is on your right, not your left, inadequate map app). As I mentioned in an earlier post, I participated in a workshop on Sunday, March 8, 2015, alongside Jamestown Rediscovery‘s Jeff Aronowitz and Mark Summers entitled “Printing the Past: Fostering an Interdisciplinary Approach to Museum Education Through 3D Scanning & Printing.” We began our workshop with three short presentations.  I discussed the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s evolving partnership with Jamestown Rediscovery, from occasional visits to scan interesting objects, to dedicated and more regular trips to Jamestown Island to create 3D digital models that could be printed and integrated into Jamestown Rediscovery’s expanding educational and interpretative efforts.  Mark Summers focused on how the public interpretation at Jamestown was once somewhat disconnected from the active and amazing archaeological findings, and his efforts to ensure that the educational and interpretive program at Jamestown Rediscovery is more fully integrated with what the archaeologists are discovering. Jeff Aronowitz wowed the audience with how new and sometimes relatively inexpensive technological devices can expand and enhance the interpretation of any cultural heritage site.


Bernard K. Means presenting


Mark Summers presenting


Jeff Aronowitz presenting

Prior to the presentation, I had set up the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner on a table I brought for that purpose, and 3D scanned a Bartmann vessel fragment from the Jamestown Rediscovery collections brought by Jeff Aronowitz for that purpose.  I was able to discuss the 3D scanning process after our presentations, and had plenty of 3D printed models (many painted by Virginia Commonwealth University students) available for participants to examine and handle.  The VAM audience was quite receptive to the idea of having a tactile educational component that highlighted collections without harming the actual objects.

Animated Bartmann vessel fragment

Animated Bartmann vessel fragment

3D printed replicas

3D printed replicas

Both Mark and Jeff fielded numerous questions from our standing-room audience, and Jeff demonstrated some of the off-the-shelf technology that any museum, regardless of size, could integrate into their public programs.

Jeff scans an audience member

Jeff scans an audience member

We certainly received considerable positive feedback about our workshop, including the next day, and by people who actually went to other workshops and wished they had gone to ours.  Most definitely a worthwhile experience.

Just a few days later, I made the long trek to Ocean City, Maryland, for the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC), arriving on Thursday, March 12, on the warmest (but not warm) and driest day of the conference.

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Friday morning, March 13, I presented the paper Preserving the Past and Teaching the Future: The Promises of 3D Scanning and 3D Printing in the session “Conservation in the Mid Atlantic,” organized by Howard Wellman. Our early morning audience seemed interested in the strong potential that virtual curation can play in preserving the more fragile aspects of the past.  This is particularly the case for items who may have strong research value, but are at risk of decay and destruction due to inadequate or even absent dedicated funding for archaeological conservation. Virtual curation cannot replace other tried-and-true methods of archaeological conservation, such as x-raying iron alloy objects, but rather is a complementary technique.

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After my presentation, I set up a display in the exhibits room, which I have found in the past as a ready way to discuss the benefits and potential of 3D artifact scanning, as well as the uses of 3D printing.

bkm__2015-03-13 15.36.18I can no longer bring every object that we have painted and printed, but focus instead on those that I know will grab the attention of fellow archaeologists attending the MAACs, as well as our most recent 3D scanned and 3D printed objects.  Our NextEngine 3D scanner was set up in the exhibits room, and I even scanned some objects from the vendor adjacent to me, who created replicas of points and pottery using more traditional means.   We spent time between talking to attendees by comparing our respective ways of replicating the past.  Most amazing to me was that he could identify the raw material of the 3D scanned points I showed him, from their 3D printed replicas–because he was familiar with what flake scars looked like in different raw materials.  This level of congruence between plastic replicas and original items is not one that I anticipated.

3D scanning an alligator tooth

3D scanning an alligator tooth

I was joined later Friday afternoon by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students Lucia Aguilar, Rebecca Bowman, Carson Collier, and Brenna Geraghty, who also helped with our exhibition tables on Saturday morning.

From left to right: Carson Collier, Rebecca Bowman, Lucia Aguilar, Brenna Geraghty, and Bernard K. Means

From left to right: Carson Collier, Rebecca Bowman, Lucia Aguilar, Brenna Geraghty, and Bernard K. Means

All four VCU students were participating in a workshop that I had organized for the afternoon of March 14, 2015, entitled “P*O*W/E*R: Public Outreach Workshop for Engaging Research.” Lucia Aguilar demonstrated Painting the Printed Past, Rebecca Bowman focused on Mending the Broken Past: Tactically and Virtually, Carson Collier showed how to Design Your Own Exhibit, Brenna Geraghty was Exploring Virginia’s Earliest Inhabitants, and I promoted Plastic for the People: Engaging Students and the Public with 3D Scanned and Printed Artifacts. Eight other groups participated in the workshop, including one of our long-time partners in virtual curation, the Virginia Museum of Natural History and its Curator of Archaeology Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

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Over fifty conference attendees visited the dozen or so workshop tables, so much so that workshop participants found little time to visit one another.  The workshop was definitely a success and we look forward to updating and expanding for another venue, perhaps the Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting in January 2016.

To round out a very busy extended week, I took the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner and a few plastic replicas to Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16, 2015, to the offices of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). I was there to conduct a demonstration of 3D scanning and present on the potential of 3D scanning and printing for enhancing the museum experience, including for audiences that are sometimes neglected by museums, such as the visually impaired. Connie Bodner, Supervisory Grants Management Specialist for IMLS, facilitated my visit, and provided some ethnographic items from southeast Asia for me to scan, including this carving from a deer antler.


After my presentation, Connie took the time to discuss the types of IMLS grant programs that could support the work of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, including a possible project the VCL is developing with the National Museum of the Marine Corps–but more on that in a future post.

Finally, at the end of last week, I traveled to Martinsville, Virginia, the location of the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH).  There, I met members of the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST), an organization of VCU students interested in 3D scanning.  VMNH’s Dr. Elizabeth Moore and Ray Vodden gave the students an extended behind-the-scenes tour, while I 3D scanned four bone tools from an archaeological site in Pennsylvania, a Miocene whale fossil, and a small dinosaur. The VMNH has spectacular zooarchaeological and paleontological collections, and the VAST members certainly enjoyed themselves.

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