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VCU Archaeology

Bring Out Your Dead: Pondering Passenger Pigeons (and Projectile Points) While Building Digital Type Collections at the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

by Bernard K. Means

This past Thursday, April 16, 2015, I presented the poster Bring Out Your Dead: Pondering Passenger Pigeons (and Projectile Points) While Building Digital Type Collections at the Virtual Curation Laboratory. Co-written with VCU alumnus Lauren Volkers, this poster was presented in the session “Crowdsourcing, Co-creation, and Collaboration through Virtual Curation,” which I organized at the 2015 annual meeting for the Society of American Archaeology (SAA), San Francisco, California. I’ll blog more about the SAA at a future time, but for now, here is our poster:

means and volkers 2015 poster revised

Below, find the session and individual abstracts for the participants in this very dynamic poster session:

Session Abstract

Crowdsourcing, Co-creation, and Collaboration through Virtual Curation
Organized by Bernard K. Means, Virtual Curation Laboratory @ Virginia Commonwealth University

In his 2010 book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky writes that “The dramatically reduced cost of public address, and the dramatically increased size of the population wired together, means that we can now turn massive aggregations of small contributions into things of lasting value.” A similar sentiment can be extended to virtual archaeological curation—the creation of intangible digital models from tangible pieces of the past.  The participants in this session are developing protocols and pooling efforts to create digital diagnostic type collections and other tools that aid will aid archaeologists with making quicker and more accurate identifications, and enhancing their analyses of existing collections.  Crowdsourcing and directed collaboration reduces duplication of efforts while expanding the research and potential of digitally preserving the past. Virtual curation also encourages co-creation efforts at colleges and in the community.

Individual Abstracts

Three-Dimensional Scanning and Printing in Undergraduate Archaeology Education
Jeb Card (Miami University) and Micayla Spiros (Miami University)

Three-dimensional imaging is a quickly growing part of archaeological documentation, investigation, education, and public outreach. Cost and expertise barriers to using 3D software and equipment continue to drop. Nonetheless, many efforts in 3D archaeology are driven by graduate students or focused undergraduates who become part of dedicated 3D laboratories or projects. Since 2013, we have been working with a different approach of incorporating three-dimensional imaging and printing at the general undergraduate level. Students in an Introduction to Archaeology course are utilizing 3D scanning and printing as a routine part of term papers, while students in a course on archaeology and art cooperated to document artifacts for planned online exhibits. Unsurprisingly, these efforts have generated interest in archaeology, though not uniformly. Faculty time to guide novice students through the use of the equipment and software is a drawback at this scale, though in many cases this leads to greater student engagement with their project and the course. The growing use of 3D technology in archaeology suggests that it must eventually become a part of undergraduate education, with the nature of that education becoming an important question.

Virtual curation as an integral part of the conservation strategy at the Camp Lawton Confederate POW site
Lance Greene (Georgia Southern University)

The Confederate POW facility, Camp Lawton, was constructed in the summer of 1864 to relieve the horrendous conditions at Andersonville. Camp Lawton, a 42-acre stockade housing over 10,000 Union prisoners, was only open during October and November 1864. It was abandoned in late November as Sherman’s men marched towards Savannah. Recent archaeological excavations by Georgia Southern University (GSU) students and faculty located the prisoner encampment. The area includes intact prisoners’ hut features and debris from brick ovens. Hundreds of artifacts have been recovered, most of which need conservation. Many of these artifacts are delicate and require a stable environment for long-term preservation. As part of the curation process, GSU archaeologists are now creating 3D scans of selected artifacts. This process fulfills three goals: 1) creating a more detailed and expanded curation record, 2) enabling researchers around the world access to detailed, scaled 3D models of Civil War-era military artifacts, and 3) providing access to 3D models for the public. By posting a variety of digital formats, including mp4, 3D PDF, and video, we provide several means in which to view, compare, and analyze the material assemblage.

Giving 3D Scanning a Porpoise: Digitizing the Zooarchaeological Type Collection at the University of West Florida
Kristina Killgrove (University of West Florida) and Mariana Zechini (University of West Florida)

The faunal type collection at the University of West Florida’s Department of Anthropology, used for zooarchaeological reference, is composed primarily of specimens of local fauna donated by students, staff, and faculty. These crowdsourced contributions are stored in a lab facility and therefore are not readily available to archaeologists needing to make IDs in the field or to researchers working from afar. Using the department’s NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner and hand-held Sense 3D scanner, we have created digital models of common fauna found on archaeological sites in the greater Pensacola area, including dolphin/porpoise (Delphinidae sp.), turtles (Cheloniidae and Pseudemys sp.), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and shell (Rangia cuneata and Crassostrea virginica). This presentation will discuss how digitally preserving animal bone can solve problems such as access to collections, space management issues, lack of funding, and biological hazards. The models will be made publicly available for download and printing.

Bring Out Your Dead: Pondering Passenger Pigeons (and Projectile Points) While Building Digital Type Collections at the Virtual Curation Laboratory
By Bernard K. Means (Virtual Curation Laboratory @ Virginia Commonwealth University) and Lauren Volkers (Virtual Curation Laboratory @ Virginia Commonwealth University)

With support from the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program, I am working with undergraduate students in the Virtual Curation Laboratory to create digital type collections of chipped stone tools and zooarchaeological elements.  These efforts include scanning stone tools from classic projectile point guides at the New York State Museum (Ritchie’s “Typology and Nomenclature of New York Projectile Points”) and the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC-Chapel Hill (Coe’s “Formative Cultures of the North Carolina Piedmont”).  The zooarchaeological type collection includes a wide range of animals, with special attention paid to the passenger pigeon–a species that “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of its extinction in September 2014. Most of our zooarchaeological efforts have drawn on the extensive collections of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, with a few elements provided by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. These 3D digital type collections enable more accurate and faster identification of archaeological items.  3D replicas printed from the digital models are well suited to creating physical type collections, for incorporation into K-12 and undergraduate education, and for integration into public outreach efforts. The generation of 3D models and printed replicas also encourages co-creation projects by undergraduates working in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Visualizing an Integrated Landscape using Archaeogeophysical and 3D Laser Surveying
Michael Rogers (Ithaca College) and Scott Stull (State University of New York at Cortland)

Archaeogeophysical and 3D laser scanning at the Old Fort Johnson National Landmark site in Fort Johnson, New York provides a case study for creation of an integrated landscape. The ability to digitally image above and below ground features creates a new way of visualizing an integrated landscape. Above ground remains of historic structures often appear out of their original context. Defensive elements, outbuildings, agricultural areas, ceremonial areas, walkways, and shape of the ground surface may be modified or removed. Evidence for these former features on the original landscape may appear in historic documents, artwork, photographs, collective memory, and beneath the subsurface. Archaeogeophysical survey, historic document research, and other archaeological methods have the ability to help us visualize the landscape in its original state, and address anthropological questions.

Geometric Morphometrics & Elliptic Fourier Analysis of 3D Ceramic Data
By Robert Selden (Stephen F. Austin State University), Timothy Campbell (Texas A&M University), Suzanne Eckert (University of Arizona), Michael O’Brien (University of Missouri), Mara Vasconcelos (Universidade Federal da Bahia)

We demonstrate two quantitative methods for potential inter- and intra-group comparisons of archaeological ceramics. For 3D morphometrics, we define a single stable landmark that is consistent throughout our ceramic data, and employ opposing curves populated by semi-landmarks to capitalize on the shape variation that occurs in coil-built ceramics. Eight such curves are used to capture four complete profiles. The landmark data are then subjected to generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA) and principal components analysis (PCA). Additionally, we conduct an Elliptic Fourier Analysis (EFA) of 2D profiles produced from 3D scans of the vessels, decomposing outlines into a series of size invariant harmonics (shape variables). Results are paired with additional qualitative attributes (temper, firing, decoration, etc.) to better characterize the range of variation that occurs throughout the dataset. Ultimately, data such as these can be analyzed in terms of both temporal and spatial dynamics as a means of exploring various social behaviors.

Mi Datos Su Datos?  Opportunities and Challenges Posed by Data Sharing
Jared Wood (Georgia Southern University)

Rapid technological advancements and increased availability of hardware and software are boons to archaeologists gathering and interpreting spatial data from anthropogenic landscapes. These datasets are increasingly unmatched in quality and quantity, allowing for visualization, analysis, and explication of built and modified environments reflecting human behavior. While these advancements are clearly well-received by individual archaeologists, the enduring question remains: When (and how) should data be shared? This poster explores this question with a focus on site documentation and interpretation through terrestrial LiDAR, and addresses potential opportunities and challenges posed by creating, curating, and sharing hard-won spatial data.




  1. Pingback: A Brief Reflection on the 2015 Society for American Archaeology Conference | Virtebra @ UWF - April 20, 2015

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