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VCU Archaeology

Monuments Men: 3D Scanning of a 1790s DC Boundary Stone, one of the first National Monuments

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Baist map showing boundary of Washington, D.C.

Baist map showing boundary of Washington, D.C.

The nation’s first national monuments, according to Sharon K. Thorne Smith of the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR), are limestone markers placed along the boundaries of the 100-square-mile section carved out of Maryland and Virginia by the U.S. Congress in 1790 to become what is now Washington, D.C. According to Hamil R. Harris of the Washington Post, in 1791

…Continental Army Maj. Andrew Ellicott, joined by Benjamin Banneker, a free African American and self-taught mathematician,[were] commissioned to carve out the boundaries of what would soon become Washington, D.C.

These limestone markers were planted every mile to define the diamond-shaped land selected along the Potomac River by President George Washington that formed the original boundaries of the District of Columbia (see Harris 2015).  Many of these stones still stand today in their original positions, although several are considerably worn by the ravages of time, nature, and human activities.  They sit protected in most cases behind iron fences, especially designed to protect them from a threat the founding fathers did not foresee–automobiles!  You can visit these extant stones today, and the DAR is leading an effort to document and protect these stones.

Boundary stone in the D.C. Surveyors Office.

Boundary stone in the D.C. Surveyors Office.

One of the stones that is NOT in its original location  is now in the D.C. Surveyors Office.  A concerned citizen had recovered this boundary stone and protected it in their dwelling before giving it to the D.C. Surveyors who were re-surveying the original boundary line.  Early this year, I was contacted by DC archaeologist Ruth Trocolli and her assistant Chardé Reid about the possibility of scanning the boundary stones as a form of preservation.  We agreed that the stone in the D.C. Surveyors Office would be a good test case.

Scanning the boundary stone in the D.C. Surveyors Office.  Photograph courtesy of Chardé Reid.

Scanning the boundary stone in the D.C. Surveyors Office. Photograph courtesy of Chardé Reid.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 4, to 3D scan this boundary stone. I used the Sense 3D scanner, which was well suited for creating a 3D digital model of the entire stone, but less than ideal for recording some of the markings and subtle damage to the stone.  At a future time, I will return with the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner and a tripod…. this will be a more cumbersome endeavor, but will create a much more accurate 3D model of the boundary stone.

3D printed model of boundary stone and a fragment of Aquia sandstone

3D printed model of boundary stone and a fragment of Aquia sandstone.

The digital model was sufficient for printing a fairly accurate copy.  As the original boundary stone was quarried from Aquia sandstone, I brought in a fragment to assist with painting this replica to more closely resemble the original.

Zoe Rahsman holds a fragment of Aquia sandstone adjacent to the 3D model.

Zoë Rahsman holds a fragment of Aquia sandstone adjacent to the printed  3D model.

Thanks to volunteer work by Virginia Commonwealth University student Zoë Rahsman, we now have a fairly accurate painted model of the 1790s boundary marker.  This marker and other 3D printed and painted objects will be on display Friday and Saturday, e.g. June 12 and 13, 2015, at the first annual National Maker Faire.

 Zoë Rahsman with the finished 3D printed and painted model

Zoë Rahsman with the finished 3D printed and painted model

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