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VCU Archaeology

Fear and Scanning in Las Vegas; Or, What Happens in Vegas Does Not Necessarily Stay in Vegas

by Bernard K. Means

As I write this, it is Sunday, November 8,2015, and I sit in the Las Vegas airport waiting for a flight.  Like the rest of Vegas, the airport is an assault on the senses–particularly sight and sound, although the heavily cologned and perfumed people around me are competing in terms of toxicity.  No one who has been to Vegas will be surprised by this. So, is it the sights, sounds, and smells that are causing me fear?  Is it the pervasiveness of slot machines and other devices designed to extract money from the wary and unwary alike?  No, it is the sun. What does fear of the sun have to do with 3D scanning?  Plenty as it turns out.

2015-11-08 11.11.02

I was actually in Vegas to act as a discussant on a session of the American Ethnohistorical Society entitled “Hidden Ethnohistories of Washington, D.C.”  Once my duties were done, I found myself with some free time. As I do not gamble, and bad comedy does not appeal (seriously? Rich Little impressions of Dick Nixon and Johnny Carson?), I decided to wander Las Vegas Boulevard.

2015-11-07 17.03.36

As an archaeologist, I was immediately drawn to the Luxor Casino with its Egyptian themed pyramid, obelisk, and a large number of ram sphinxes.  The latter reminded me of the ram sphinx that I saw during my visit to the British Museum this past summer–and the digital model of that ram sphinx that I had 3D printed to bring with me to that venerable institution.

Replica and real

Replica and real

Fortutiously, I had brought with me to Vegas the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s Structure Sensor scanner, and I decided to spend Saturday afternoon scanning some of the Luxor’s Egyptian-themed hieroglyphic panels and sculptures–including one of their ram sphinxes. I had mixed success, as the sun shown directly on most of the sculptures and the Structure Sensor scanner would not record the surfaces of the sculptures in places directly exposed to sunlight.  I only was able to obtain partial scans where the surfaces were in shadow.  I returned this morning and had the same problem.  However, I could tell that the Luxor’s obelisk (with the word Luxor running down its side) would eventually completely shadow one of the sculptures, so I waited patiently.

2015-11-08 13.00.29

Success!  The shadow of the obelisk fell on a ram sphinx and I took a series of scans at various resolutions, first of the entire sculpture, and then of the ram sphinxes head and the small figure nestled between its paws.  Who knew I would find archaeology–or at least faux archaeology–on the Vegas strip?


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