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VCU Archaeology

Around the World in 80 Models

by Bernard K. Means

(Note: thanks to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) graduate student and former intern in the Virtual Curation Laboratory Crystal Castleberry for the title of this post).


I just finished posting the 80th digital model on our new Sketchfab site (sketchfab.com/virtualcurationlab)–a mummified opossum (Didelphis virginiana). The Virtual Curation Laboratory was founded four score and two months ago in August 2011 to help contribute to the preservation of the world’s cultural heritage through digital means, hence the phrase virtual curation. Our goal is not simply to preserve the past but to make it more accessible–not simply for researchers, but also for educators and the general public.  We’ve posted animations of our 3D scanned objects on our sister site–the Virtual Curation Museum–but those are passive models and of limited utility. We’ve also shared our digital models when requested, but doing that on a case-by-case basis is time consuming. And, of course, we have made 3D printed copies available as well, and integrating them into our public outreach efforts. Still, these kinds of access do not reach the full potential of virtual curation–to make the past accessible to anyone in the world (or even in space) with access to a computer.  I lack both the time and expertise to create a sufficiently robust web-based access to our digital models. Enter Sketchfab.  According to Sketchfab:

Sketchfab is the leading platform to publish and find the best 3D content, anywhere online. Millions of people make 3D models or scan the real world in 3D, why would they share this in 2D? What YouTube did for video makers, or SoundCloud for musicians, we want to do for creators of 3D content.

This includes cultural heritage institutions, ranging from the small (the Virtual Curation Laboratory) to the large (the British Museum). Sketchfab makes the pro version of their website available free to cultural heritage organziations. I can sit in my lab and access and 3D print an accurate model of an object in the British Museum or other cultural heritage instutions, bring the world’s culture to me. In fact, when I stopped at the British Museum on my way to India, I brought along a 3D printed copy of a sculpture in their museum, as I detail here.

Today, we are at 80 models of objects from across the world. These include animal bone from our digital zooarchaeology type collection, chipped stone tools from our digital projectile point collection, colonoware and other artifacts from pre-Emancipation enslaved contexts, Monongahela pottery, and even a chocolate version of the Venus of Willendorf. We will continue to expand our offerings in the coming weeks and months, and make these as freely available as our partners in the cultural heritage community allow. So, keep an eye on our Sketchfab site!!!!



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