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VCU Archaeology

Archaeology for the People: “Spring Break” in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means

From March 5 to March 13, 2016, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) had its Spring Break–but it was not exactly a break for the work of the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL). The day before Spring Break 2016 officially began, I was at the Virginia Forum at Jamestown Settlement with Jeff Aronowitz (VCU School of Education) and Mark Summers (Jamestown Rediscovery).  I presented Printing the Past for the Future in the session “Macro to Micro: How a Small Box Tells A Big Story,” which was organized by Jeff. I focused on 3D printing as a general way to present archaeology to public audiences. Mark talked about the social, political and religious context and meaning of a reliquary found at Jamestown on top of the coffin of Gabriel Archer, as discussed here. Jeff discussed the technologies used to identify what was in the reliquary in addition to his perspective that the impact of 3D printed objects hason the visitor experience. He also gave tips for anyone interested in incorporating digital fabrication into their programming. This audience at the Virginia Forum was definitely more interested in the historical aspects of our talks and less so on how to present these findings to public audiences.

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During the middle of Spring Break, I attended the”Fashionable Hair and Head Styles” themed meeting of the Small Finds Work Group at the Fred W. Smith Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  This is an informal gathering of scholars organized by Laura Galke of the George Washington Foundation.  The Small Finds Work Group meets two or three times a year, and the topics can be quite variable.  For her presentation on wigs and wig hair, Laura incorporated 3D scans and 3D prints of wig hair curlers from George Washington’s Ferry Farm that were created by the Virtual Curation Laboratory.


I periodically left the library to take advantage of the Mount Vernon Archaeology program’s generous access to their laboratory to 3D scan some objects, including this medallion from a stoneware vessel with the initials “GR” for George Rex, e.g. King George.

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At the end of Spring Break, I made my annual pilgrimage to the beach–in this case Ocean City, Maryland–for the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference–where I had organized the workshop “Touching the Past: Teaching Archaeology through Hands-On Activities.”  Among the presenters who drew to some extent on 3D scans or 3D prints were the aforementioned Laura Galke and Jeff Aronowitz, Elizabeth Moore of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Liz Ale and Zoe Rahsman (both alumni of VCU and former interns in the VCL), current VCU student Lucia Aguilar, and myself.

  • Get Real: The Process of Painting 3D Printed Artifacts for the Public (Lucia Aguilar)
  • What’s the Point? Using 3D Scanning and Printing Technology to Teach Projectile Point Identification (Liz Ale)
  • Virtual Archaeology: Affordable, Accessible, and Awesome! ( Jeff Aronowitz)
  • Washingtons of Hair, Washing Tons of Wig Hair (Laura Galke)
  • Jedi Master of 3D Printing: Creating Access Passes to the Past (Bernard K. Means)
  • Teaching Kits and Vending Machines: New Strategies for Connecting Collections to Your Audience (Elizabeth Moore)
  • Teaching the Past for the Future: Perspectives and Directions for Archaeological Lesson Plans (Zoe Rahsman)

My own presentation consisted of a poster highlighting the potential for 3D printing to make the past accessible to the blind and visually impaired, a demonstration of 3D scanning with the NextEngine 3D scanner, and a selection of 3D scanned and 3D printed objects from across the world.  I also had out a mapping exercise that was created by myself and current VCU student Taylor Conrad.  However, the latter exercise was not as successful as the rest of the demonstration, as there was no one dedicated to highlighting this activity–basically, I was trying to do too much.

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After Spring Break was officially over, there was one more public presentation.  Jeff Aronowitz, Mark Summers, and myself did a sequel at the 2016 Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) meeting in Williamsburg that was a continuation of the very popular presentation that we did at the 2015 VAM meeting in Richmond.  The 2016 session was entitiled “Engagement vs. Entertainment: Going Beyond the “Wow” Factor of Technology in Educational Use.” I emphasized the application of 3D scanning and 3D printing in the museum field, particularly that are used to compliment or supplement the missions of new cultural heritage partners for the VCL since VAM 2015, including the American Civil War Museum, Geri Melchers Home and Studio, the Isle of Wight County Museum, The Poe Museum, Virginia Historical Society, and the Wilton House Museum.



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