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VCU Archaeology

Terrible Twister Troubles; Or, It’s Hard to Scan and Blog if You Don’t Have Electricity

by Bernard K. Means

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3D scanning a terracotta figurine from the Kushan Period (200 BC to 200 AD)

I began my travels for a second visit to HNB Garhwal University on May 20, 2016 as part of my Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Virtual Global Classroom Engagement project .  The trip began with a two-hour delay at Washington’s Dulles Airport—apparently there was a discrepancy between a hand tally of bags loaded on the plane with one electronically generated.  The delay was enough to cause me to miss my connection in the Dubai airport, so I got to spend six hours wandering around the airport terminals, which apparently do double duty as one very large duty free shop. Other than purchasing an Americano at Starbucks, I spent nothing but time at the airport. I did exchange some dollars for rupees, figuring if I had cash on hand, I could speed my exit from the airport in India after my arrival.

I arrived in New Delhi, India, around 7:40 pm on May 21. 2016, and made it quickly through immigration control, after filling out a form repeating information on my passport.  I debated about whether to take a taxi or the metro, but I figured the latter was not only cheaper but also safer. New Delhi taxi drivers—and drivers in general—have a cavalier approach to traffic laws, especially their flexibility regarding what side of the road upon which to drive. The streets share not only space with cars and trucks, but also people and cows.  The metro is clean and quick, and after a change at Dwarka Sector 21 station, I arrive at Dwarka Sector 10 station followed by a short walk to the WelcomHotel Dwarka.  This was the hotel that I stayed at in New Delhi last August, selected because it was close to the metro stop.  I checked in, went up to the room, took a much needed shower, and then collapsed to sleep—only 3 hours as it would turn out.


Srinagar (Garhwal) in Uttarakhand, India

On my second day in India, I returned to the Delhi airport (via metro, of course) to fly to the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun (also Dehra Dun) in the state of Uttarakhand.  I was met at the airport by a driver who would take me what was estimated as a 3.5 hour (120 km) journey to Srinagar (Garhwal) and the HNB Garhwal University Guest House where I would be staying for my week working at the university.  Our trip took an additional two hours because of the very heavy traffic caused by major pilgrimages that were taking place.  In one major pilgrimage location, the town of Rishikesh, we needed 1.5 hours to travel three kilometers. Generally, we had to contend with other vehicles, pilgrims on foot, troops of monkeys—many carrying babies, cows, and the occasional horse. And, on a road that was usually only one lane wide for two-way traffic, with areas that had collapsed due to earthquake or that were covered with landslide debris.

Once I arrived at the Guest House in Srinagar, I was met by Sudhir Nautiyal, an archaeologist who works at HNB Garhwal University and is in charge of the Archaeometry Laboratory.  We discussed transportation options to the university the next day, as the nearest bridge a car can cross is several kilometers out of the way. Given that I was not used to motor scooters, especially ones driven through the crowded and bustling streets of an Indian town, he indicated that Mohan Naithani, another archaeologist at the university who runs the Digital Archaeology Laboratory, would pick me up in his car and drive to a pedestrian bridge that crosses the river, where we could walk to the archaeology lab. The Guest House room was basic, but nice, as were the staff.  However, I only slept 4 hours that first night, as the A/C failed and it became quite warm.  Daytime temperatures this time of year hover around 37 C (98 F).

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Standing at one end of the pedestrian bridge.

On the morning of May 23—Monday—I was met at the Guest House by Mohan and we drove to the pedestrian bridge.  As we walked across the narrow pedestrian bridge, we dodged scooters and other pedestrians—not wholly successfully on my part, as I was clipped by a scooter.  But we made it to the lab fine, and Mohan, Sudhir and I began scanning terracotta figurines that date to the Kushan period (200 BC to AD 200).

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Bernard K. Means and Vinod Nautiyal talk archaeology. Image courtesy of Mohan Naithani

We were joined during the day by Vinod Nautiyal, the chair of the Archaeology Department and my collaborator on the VCU Virtual Global Classroom Engagement project that funded my research trip. A total of five figurines was scanned that first day, and we probably could have done six, but a storm blew through and we lost power around 4 pm.  Luckily, because the archaeology lab has a backup UPS (universal power source), I could finish the scan of one figurine.

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Objects 3D scanned the first day.

As we returned to the Guest House, Mohan had to maneuver through traffic even worse than usual, because of downed trees and powerlines. Vinod revealed the next day that a tornado had come through town, a rare, but destructive event—and one that would plague life, and our scanning efforts, the rest of the week. The power failed throughout town throughout each day and night or was deliberately shut off to aid repair of the electrical infrastructure. Internet access was intermittent as well, including at the hotel where I was staying.

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3D scanning a terracotta figurine

Tuesday, May 24, I was back in the lab, continuing to work with Mohan and Sudhir on 3D scanning terracotta figurines.  We twice had to contend with power outages, with a long outage in the middle of the day where we scanned one artifact completely and another partially using the UPS.  We took this power outage as a sign for a break.  This power outage was planned as the electricity grid for the town had to be shut down to repair fallen electrical lines. Vinod later said it would be a couple of days before the electrical grid would be restored, and he and his wife were without power or water in their home.

During the day, I went over with Mohan and Sudhir some of the ways I used MeshMixer, and we selected some other artifacts for further scanning, including some human skeletal material.  One skull was part of human remains recovered from a glacial lake.  Although 900 years old, the preservation conditions in the glacial lake meant that the remains were not just skeletal in nature, but some still had flesh on them. Skulls are a bit challenging to scan, so I planned a couple of hours for it on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 25, we scanned one more terracotta figurine from the Kushan period before scanning two ceramic vessels, the aforementioned skull, a horn, and a decorative brick. I should add that the day was punctuated by three relatively lengthy power outages, but the UPS backup kept the scanner operational long enough for the power to return. Even with the UPS backup, however, we would have to shut down the NextEngine scanner if the power loss persisted for too long.  The UPS does not power the energy-hogging A/C unit and the NextEngine scanner functions poorly in hot conditions.

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3D scanning an undergraduate, post exam time

The halls of the archaeology building were crowded on Wednesday with students, as they were taking their final exams.  After they completed their exams, a number of the students came by the archaeology laboratory where I was working with Mohan and Sudhir to scan artifacts.  They all introduced themselves to me, and Vinod explained our collaborative project designed to virtually link VCU students with those at HNB Garhwal University.

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Vinod discusses 3D scanning and 3D printing

He used the 3D printed objects I brought with me to talk about the process of 3D printing from the 3D scans that we were generating.  I use the tablet to show some animated GIF files from scans of non-Indian material and gave each student a 3D printed VCU ram sculpture that I brought with me.  At Vinod’s suggestion, I used the Structure Scanner to 3D scan two female students and showed Mohan how to scan one of the male students.

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Mohan scans an undergraduate student

HNB Garhwal University is getting a Structure Scanner—they were impressed with mine when I brought it last August—but their scanner is held up right now in customs.

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Sudhir scans some horns.

Later in the day I showed Sudhir how to use the scanner on some sheep horns from a modern animal.  As we left for the day, thunderstorms rolled through the area, and the walk from the university across the pedestrian bridge to Mohan’s car was a bit on the damp side.  The rain did cool things down a bit, which was good as the power for the A/C was out at the hotel.

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Mohan holding the real object up to the edited item.

Thursday, May 26, began the usual way.  Breakfast brought to my room by the Guest House staff, Mohan picking me up at the hotel for a drive to the pedestrian bridge that crosses the river, a very warm walk from there to the university’s archaeology lab. At his request, Mohan and I went through and edited some of the files that we had 3D scanned earlier in the week for a couple of hours.  I then showed him more of how I use MeshMixer while I 3D scanned the cranium of a young boy found in a high altitude shaft tomb at the Lipa site in the Himalayas, followed by his mandible.  Later in the day I scanned a decorative brick, a vessel with a spout and no handle, and a mold for ceramic figurines.  Periodic power outages happened throughout the day but the battery backup came to our rescue again and again.

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Mohan 3D scans a sculpture while I take a photograph of him. Image by Sudhir Nautiyal.

Mohan, Sudhir, and I went over to the Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography after lunch that is run by the archaeology department and I further instructed Mohan in the use of the Structure Scanner.  He scanned a number of their sculptures, although periodic flickering power made this challenging as the lights cycled on and off. The day concluded with dinner at a roadside restaurant that included Kwality Spicial Chicken.

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Fort, now temple, at Devalgarh

Friday, May 27, the 4 a.m. call to prayer from a local mosque awakened me. This was just as well, as we were leaving comparatively early (8 am) to travel to Devalgarh. Mohan picked me up at 8 am, when then stopped to pick up HNB Garhwal University archaeology graduate student Nagendra Rawat, and our final pickup was Sudhir.  Two other stops were needed before we got on our way: gas and air for the tires.  We made our way out of Srinagar (Garhwal) to a fort associated with the Garhwal Kindgom at Devalgarh and King Ajayapal (A.D. 1493 to 1547). Ajayapal unified the many small kingdoms of the area, or Garhis, and this led to the name Garhwal.

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Time for chai.

The fort we visited was built in the late 15th century and is now primarily used as a Hindu temple, but the thick walls and inaccessible location atop a hill with a commanding view attest to the temple’s origins.  After the priest of the temple blessed us, Nagendra showed us features related to the fort, including a trap door leading from the first floor to the second and an escape hole out of the ceiling of the king’s chambers.  Earlier, Nagendra showed us the architecture of the walls that surrounded the fort when we climbed the steep path to the fort from Mohan’s car. After our tour, we were provided a chai by the temple’s priest and watched a young girl play in the temple courtyard.

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Young girl at temple. I gave her a 3D-printed frozen Charlotte doll.

After we left the fort, we traveled over to a two-story structure where the Garhwal kings dispensed justice.  The second story had a column with architectural features that Nagendra said were of interest, so with some help from the rest of the team, I was able to climb into the second story—whatever stairs might have been there in the past are gone today.  I then used the Structure scanner to 3D scan the column.

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From this structure for justice, we went over to another active temple complex, with some shrines dating to ca. 900 A.D. There, we met two Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) archaeologists who leading a crew of workmen in dismantling a 10th century A.D. shrine layer by layer that was damaged by earthquakes.

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Deconstructed temple from ca. 900 A.D.

Each slab was numbered to facilitate reconstruction.  We arrived just as they had reached the base of the temple, and the ASI archaeologists pulled out a 10th century A.D. copper pot, a contemporary coin, an egg from a lizard, and three modern coins that had made their way through nooks in the temple to its base. Within the temple complex was another shrine with a sculpture that Nagendra thought I should scan.  We had to wait for pilgrims to finish at the larger temple in the complex for access, and 3D scanning was challenging because of the tight and dark quarters.

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Steep trails.


After this, we followed the trails downhill back to Mohan’s car.  It was very hot at this point. As we drove away from Devalgarh, a leopard casually wandered across the road in front of our car.  An unusual experience, as leopards are normally nocturnal.  We all thought it prudent not to get out of the car and try and get a picture of the leopard, now concealed in the brush beside the road.  We returned to the university, where I 3D scanned two more Kushan period ceramic artifacts.

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Last artifact 3D scanned.

Other than a lovely dinner at the home of Vinod and his wife Annapurna, the remainder of my trip was basically traveling and dealing with the onset Saturday morning of the dreaded TD (traveler’s diarrhea).  A driver picked me up Saturday morning for the return to Dehradun and, other than stopping at a roadside cafeteria alongside the Ganges, the trip was uneventful—beyond the thick pilgrimage traffic in Rishikesh. Sunday I rested from my illness and Monday I began the 30-hour journey back to the U.S. (including an eight-hour layover in Dubai).  My summer interns are already beginning work editing digital models I brought back from my research trip, and I’ve printed the first object—a terracotta figurine I scanned and then Mohan edited.

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3D scanned in India and 3D printed in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

We’ll continue our close relationship with HNB Garhwal University’s Archaeology Department through the coming years, albeit virtually for the near future.



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