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VCU Archaeology

Now 3D Scanning at Mount Vernon: Artifacts from Enslaved Contexts (plus busts from the Library)

by Bernard K. Means

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When I wrote this as a draft, I was sitting in the archaeology laboratory at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  At the behest of Linda Powell, ‎Director of Interpretation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, I 3D scanned a number of items recovered from the “House for Families.” The “House for Families” housed the enslaved workers at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. During the course of the day,I 3D scanned a copper alloy strap buckle, a raccoon baculum that was incised so it could be suspended, a bone utensil handle,  and a white salt-glazed tea cup.  I finished out the day 3D scanning a shoe buckle frame.

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Tomorrow, I’ll take the digital files to the Virtual Curation Laboratory and my summer interns will work to edit them so that we can 3D print them, paint them, and make them available for use in public programs.  All of the objects are too rare and fragile to pass around to school children and other individuals. Additionally, all are going to be included in a forthcoming exhibit on the enslaved laborers at George Washington’s Mount Vernon entitled “Lives Bound Together.” These replicas can also link the public programs to the exhibited objects safely behind their protecting exhibit cases.




During an earlier visit, I borrowed some of the educational replicas to 3D scan so that extra copies can be made for public programs at Mount Vernon, including replicas of the key to the Bastille that was given to George Washington by Lafayette, an architectural detail from the Mount Vernon mansion itself, and George Washington’s dentures.

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I also took a moment to drop off at The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington some 3D printed replicas of busts that I 3D scanned two weeks ago in their main reading room. This scanning effort was challenging as the busts are over 10 feet from the ground.  I used a step ladder for this scanning effort, using a Structure Sensor scanner, but was unable to get high enough to get the back of the busts.  I did try a taller ladder, but my perch on this–at least while trying to scan–was too unsteady to safely scan.  The staff at the Washington Library will use these 3D printed replicas in their own public programs when they talk about their work.

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The Virtual Curation Laboratory values the partnerships that it has with cultural heritage places–places that matter–such as Mount Vernon and helping them tell their stories about the past, especially through the use of 3D scanning and 3D printing.


8 thoughts on “Now 3D Scanning at Mount Vernon: Artifacts from Enslaved Contexts (plus busts from the Library)

  1. Nice! May I use your animated gif (with credit and link to you at this page) of the Bastille Key on my website http://www.bahrnoproducts.com/Bastille_Key.htm ? Thanks for your consideration!

    Posted by wbahr | October 8, 2016, 5:57 pm
  2. Do you have an image of the end of the key? If so, I would like to use it as the basis for a keyhole in my upcoming book with credit to you. If possible, please email it to the address near the end of this website http://www.bahrnoproducts.com/Bastille_Key.htm. Thanks!

    Posted by wbahr | October 9, 2016, 6:46 am
    • I do have a scan of the end……. but remember mine is a replica of the original. If you still let me know.

      Posted by bkmeans | October 9, 2016, 7:40 am
      • Yes, please. Currious. Did you scan the original key or the the replica key that the Mount Vernon master blacksmith made? Either way, I’d appreciate your sending me what you have. Thanks!

        Posted by wbahr | October 9, 2016, 9:19 am
  3. Bernard: Hopefully we’ll be getting you in at the end of this month or beginning of next to Mount Vernon to 3D scan their Bastille key. Have you set a date yet? I’ll be contacting the George Washington Masonic National Memorial today for arrangements for lettings you scan their key; same for Philadelphia’s Independence Hall key. Very nice if you could take a set of calipers to accurately measure the length of the MV key. Have various readings from 7 3/8 to 7 1/2. Would very much like to join you if things work out right, especially if we can arrange an historic reunion of Lafayette’s Bastille keys! Good luck! Bill http://www.LibertyKey.US

    Posted by wbahr | January 10, 2018, 8:32 am
    Are there any 3d plots of President Washington’s teeth I can find? Can you forward me to anyone who may have them? Thankyou Sincerely.

    Posted by C.Ponticello | January 3, 2019, 11:08 pm

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