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VCU Archaeology

A reminder of the hurdles we can overcome as a united country

by Brittany Blanchard, Virtual Curation Laboratory Intern

It’s been another wonderful semester at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) working with Dr. Means as one of his interns in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  I was drawn into my internship because I enjoy Dr. Means’ witty personality with his progressive goals for anthropology as well as the many opportunities to interact with material artifacts and museum collections.  September marked one year since I had first stepped foot in the lab and I was excited to see what our goals for this semester would be.  Dr. Means had an array of 3D printed artifact replicas that needed painting, borrowed artifacts that needed 3D scanning, and digital files to be edited and updated.  We were going to assist in providing 3D printed artifact replicas to promote public archaeology by collaborating with several cultural heritage centers.  The replicas would be used for educational purposes, commemoration events, research conferences, and other public outreach occasions.  I soon met our new lab manager who would be providing direction to meet the labs goals.  We set to work 3D scanning an artifact on the labs NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner as Dr. Means refreshed us on the technology.  He also taught us how to properly coat objects that are shiny with a powder so all dimensions of the object can be read by the scanner.


I (on left) get pointers on 3D scanning from Brenna Geraghty, the VCL Lab Manager

I’ve had classes with most of the interns working in the VCL and most days were spent painting the extensive collection of 3D printed artifacts.  Objects that are going to be used for identification purposes in VCU’s archaeology research and methods class during the following semesters were sorted and properly labeled.  We replicated tons of faunal remains, including mastodon and mammoth teeth, stone tools ranging from projectile points to groundstone objects, and elements from World War II such as a Nazi death ring.


Replica of a Pleistocence bear jaw from the Western Science Center in Hemet, California

One morning was spent engaging with fellow students at the School of World Studies Student Research conference held in the University Student Commons.  We displayed the current research projects encompassing around a hundred artifact replicas that interns had helped recreate and shared our experiences working in the lab with students interested in joining this internship.  We also created short informative videos describing a few of the artifact replicas for online viewing.


Holding a mammoth tooth from the Western Science Center in Hemet, California.

Dr. Means’ ambitions for combining the virtual world with reality has given me a unique insight on the future for anthropology.  We have worked with several forms of media over the course of the semester and participated in growing the interest in accessing material culture online.  Producing virtual artifact replicas offers researchers the opportunity to study these objects from anywhere in the world.  With access to a 3D printer, these objects have the potential to be recreated by anyone interested in archaeology and cultural heritage.  One of Dr. Means’ activities included a live printing of Edgar Allen Poe’s bust which was streamed through the university’s Facebook page.  Interns were able to cheer on viewers who were trying to guess what object was being replicated while watching this live process.


Dr. Means gave me a freshly printed figurine of a WWII prisoner of war to paint a few days prior to Veterans Day.  He asked me paint him wearing the outfit of air bomber serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps. This figurine would be a hybrid of past and present Russell Scott who was 3D scanned at the Virginia War Memorial last year.  While I began undertaking this task, I got to hear a segment of Russell’s story.  Russell’s plane was shot down during a mission to eradicate railways in Italy during the war.  He had to parachute from the plane and broke his back during an awkward landing only to be captured by enemy troops.  He was held in European prisoner of war camps for the duration of the war, eventually liberated by Russians, and safely returned home.


Replica of Russell Scott’s B-25 Mitchell Bomber

I was extended an invitation to meet Mr. Scott at the Virginia War Memorial on a day that he would be volunteering.  I brought the replica that I had painted to show him my work and he soon agreed to an interview so that I could design a research project reflecting on his life as a prisoner of war.


Mr. Scott received several medals as tokens of gratitude for his perseverance while serving the U.S. Air Corps and to recognize his unwavering strength while held captive as a prisoner of war.  If you were to stop by the Virginia War Memorial on a day that he is volunteering, you will most likely find him wearing the honorable Purple Heart while he promotes education about our countries past involvement with the war.


The story of Russell Scott has been immensely inspiring to me because it serves as a reminder of the hurdles we can overcome as a united country and of the overwhelmingly good found in humankind.  This project came to me during a time of uncertainty for our country as we elected a controversial man to be our next president.  It gives me hope to know that people are generally good and with attempts to understand differences found among humankind we can unify for the purpose of harmony.  If you visit the Virginia War Memorial today, you can look up to find Mr. Scott commemorated.  A 3D printed replica of Russell sits on the tale of a large model of the B-25 Mitchell Bomber from which he made his harrowing escape over 70 years ago.  If you stop by the VCL, you can view our collection of replicas pertaining to the war including miniature versions of Russell Scott and his airplane.  It has been an exciting opportunity for me to learn about his past through this dynamic internship and extremely fulfilling to contribute to public awareness about our history using 3D technology and virtual preservation.




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