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VCU Archaeology

Brac to the Future, or My 3D Scanning Spring Break on Cayman Brac

by Bernard K. Means

As the not-so-ominous winter storm skirted the Washington, D.C. area in the middle of March, it seemed a good time to reflect on where I spent most of my spring break (March 3 to March 8): Cayman Brac. Most days on Cayman Brac were on the windy side, with temperatures ranging from a low in the middle 70s F (ca. 24 C) to a high in the middle 80s F (ca. 30 C). Cayman Brac is one of the sister islands, along with Little Cayman, to the more well known Grand Cayman Island. All three comprise a British Overseas Territory. Cayman Brac is quite small, with a length of about 12 miles (19 km) and  a width averaging 1.2 miles (2 km).

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While I am not at liberty to state at this point exactly why I was on Cayman Brac (details WILL follow), I did have with me my NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner.  I took advantage of a little downtime to 3D scan some items I knew I would not be able to bring back with me to the U.S. because of their organic nature–notably some bird bones. These bird bones were lying on the surface of the ground and were picked clean, presumably by insects, and appeared to belong to a single animal.


Humerus bone from bird found on Cayman Brac.


Furcula (wishbone) bone from bird found on Cayman Brac.

I was only able to collect a few of the bones, but a cursory examination of their location indicates that not all of the bones were present. The skull, for example, was nowhere to be seen.  There were still some feathers located near the bones from a large, black bird.  Given the sizes of the feathers and the bones, these probably belonged to a magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). Among the bones I was able to 3D scan were the furcula (a.k. “wishbone”), humerus, carpometacarpus, synsacrum, tarsometatarsus, femur, and tibia. Printed versions will help confirm the identification of the bird from which these bones were obtained.

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I also picked up a piece of coral from the beach nearest my room at the Carib Sands on Cayman Brac. As I did not want to remove (for long) this aspect of the beach, I 3D scanned this coral and returned it to the beach the morning of the day I flew out of Cayman Brac. Certainly, one of the advantages to 3D digital documentation of bones or artifacts is that you can leave with a 3D digital model that closely approximates the real item, while returning the actual remains to their original locations.


Coral found on Cayman Brac.




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