Scanning at Mount Vernon

I spent the day on Tuesday at Mount Vernon with Dr. Means, Courtney Bowles, and Mariana Zechini.  We were there to scan a few artifacts from the Mount Vernon collection, including two figurines, a colonoware bowl, and a very special trunk plate.  We were warmly welcomed by everyone there, and archaeologist Esther White very kindly helped us to get set up in the lab.

The headless man (left) and woman (right) figurines standing on top of our scanner.

Our first artifact of the day was a small clay figurine of a woman who was missing her head.  She took about a half an hour to complete, so during that time we photographed the artifacts that were next in line and Mariana and I learned how to complete the paperwork for each scan.  After she was done, we quickly moved on to the next object, which was a small clay man who was also headless.  Once we started his scan, we decided to use our spare time to walk the grounds and visit the archaeological dig site.

Luke explains the site to Mariana (left), Courtney (center), and I (right).

We made our way up the hill toward the house, took some pictures, and then moved on to the site.  They are currently excavating in the laundry yard across from the coach house, with the goal of recreating a fence that stood there during Washington’s time.   It is a small site with some very complicated units, which the archaeologists there were diligently working on when we arrived.  One of the archaeologists, Luke, greeted us and explained all of the work they have been doing there and why.  I really enjoyed seeing the site and learning about its history, and I appreciated how friendly and welcoming everyone was.

After our journey to the field, we returned to the lab to check on the man figurine.  He scanned quite nicely and we were then able to move on to the copper alloy trunk plate.  This plate is a very special artifact at Mount Vernon, as it is engraved with the name “Gen. Washington”.  We were all very excited to be able to work with such a significant artifact, and the people from Mount Vernon were excited to see how the scan would turn out.

The copper trunk plate engraved with “Gen. Washington” (top), and one scan of the artifact with a data hole on the right side (bottom).

Our ultimate goal for this object was to successfully record the writing, which turned out to be somewhat challenging.  We first did a panel scan, which means that the lasers run across the front of the item but the platform does not rotate, so the entire object is not recorded.  The scan worked with the exception of one large data hole (a blank spot) on the right side.  Courtney used some powder to lightly coat the area and we tried once again.  It worked a little better the second time, but it was still not as clear as it needed to be.  After changing its position and rotating it several times, Dr. Means discovered that the angle of the plate in relation to the scanner was what determined where the data hole would appear.  Once we got the angle right, the trunk plate finally scanned successfully and the writing was recorded in perfect detail!

Colonoware bowl with a round hole on the side.


Our last item of the day was a colonoware bowl that has been partially reconstructed and has a small round hole on the side.   The Mount Vernon Ladies Association would like to gain a better understanding of this piece, as colonoware is a type of ceramic that has been the topic of much debate and controversy in the archaeological world.  They would also like to learn what the function of the hole might have been, so we are hoping that creating a 3D digital model of it will allow everyone to study it in further detail and perhaps answer some of their questions.  We did two scans of the bowl and ended up with a fantastic copy, which made everyone very happy!

It was a wonderful day, and I’m so grateful that I have been able to get involved with the scanning project and go on these trips with Dr. Means and my fellow students.  We had a great time at Mount Vernon and got a lot done in the process!  I can’t wait for our next adventure!

Mariana, Me, Courtney, and Dr. Means in front of George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon.


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