From the Attic to the Lab

On September 5, the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU was visited by Virginia Adams, a representative from the Fairfield Foundation in Gloucester, Virginia.  She brought us some artifacts that were found in the attic of the historic Ware Neck Store near Gloucester, hoping that we could scan them for the foundation.  The artifacts included part of a coat rack, some small cardboard cotton spool boxes, an old hat, bottles, and a large spool of hand-written receipts and paperwork dating back to the late 1800’s.  I was especially interested in the papers, as touching and reading the words that some stranger wrote on them over one hundred years ago gave me the odd sensation of being somewhat connected to that person.  I often have that feeling when handling artifacts, even when it comes to a one million year old hand axe, but something about handwriting makes everything seem even more personal!

Virginia Adams (left) and intern Victoria Garcia (right) watch as the coat rack is being scanned.

The scanning team that day consisted of myself, Dr. Means, Crystal Castleberry, Jamie Pham, and my good friend and old digging partner Victoria Garcia.  The first artifact we scanned was the coat rack, which was a bit difficult due to its size, but we managed to get a very good model of it!  We then scanned two of the cardboard boxes, which were very delicate and even shed a few pieces as we were mounting them onto the scanner.  This just emphasizes the value of 3D scanning, as these fragile artifacts may not last long, especially with continued handling.  If 3D models are made, then they can be preserved digitally and further studied without having to handle the original object.  Both boxes scanned beautifully as well, and after taking a short break for lunch we decided to attempt to scan the paperwork spool.

Crystal Castleberry holds the spool of papers in front of the scanner.

Our goal in scanning the spool was to create a record of what they looked like in their original condition, as the Fairfield Foundation is planning on removing the papers from the wire so that they can study each paper individually.  We were fairly certain that, due to the size and complexity of the object, we would not be able to scan it, but we decided to give it a shot anyway.  Jamie and Crystal each took turns holding the spool as still as possible while the lasers slowly panned across, but in the end it did not work.

Unfortunately, those were the only artifacts we had time to scan that day, but we had a great time doing it.  Virginia was very kind and we really appreciated her coming and sharing these artifacts with us!  I was able to edit some of the scans that we got from them this week and they look fantastic, so I hope to share them with everyone very soon!

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Back to School

Me, scanning a one million year old Acheulean Hand Axe!

Field school has ended, summer has passed, and a new semester at VCU has just begun!  It seems ridiculous to assume that anything I do this fall will compare to the excitement I experienced at Ferry Farm and the fun I had traveling with the Virtual Curation Unit all summer, but I have done my best to ensure that I will not undergo a moment of boredom this semester, and that I will have plenty to blog about throughout the year!  Nearly all of my classes this semester are anthropology courses, and I am also doing an internship with Dr. Means in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

My internship involves scanning and processing artifacts, much like I was doing over the summer but far more in depth and with less traveling.  We kicked off the internship and the fall semester the day before it began, when Dr. Amy Rector Verrelli, a professor at VCU and a biological anthropologist, loaned us a beautiful one million year old Acheulean Hand Axe that was found near Cape Town, South Africa.  Acheulean Hand Axes are stone tools that were the product of Homo Erectus.

This was, by far, the oldest artifact I had ever held, and the oldest thing the Virtual Curation Lab has ever scanned.  Dr. Means, Mariana Zechini, and I were all working in the lab at the time and we were very eager to get this artifact scanned and create a digital model of it.  The scan was successful and the results looked good, but when it came time to process the file I discovered that there was quite a bit of data missing and I was unable to finalize the process.  We concluded that we needed to try the scan again and obtain a better image, so that is exactly what I did on Friday.  The new scan looks fantastic, so hopefully this week I will be able to successfully process the file!  In any case, this was a very exciting way to start the semester!

In addition to classes and my internship, I have just become the president of a new student organization at VCU called the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST).  I am very excited about this organization, as many of the founding members are students I went to field school with, so this will give us the opportunity to connect with other anthropology students at our university and remain active and engaged in archaeology and 3d scanning during the school year.

In all, I this semester is off to a fantastic start, and although I am sad that this extraordinary summer has come to an end, I can’t wait to see what opportunities and adventures I will stumble across this year, and where I might end up when the next field season begins!