Old Friends and Familiar Faces

The Surveyor’s Shed at Ferry Farm

Earlier this month I made my way back up to Ferry Farm with fellow VCU students Crystal and Aaron.  We arrived at the archaeology lab bright and early in the morning, where Dr. Means and our trusty 3D scanner were already waiting.  We were there to scan some prehistoric stone tools that have been found during excavations at the site, which I will be using in a research project concerning the applications of 3D technology in lithics analysis.  I was extremely excited to be back at the site, and found myself very quickly overwhelmed by a strong sense of nostalgia.

Scanning a quartz projectile point.

We began setting everything up right away, but realized that we had accidentally left the powder, which we use to coat artifacts that our scanner has difficulty reading, back at the lab in Richmond.  Given that projectile points rarely scan well without it, we had to improvise and purchase some baby powder and paint brushes from a local drug store.  After the brief delay, we returned to the lab and began scanning!  I set up the first artifact- a stone projectile point- and powdered it with our newly purchased supplies, then started the scanner and hoped for the best.  Within the first few rotations we could tell that it was coming along surprisingly well, so we decided to take a walk around the site while it continued to work.

Our excavation area.

The walk through the gardens and across the field was a familiar one, and the fervor and enthusiasm I felt as we discussed the history of Ferry Farm on our way to the old excavation area was something I have missed terribly.  The dig site, now roped off and covered with black tarps and cinder blocks, lacked the vibrant energy that radiated from it during the summer, but I could still make out the five by five squares that I worked on over the course of the season, and it still made me smile when I thought about my adventures there.

After our walk, we returned to the lab to check on the progress of our scan.  It came out beautifully, so we quickly moved on to the next one.  We managed to scan four more projectile points and a stone engraver before the day was done, all without any problems at all.  Shortly after I began the engraver, however, Laura Galke called me into her office.

Me holding the aluminum foil pouch that contained a groundhog we recovered this summer.

I walked over to find a small group of lab technicians gathered at her door, and two small aluminum foil pouches inside.  “Does this look familiar?” she asked, pointing to the pouches.  My heart jumped as I got a closer look and recognized Victoria Garcia’s handwriting on the top of each one.  Inside were the remains of the groundhog that Victoria, Allison, Jason and I excavated during our third week of field school (see “An Unexpected Burial” for the original post)!  Laura explained how the animal was found and the significance of it to the group, and I got to briefly explain my part in the excavation.  This was a great treat for me, as the day we found this groundhog was one of the best days of my summer.

After the last scan was finished, we packed everything up and headed back to Richmond.  As always, I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Ferry Farm.  I am so glad that I was able to return and see so many familiar faces, including the groundhog, and I hope to return again soon!

The weeks since this trip have been extremely hectic back at the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU, but I’ve made a great deal of progress in my efforts there recently.  I will be posting more about those endeavors soon, as well as a new page with more information about the Virtual Curation Laboratory and my part there, so stay tuned!

Trial and Error

The scanning project at VCU is an exciting, but complex procedure that involves far more than simply copying artifacts onto a computer.  After we have scanned the objects we have to take the files we have created back to the lab and process them, which involves trimming the excess data, aligning the models if an object was scanned twice, fusing the model, and creating an STL file that we can then work with and publish.  For the past couple of weeks I have been dealing with a series of rather frustrating software issues, which have kept me from successfully processing any of the scan files I have been working on.  I had a bit of success when I finally got the Acheulean Hand Axe model fused, but I was still not able to work with the STL file that I created from it.

3D Model of the Graham Village Pipe

On Monday, Courtney Bowles came into the lab to help me find a solution to some of the issues we’ve been having.  We tried several models, and after failing to fuse a couple and losing one file completely, I was just about ready to give up.  I decided to go back to one of the first artifacts that I edited this semester and give it one more shot.  This model was fully trimmed and aligned, but had never successfully fused.  The artifact was a beautiful American Indian pipe from the Graham Village site in Pennsylvania, which was loaned to the lab a while back by Bob Oshnock of the Westmoreland Archaeological Society, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology.

Courtney and I first tried rebooting the computer and then simplifying the file, in an attempt to make easier for the software to fuse it.  Both attempts were unsuccessful, but before calling it a day I remembered that there was an alternative form of fusing called the “Volume Merge” option.  I tried this, and within minutes the model was successfully fused!  From there I was able to create an STL file from it, and completely process the model without issue.  I was quite satisfied with this success, and I can not wait to try it on some of the other files I have had trouble with!

A quick animation of the Graham Village pipe. Click to see the rotating image!

I hope to report back to you with even more good news from the lab very soon, but before then I’ll be returning to an old familiar place- Ferry Farm!  I’m heading up there tomorrow to scan some prehistoric artifacts for a paper I am writing, and I am extremely excited to see the site again!  I’ll be writing about my experience there later this week, so stay tuned!