My First Conference

SONY DSCLast Friday I made my way to Virginia Beach, Virginia with my good friend and fellow student Mariana Zechini.  We were traveling there to attend the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference and present research projects that we have been working on since the start of the fall semester.  As we drove I found myself becoming more and more excited for what we were about to experience, but also nervous, as I was not sure what to expect.  When we arrived we immediately met up with our professor, Dr. Bernard K. Means, and our fellow students and Virtual Curation Laboratory interns Courtney Bowles, Allen Huber, Rachael Hulvey, Crystal Castleberry, and Jamie Pham.  After discussing our plans for the day, Mariana and I set out to see some presentations and check out the tables in the book room.  After purchasing quite a few books from archaeologist Mike Madden (Dead Guy’s Books), we headed to Dr. Means’ presentation titled “Not Just Bells and Whistles? Changes in Technological Applications to Middle Atlantic Archaeology”.  He discussed the use of technology in archaeology over time, leading to the 3-dimensional scanning and printing that the Virtual Curation Laboratory and similar organizations utilize.  The paper was great, and I thought the information that he provided offered a great foundation to what the rest of us would be presenting later on.

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Crystal Castleberry giving her presentation.

After lunch we all gathered to watch Crystal present her research on the use of 3D technology to promote the study of African-American heritage, titled “Exploring New Paths: Virtual Curation and African American Archaeology”.  She did a wonderful job, and watching her made me very excited to present my paper the following day!  We attended a few more sessions and met a number of professional archaeologists and students from other schools in the region.  I was incredibly impressed and even moved by the amazing amount of support and encouragement that we – as students – received from everyone we met.  I felt very at home there, and it was simply another one of those moments that made me grateful to be involved in such an incredible community of people.

The next morning I woke up bright and early and prepared for what I knew was a hugely important day for my career.  My presentation was scheduled for 9:00 AM, so Mariana and I headed downstairs to the conference area about an hour early to meet up with our group.  We all headed into our session, and before I knew it my turn to take the stage had arrived.  I will admit I was quite nervous, but I was confident in my knowledge of the topic and knew my paper backwards and forwards, so I took a deep breath and began to speak.

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Presenting my paper at the MAAC!

My paper was called “Promoting the Past: The Educational Applications of 3D Scanning Technology in Archaeology”.  I began by speaking about archaeological visualization and the introduction of 3D scanning and printing technology, followed by a discussion of how this technology can be utilized in various educational settings, including courses taught in anthropology, archaeology, osteology, and history.  My research included giving lessons to students in high school and at the university level using both digital models of artifacts and plastic replicas, which Dr. Means, Mariana, Crystal and I have all been working on for a few months now.  I honestly could not tell you how long my presentation was, but in what felt like no time at all, it was over and I stepped off the stage.  My presentation was immediately followed by Allen’s, titled “Handing the Past to the Present: The Impact of 3D Printing on Public Archaeology”, and Rachel’s, which was called “New Dimensions: 3D Scanning of Iroquoian Effigy Sherds”.  I was very impressed by both of their talks, and I thought we all complimented each other’s research very well!  After Rachel finished her presentation we all gathered together and congratulations were given all around.  The hardest part of the day was done!

Allen (far left), Katie (center), and I catch up at the MAAC!

Allen (far left), Katie (center), and I catch up at the MAAC!

We all grabbed lunch and headed back to the book room, where we had our 3D scanner and printer set up for a demonstration.  While there I met a lot of people, and crossed paths with a few familiar faces.  Laura Galke of Ferry Farm spent some time with us, as did Dave Muraca, who gave me confirmation of a very exciting development in my plans for this summer.  I also ran into another friend from Ferry Farm, former intern Katie Lamzik!  She presented a paper called “18th-Century Social Foodways at the Saunders Point Site”, which I very much enjoyed.

VCU students present in the Small Finds Poster Session

VCU students present in the Small Finds Poster Session

That afternoon we were joined by VCU student Stephanie King, who arrived just in time for the Small Finds poster session, which was organized by Laura Galke and Mara Kaktins and included posters by Courtney (“Moving between Reality as Virtual and Reality as Actual”), Crystal and Jamie (“Exploring New Paths: Research, Education, and Outreach Through 3D Archaeology”), Mariana (“Rocky Raccoon: The Application of 3D Technology to Zooarchaeology”), and the whole Virtual Curation Laboratory (“From the Actual to the Virtual to the Tangible: Virtual Curation and Small Finds”).  I spent a good amount of time running around taking pictures of everyone, and I was incredibly impressed by their presentations.  They were extremely professional and knowledgeable, and I was quite proud of all of them!  I also made sure to stop by all of the other posters in the session, including Laura’s poster about the Washington Boys’ fashion accessories at Ferry Farm, and Mara’s poster about artifacts recovered from the First Philadelphia Almshouse.

After the poster session we all packed up and Mariana and I headed to the hotel restaurant to enjoy a lovely dinner before the MAAC Reception began that evening.  The reception took place on the top floor of the hotel, which was quite beautiful!  The VCU crew all congregated at one table, and MAAC President Bill Schindler began the party by welcoming everyone and thanking all who contributed to the conference.  They then announced the winners of the student paper contest, which I was a candidate in.  I eagerly held my breath as the graduate winner was announced, followed by the undergraduate winner… It was a tie between one other student (whose name I cannot recall, but I send my utmost congratulations)… and me!  It’s hard to describe the joy I felt when I heard my name, but I can say it was one of the best feelings I have ever had.  I felt so accomplished, and proud to know that my research left an impression on those who heard it.

Our VCL crew at the MAAC reception!

Our VCL crew at the MAAC reception!

The rest of the evening was spent getting to know the many archaeologists at the reception, discussing my work with other students, and catching up with some of the wonderful people that I met over the course of last summer… that amazing summer that led me here.

The next morning Mariana and I attended a few more sessions before making the long drive home.  I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to not only attend this event, but present at it, and I simply cannot wait until my next conference!

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From Mount Vernon to the MAAC

It’s been a busy few months since my last post, as I’ve been working hard with the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU, traveling to several events and meetings, and preparing for my first archaeological conference!

Mount Vernon in November

Mount Vernon in November

In November, I made my way up to Mount Vernon to attend a Small Finds workgroup, which featured talks by several archaeologists concerning jewelry and other fashion accessories. Dr. Means spoke about 3D scanning and later everyone shared artifacts from their respective sites and facilities.  We shared some plastic replicas made by the Virtual Curation Laboratory of items such as a jeweler’s mold from Jamestown and a bird radius which was being carved into bone beads from Pennsylvania. We also did some scanning while we were there, and got a few good images of a raccoon baculum which was probably hung by a string or worn as a necklace and a rather beautiful fan blade with a design etched into it. After the meeting I took a tour of the site, which was absolutely stunning when surrounded by the radiant fall colors.

In December, the Virtual Curation Laboratory was approached with an exciting offer to scan a few artifacts and create digital models for an article that would be featured on the New York Times website. The article examined 21 objects associated with the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, and was written as part of the events that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the conflict. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to scan and photograph these artifacts, which included a tin cup, an elaborate pipe, a William’s Cleaner bullet that had a ramrod impression on the top, and a pipe stem that had the name “Peter Dorni” on it. Each of these artifacts had a story, and represented a very specific and shadowy moment in our country’s history.

Digital model of the William's Cleaner bullet (click for animation!)

Digital model of the William’s Cleaner bullet (click for animation!)

I managed to process the digital files and make animations of the artifacts within a couple of days, as our deadline was very short. Unfortunately, the animations did not make it into the article after all, but a few of the photographs that Dr. Means and I took did, including one with my fingers holding the William’s Cleaner bullet! I loved working with these artifacts, and they really helped me realize a deep passion that I have developed for conflict or battlefield archaeology. You can read the New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/16/opinion/fredericksburg-object-gallery.html?_r=0, and a blog about our efforts that was written by Dr. Means here: http://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/fbg-150-the-new-york-times-and-the-virtual-curation-laboratory/.

A display of prehistoric artifacts at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

A display of prehistoric artifacts at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

About a week later, Dr. Means, Crystal and I all had the pleasure of traveling to the State Museum of Pennsylvania, which is a spectacular facility with a huge collection of prehistoric and historic artifacts from throughout the state, many of which they have been kind enough to loan us. I was incredibly impressed by their collections and by the museum itself, which was beautifully organized and exhibited a great deal of respect to the artifacts they displayed, the history those artifacts represented, and the archaeology that lead to their recovery. Janet Johnson, Curator of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, was extremely kind and helpful, showing us around the facility and finding new artifacts for us to scan. I am very grateful to have had the chance to work with her while we were there!

In January we attended a second Small Finds workgroup at the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond, VA that focused on smoking pipes. This time we did not bring our scanner, but the team – which included Dr. Means, myself and fellow students Courtney, Allen and Mariana – did present a large assortment of plastic replicas that we have printed. I wrote a blog about this event for the official VCL website, which can be read at: http://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/plastic-stone-and-clay-pipes-at-the-small-finds-workgroup-in-richmond-va/.

Me, taking the new iPad tour of Ferry Farm

Me, taking the new iPad tour of Ferry Farm

In February I spent another day at Ferry Farm with Allen, Rachael, Crystal, and Dr. Means. Crystal scanned some African American artifacts for a project she was working on, and we all got to take the new iPad tour of the site! This is an exciting new development at Ferry Farm, which allows visitors to explore the site with a guided tour through George Washington’s boyhood home, featuring an interactive map, videos of archaeologists and historians who talk about the site, and photographs of various artifacts and the people who once owned them. I think this tour is a wonderful way for guests to explore Ferry Farm, and I highly recommend it to anyone who may be planning a visit!  After taking the tour, we all headed inside and attended our first Council of Virginia Archaeologists meeting, which was a very exciting and sometimes heated event! I really enjoy being involved in affairs like this, especially when it means that I get to interact with professionals in my field. I feel I have grown a lot since my time as a field school student at Ferry Farm almost a year ago, and having the opportunity to attend these meetings really helps to keep me moving forward in my education and toward my future career.

Our latest journey with the Virtual Curation Laboratory was to Montpelier, which you can read about in my blog post here: http://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/a-chilly-day-at-montpelier/.

Otherwise, my focus for the past couple of months has been primarily on conducting research and writing a paper to present at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference this year. Today was the first day of the conference, and thus far it has been an exhilarating experience. I will be presenting my paper tomorrow, which is about 3D scanning and its applications in education and public outreach. I will admit I am a bit nervous, but incredibly excited and happy to be here! I will include more details about my paper and the research that went into it in my next post, but for now I must rest and prepare for my first professional presentation!

VCL members Courtney Bowles, Dr. Bernard K. Means, Crystal Castleberry, Jamie Pham, and Mariana Zechini at the MAAC

VCL members Courtney Bowles, Dr. Bernard K. Means, Crystal Castleberry, Jamie Pham, and Mariana Zechini at the MAAC