Dr. Bernard K. Means has a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Physics from Occidental College, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Arizona State University, Tempe. His dissertation research involved applying new theories and cutting-edge technologies to American Indian village sites from southwestern Pennsylvania, many excavated during the 1930s by New Deal archaeologists. Dr. Means’s scholarly pursuits include reconstructing American Indian village life from cross-cultural studies of village spatial and social organizations, the research potential of archaeological collections, applications of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating to developing new chronological frameworks in southwestern Pennsylvania and northwestern Virginia, archaeological investigations of the Monongahela Tradition, directional (circular) statistics and analysis of mortuary and other archaeological data, and, the history of New Deal archaeology in Pennsylvania and across America.

Challenging Archaeology through Virtual Curation and 3D Printing

 

I’m a part-time mastodon detective

For this Day of Archaeology post, I’m not going to focus on what I am currently doing—which is preparing for the Valley of Mastodons workshop and exhibit next week at the Western Science Center in Hemet, California.  That event is more paleontological than archaeological in nature, although humans and mastodons did interact after the former arrived in the New World and before the latter became extinct. Rather, I want to discuss two major initiatives that the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) that I direct is simultaneously pursuing, and that will occupy quite a bit of my time and that of my Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students over the next academic year.

3D scanning a bone at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

3D scanning a brick with impressions of an enslaved laborer’s fingers at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

3D scanning a bone at James Madison’s Montpelier

3D scanning a wig hair curler at George Washington’s Ferry Farm

The first initiative is one related to work we have been doing since shortly after the VCL was founded in August 2011. We are currently partnering with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) on a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—yes, that’s still around—to increase the digital content of VFH’s Encyclopedia Virginia. The VCL is providing 3D digital models of artifacts 3D scanned from enslaved contexts that can also be downloaded by researchers and educators.  This summer, I have made return visits to George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the Virginia Museum of Natural History to 3D laser scan artifacts associated with enslavement. Some of these 3D models can be found on our Sketchfab site in a special collection (https://sketchfab.com/virtualcurationlab/collections/african-american-history-and-culture). We are also working with VFH on making 3D printing of these digital models easy enough for teachers to integrate into their classrooms.

Kimmy Drudge examines Braille from a 3D printed exhibit component

The other major initiative, and one that we made preliminary inroads into over a year ago, is creating interactive material, e.g. 3D printed, for visitors to the Virginia Historical Society (VHS)—with a special focus on those who are visually impaired and who have limited ability to appreciate the exhibits. The VCL and VHS have since teamed with VCU’s Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention (LEAP) and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired on a new project funded by VCU’s Council for Community Engagement to 3D scan and 3D print up to 100 items selected from the Story of Virginia exhibit at VHS.  These 3D digital models will also be made available online through a special section of our Sketchfab site.

We’ll likely be pursuing other public outreach efforts throughout the coming months—including some related to Ice Age animals.

—Bernard K.  Means

This is Dope: Day(s) of Archaeology in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

Today might be the “official” Day of Archaeology, but when you have an active summer of research, Days of Archaeology would be more appropriate. In fact, the Virtual Curation Laboratory joined with numerous other cultural heritage preservation organizations in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate the 2016 Day of Archaeology on July 16. With a suitcase full of hundreds of 3D printed replicas—much lighter and generally less fragile than real artifacts—I made my way the morning of July 16 via rail and metro to the Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C. on July 16 for Archaeology in the Community’s Day of Archaeology festival. The advantages of 3D printed artifact replicas are also disadvantages, as well. Because I could bring hundreds of artifact replicas I did, and because they can be handled more roughly than most real artifacts, replicas from all time periods and geographic locations were jostling against each other in my little orange suit case.  This meant I needed more setup time, especially if I wanted to arrange items thematically, temporally, or geographically.  This also meant that the one table I had available for my use was insufficient for all the replicas I had brought with me.  Still, the table of replicas definitely caught the attention of over two hundred visitors, one of whom proclaimed positively “This is dope,” e.g. cool.

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

A young attendee at the Day of Archaeology festival examines 3D printed replicas (Image courtesy of Archaeology in the Community)

The actual Day of Archaeology, July 29, coincides with the end of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) field school that I oversaw. This year, nine intrepid individuals braved the heat, humidity, and unyielding clay soils of Virginia just a half hour west of Fredericksburg, Virginia: six undergraduate VCU students, two recent VCU graduates, and one new University of Mary Washington undergraduate. This year, the Anthropology program at VCU was partnering with Germanna Archaeology, with Dr. Eric Larsen as the Field Director, and Amelia Chisholm as the Assistant Field Director.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

Field school selfie, taken on the last day of fieldwork at Germanna.

One of the four interns working with Germanna Archaeology this summer was recent VCU alumnae Zoë Rahsman, who also worked in the Virtual Curation Laboratory as the laboratory manager this past spring. I am sad to see the field school end, and we were not successful in finding definitive traces of the 1714 fort for which we were looking, but the students certainly learned how to conduct a field archaeology project under great instruction, especially from Eric and Amelia, and we hope that our partnership can continue for the summer of 2017.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Waiting for the tour to begin of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

This last day of field school we were actually on a field trip. I think the students appreciated the break from working in the record-breaking heat we’ve seen over the past week or so. Our field trip was to the White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis lived while in Richmond, Virginia, and presiding over armed rebellion against the U.S. government.  This is not an archaeology place, per se, unlike our other field trips during the field season to Colonial Williamsburg, George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, James Madison’s Montpelier, and Jamestown Rediscovery. However, this place, like the others we visited, focuses on interpreting the past—I want my students to understand that, as archaeologists, they need to be able to tell stories about the past, engage people with the material aspects of cultural heritage, and thing about what is said—and not said—about those who came before us.

Before and after this field trip, I spent the Day of Archaeology 3D printing replicas to add to our collections that I use for teaching, outreach, and research.  Today, the printed replicas included wig hair curlers from George Washington’s Ferry Farm (3D scanned during our field trip there), a groundstone celt from George Washington’s Mount Vernon (also 3D scanned during our field trip there), a beaver femur from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (3D scanned in the summer of 2015), and a small vessel from H.N.B. Garhwal University’s Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography (3D scanned in Sringagar (Garhwal), Uttarakhand, India, in May 2016).

Summer intern and VCU anthropology major Charlie Parker was in during the day to paint the 3D printed replicas to emulate the original artifacts or ecofacts.

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

Charlie Parker does plastic surgery on a beaver femur

And, I finished the day preparing for a 3D scanning trip to the Western Science Center in Hemet, California, next week and a different 3D scanning trip to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the week after. This will end a summer of 3D scanning that began with a trip to north India.

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University

3D scanning a figurine at H.N.B. Garhwal University


Making a Future for the Past in the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Today was a busy one for the Virtual Curation Laboratory. I worked to finalize our move of the lab from its old, crowded location to a new, not quite as crowded location. I also set up two of our 3D printers to print artifact replicas for an exhibit opening at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in less than two months.  The artifact replicas will add an interactive component to their new archaeology exhibit entitled Exploring Virginia, which is not confined to displaying artifacts just from Virginia.  For this exhibit I printed today a Japanese porcelain hand grenade, which dates to World War II, two copies of a scarab bead from Egypt, one copy of bomb fragment from Nathaniel Bacon’s attack on Jamestown, and an 1861 gun lock from a Springfield rifle dating to the Union Army’s occupation of George Washington’s Boyhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the American Civil War.  All of these objects were 3D scanned by the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

World War II porcelain hand grenade from Japan. 3D scanned at the Virginia War Memorial

World War II porcelain hand grenade from Japan. 3D scanned at the Virginia War Memorial

These objects will be shipped to the VMNH on Monday for painting and inclusion in the aforementioned archaeology exhibit.  Brenna Geraghty, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, details this process and her role as a summer intern at VMNH in her Day of Archaeology post. A few artifacts were also printed at VMNH yesterday and the day before when I met with VMNH’s Curator of Archaeology Elizabeth Moore to talk about final exhibit needs.

Newly printed Aztec dog figurine replicas "watch" a panel of rock art.

Newly printed Aztec dog figurine replicas “watch” a panel of rock art.

I also prepared the lab today for a visit from the Urban Archaeology Corps, a group of Richmond-area high school students who are spending the summer learning about all aspects of archaeology, from field to laboratory, and helping make their community aware of the archaeological resources that exist below their feet.

I hold up a wig hair curler replica from George Washington's Ferry Farm. It was used by an enslaved servant to style a wig worn by one of George Washington's brothers.

I hold up a wig hair curler replica from George Washington’s Ferry Farm. It was used by an enslaved servant to style a wig worn by one of George Washington’s brothers.

This visit was arranged by the incomparable Courtney Bowles, who was one of the original staff hired when the Virtual Curation Laboratory was established in August 2011.

The Urban Archaeology Corps. Courtney Bowles is in the first row of standing individuals, second from the left.

The Urban Archaeology Corps. Courtney Bowles is in the first row of standing individuals, second from the left.

I was able to discuss with these budding archaeologists why and how we 3D scan artifacts and how I incorporate them into various public programs, such as the July 18, 2015 Day of Archaeology event hosted in Washington, D.C. by Archaeology in the Community, which is directed by Dr. Alexandra Jones.

A young visitor plays chess at the Day of Archaeology event hosted by Archaeology in the Community.

A young visitor plays chess at the Day of Archaeology event hosted by Archaeology in the Community.

Just days before, I also had a display for the Germanna Foundation‘s Day of Archaeology celebration, thanks to the invite of their archaeologist, Dr. Eric Larsen.

Inviting visitors to see 3D printed artifact replicas at the Germanna Day of Archaeology.

Inviting visitors to see 3D printed artifact replicas at the Germanna Day of Archaeology.

In the upcoming months, I will expose a new generation of students to the cultural heritage the world offers through 3D scanned artifacts made by cultural heritage institutions across the globe (including India, where I will travel to next week on a 3D scanning mission).

Featured Today at the Virtual Curation Laboratory: George Washington’s Boyhood Home, Jamestown, and Monongahela Villages

by Bernard K. Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory

Bernard K. Means scanning the cellar feature at Ferry Farm.

Bernard K. Means scanning the cellar feature at Ferry Farm.

I just walked in from the field where I 3D scanned a Colonial-era cellar feature at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, continuing a busy week that will end tomorrow, July 11, 2014 in a Day of Archaeology Festival in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Archaeology in the Community. This is not the first feature that I have scanned at Ferry Farm using the Sense 3D scanner. A couple of weeks ago, I scanned this cluster of Colonial-era features at Ferry Farm–and one shovel test pit from a 1990’s archaeological survey (the square hole).

Animated Colonial-era feature from Ferry Farm.

Animated Colonial-era feature from Ferry Farm.

More typically, at Ferry Farm and other locations, I use a NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to create artifact models.

Masonic pipe dating to the George Washington-era occupation at Ferry Farm.

Masonic pipe dating to the George Washington-era occupation at Ferry Farm.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory creates printed replicas of the digitally scanned artifacts and features, which are painted by students at Virginia Commonwealth University for public programs, teaching, and exhibition.

Becki Bowman (left) and Lauren Hogg painted printed artifact replicas.

Becki Bowman (left) and Lauren Hogg painting printed artifact replicas.

Some of these painted replicas were featured in a public archaeology program held on Independence Day (July 4)  just one week ago.

A young visitor in Colonial garb examined a chess set created using scanned artifacts.

A young visitor in Colonial garb examines a chess set created using scanned artifacts, as well as other artifact replicas.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory works with many partners in the cultural heritage community dedicated and devoted to protecting and presenting the past.  We have a particularly fruitful relationship with Historic Jamestowne, where we have 3D scanned a wide range of artifacts that are incorporated into public programs.

Becki Bowman holds up a freshly painted replica of an ivory compass dating to the early 1600s from Jamestown.

Becki Bowman holds up a freshly painted replica of an ivory compass dating to the early 1600s from Jamestown.

Ivory compass from Jamestown

Ivory compass from Jamestown

In late June, with help from Jamestown Rediscovery’s Danny Schmidt, we scanned this partially excavated bread oven at Jamestown, from a cellar where the cannibalized remains of a young woman dubbed “Jane” were found.

Animation of cellar from Jamestown.

Animation of cellar from Jamestown.

Lest it be thought that we only work on historic-era sites, we also pursue research on pre-Contact sites, including Monongahela villages that once existed across southwestern Pennsylvania and adjacent states. We work closely with the Westmoreland Archaeological Society, a group of avocational archaeologists in Pennsylvania that are actively excavating the Consol site, a multi-component Monongahela village.

Ceramic vessel from the Consol site.

Ceramic vessel from the Consol site.

 

Basin-shaped feature from the Consol site.

Basin-shaped feature from the Consol site.

For more about  the Virtual Curation Laboratory, you can visit us here. Other animations can be found at the Virtual Curation Museum, including this mummified opossum.

1179_opossum_mummy_new

 

 

George is Waiting: the 2013 VCU Field School @ George Washington’s Ferry Farm

by Dr. Bernard K. Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Just over a year ago, on the last Day of Archaeology, I found myself at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, focused on using a laser scanner to create 3D digital models of artifacts recovered from this site.  Today, I find myself again at Ferry Farm, this time on the last day of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) archaeological field school that I am teaching in cooperation with the George Washington Foundation (GWF). GWF archaeologist Laura Galke is director of the field effort, and her assistant field director is Eric Larsen.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke holding a recent find.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

 

My direct field assistant to the VCU field school for this effort is Ashley McCuistion, a GWF intern, current VCU student, and a legacy of the VCU field school.  Ashley was a field student here herself last year, and blogged about her time at Ferry Farm for the 2012 Day of Archaeology.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ferry Farm is the location where George Washington grew from boy to man, and GWF archaeologists have been working for years to explore this archaeological landscape.  Nothing remains standing of the Washington-era structures, nor the extensive American Civil War encampment that was located here—directly overlapping the buried remains of the Washington house itself in some places. The history of human occupation in this area stretches back millennia, with evidence of American Indian use of the Ferry Farm landscape going back at least 10,000 years.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

This year, VCU and GWF archaeologists are working to explore the backyard associated with the Washington-era home.  This was a working yard in part, with one of the activities reflected being the maintenance of wigs.  Ferry Farm has over 160 wig hair curlers—a large number from a domestic site—and these were associated with maintaining wigs for George Washington’s younger brothers.  The fashionable gentleman of the late 18th century wore a wig—the single most expensive part of the gentry-class man’s wardrobe.  Traces of a formal garden behind the house have been found as well.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

Today is a bittersweet day for the VCU field school, as it is our last day.  The field school students will work on their unit profiles, fill out their unit summary forms, take a quiz on identifying ceramic types, and discuss readings about challenges in interpreting the past.  Most of the students I will see in a few short weeks, as they are either taking additional classes from me, and/or interning in the Virtual Curation Laboratory that I direct.  The archaeology bug has bitten these students, and soon they will be unleashed upon the world.  Rather than reflect on my experiences as their instructor for this field school, I’ll present here their impressions of their favorite thing about field school or what field school has meant to them, which they provided to me yesterday in written form:

Francesca Chesler : “My favorite thing about field school was finding a wig curler! This was my number one goal in field school, and finding one really boosted my confidence not only in myself, but in my abilities as an archaeologist.  In addition to this, I enjoyed the screening process because it gave me a chance to scrutinize the dirt excavated and look for additional artifacts which may have been missed while digging the dirt in the unit up originally.”

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Aaron Ellrich: “My favorite thing is the camaraderie found in the field. Like the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”—which is what I found out on the first day. . It is a team effort…. and communication is essential for not only understanding what is going on at the site, but, a time to get to know others interested in the field—you never know, you may be working with them (or they may even get you a job) in the future! Second to this, our field trips went hand-in-hand with this topic and enhanced my experience!”

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Vivian Hite: “I think that with field school there wasn’t an exact moment or practice that I enjoyed most but what I got from the field school.  I took field school so that I could better determine if I wanted to pursue a career in archaeology.  The reason I love archaeology is because I’m constantly learning something new.  Whether it’s a new way to do something, a new technique or skill, a strange artifact, an unidentified feature, or just compiling the knowledge learned and applying to a more generalized question; it’s a constant cycle.  The flow of information from one person to another about artifacts, features, and sites is amazing to be a part of. That’s my favorite thing about field school. “

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Stephanie King: “I consider field school to be the final step to becoming a legitimate archaeologist. The lessons learned here provide students with the necessary knowledge to execute archaeological processes on a basic level, and those who are flexible will adapt to the needs of related occupations. In short, I feel that field school is paramount to employment in any archaeological field.”

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Ruth Martin: “The part of field school that means the most to me is all of the experience I am gaining.  Learning things outside the class room and applying things you learned in class has been a great experience for me.”

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Olivia McCarty: “What I have enjoyed the most about field school is what a sense of accomplishment you feel throughout the day. It can stem from the fact that you just found a special artifact, someone in your group finding an interesting feature (this of course doesn’t include the 20th century trench), the fact that you and your partner have managed to keep your unit even as you’ve scrapped away at your layer, or when you finally begin to pick up the subtle changes in soil that at the start of the school you couldn’t see at all. All these things have validated to me that field school had been an amazing experience and made me hungry for more fieldwork opportunities.”

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Linda Polk: “My favorite thing about field school had to be finding artifacts and trying to interpret what they were. To me, it was like a big game of Clue with ceramics, nails, glass, and all the other types of artifacts found at Ferry Farm.”

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Lauren Volkers: “This whole field school experience is my favorite thing about field school, because it has helped me gained the skills and knowledge I need for future archaeological dig sites. I also enjoyed my entire time here at Ferry Farm and all of the people I met along the way. I had such a great time that choosing one aspect is just too hard of a task.”

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Mariana: “I cannot express in words how much I value my experience at Ferry Farm. Field school was a chance to gain the knowledge and skills needed in order to become a successful archaeologist. More than that, it was a chance to connect with peers with similar interests and professionals from all over Virginia. Field school has been an amazing experience that has given me the confidence to move forward and one that has equipped me with an understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist.”

Mariana Zechini's finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Mariana Zechini’s finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

I can add that I look forward to working with these burgeoning professionals in the future, and seeing what exciting research they are doing—and about which they will be posting in a future Day of Archaeology blog!!!!! And, you can learn more about our VCU field school from our own blog.

 

VCU 3D at George Washington’s Boyhood Home

by Bernard K. Means, project director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

VCU students Alison Curran and Ian Salata participate in the Day of Archaeology by excavating at Ferry Farm.

I chose to spend my Day of Archaeology at George Washington’s Boyhood Home, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Archaeologists working here have uncovered traces of human occupation dating back thousands of years, but understandably have been focused on the period associated with George Washington’s tenancy.  George moved here at the age of 6 with his mother Mary, his father Augustine, and several family members.  A team of archaeologists is working this year–as they have in past years–seeking to broaden our understanding of George Washington’s childhood–a rather poorly documented time period.

VCU students Ashley McCuistion and Victoria Garcia look on as the “BW” spoon is being scanned.

My goal today is to use my NextEngine scanner and create digital models of archaeological objects recovered at Ferry Farm, including items recovered this year by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students as part of their recently completed field school, as well as objects recovered in past years from  contexts definitely associated with the Washington family occupation.  These objects are categorized as “small finds” or unique objects that might be lost in traditional archaeological mass data analyses.  For a recent article on small finds at Ferry Farm, and how they can broaden our understanding of the Washington family’s personal and social worlds, I recommend Ferry Farm archaeologist Laura Galke’s (2009) article “The Mother of the Father of Our Country: Mary Ball Washington’s Genteel Domestic Habits” Northeast Historical Archaeology 38:29-48.  I began the day by scanning a pewter spoon handle with the initials “BW”–representing George Washington’s sister, Betty.  This spoon and its significance for socializing Betty in gentry-class society is discussed by Galke (2009).

“BW” spoon as it is being scanned.

The spoon actually proved more challenging than expected because it is thin, dark, and the design is shallow.  But, a little fine powder coating and a long scan seems to have resulted in a nice digital model.

The second artifact we scanned is a lead alloy cloth seal that resembles late 16th century AD examples from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. We also scanned a Civil War Minie ball found by VCU student Ian Salata during this year’s field school.  An interesting artifact that we scanned was a toy hatchet made of lead dropped by a tourist visiting the place where some claim (erroneously) that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree!!!