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