Archaeology Curation Museums Research

Kathleen Jenkins, Center for Archaeological Studies

This past year, I conducted my internship at CAS at Texas State University. This report will discuss in detail the project that I worked on, as well as the valuable archaeological skills and experience that I acquired. Additionally, this report will also highlight some background information on the project and the importance of public outreach in archaeology.

Background of Center for Archaeological Studies

The Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University is a research center that promotes archaeological research and training opportunities to Texas State students and the public. It conducts archaeological investigations for federal, state, and local government institutions, as well as serves as a Texas Historical Commission – certified curatorial repository for State collections, department collections, and donated collections. It also aims to reach out to the public to advocate the significance of archaeological research and the preservation of cultural resources[1].

Internship Projects and Responsibilities: Curation and 3-D scanning

Prior to my internship at CAS, I was not familiar with the curatorial process, let alone archaeological research and cultural resource management. This internship gave me the opportunity of curating the McEvoy collection, a collection of pre-Columbian pottery, donated by the Shiloh museum in 1994. The collection consisted of about fifty different pieces of plainware and decorative pottery, all ranging in size, shape and color. Many of the pieces were decorative bowls with incising and burnishing, while others were larger with painted rims and bodies. Before the collection was donated, it was professionally appraised by the staff of the Shiloh Museum in Springdale, Arkansas. The collection comes from several different Mesoamerican cultures and regions, such as Teotihuacan, Huastec Colima, Juarez, Durango, and Jalisco. Throughout my internship, I assumed the responsibility of properly housing and cataloging the collection, while also choosing pieces which would eventually be 3-D scanned for online display.

I started my work by slowly unpacking each piece of pottery and documenting the weight on an Excel spreadsheet. Through this process, I also corrected some minor errors within the spreadsheet and verified specific information about the pieces, such as their physical descriptions and measurements. When I was done inputting the information, I began applying new object IDs directly to the pottery, using paper labels applied with B-72 acryloid. This process would eventually lead me to change some original content on the spreadsheet, in order to upload the collection’s information into the center’s Past Perfect curation software – a task that, surprisingly, would be the one of the hardest and most detailed of all.

Past Perfect is computer software that helps organize museum collections and archives. It required patience and a great deal of detail. However, I did overcome the challenges of Past Perfect, and when that day came it was an exciting one.

CAS is embarking on a long-term project to exhibit 3-D interactive images of artifacts online. My next task was, therefore, to select about thirteen of my favorite pieces from the collection to be 3-D scanned for online display. In all, it took me about four months to scan most of the objects. However, through the scanning process, I encountered some obstacles which would inhibit my progress. It was a trial and error experience, but through it all, I gained very valuable learning skills and the opportunity to learn how to operate a small 3-D scanner.

For my project, I used a NextEingine 3-D scanner, which is a small desktop scanner that uses multiple lasers to capture small lines and fine detail. The scanner is complete with the scanner itself, a small turntable that is able to rotate three hundred sixty degrees, and the computer software. Aside from the scanner, the computer software is crucial to the operation of the three-dimensional scanning process. It controls the turntable’s movements, the light adjustment, the image quality, the duration of the scan, and the editing process of the three-dimensional images. Generally speaking, it is important to know how to operate the computer software to create a successful scan.

Despite my knowledge and training of the 3-D scanner, I confronted a couple of difficulties when attempting to complete this project. Since some of the objects were fairly large and detailed, it was difficult for the scanner to capture many of the specific details on the pieces. Unfortunately, this left some of the scans incomplete, and the larger pieces were omitted from the scanning process altogether.

The next problem I encountered was the sensitivity of the computer software itself. Although highly advanced, many times the program would crash due to over-exertion of the scanner or a shortage of memory. In order to fix this problem, I had to delete some of my completed scans and continuously restart the program. Although this process was challenging, I am glad to say that I have learned valuable skills in the process.

Importance of public outreach and 3-D scanning in Archaeology

In this section, I will outline the importance of public outreach within archaeology, as well as the significance of 3-D technology and virtual interaction with archaeological material and data. There are two case studies which are applicable to my internship experience.  The first study involves research conducted by Carol McDavid, an archaeologist who attempts to make traditional archaeology more publicized in her study of the Levi Jordan Plantation in Houston, Texas. The second research project takes place at the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University, and it attempts to outline the importance of virtual curation and 3-D technology within the realms of public archaeology.

Levi Jordan Plantation Project and Public Outreach

Public outreach has become an increasingly beneficial aspect of archaeological research. It promotes community involvement while also diverging from the common notion that archaeology is strictly in the realms of academia. Online exhibits and public outreach through technology have become popular methods of involving and connecting with the general public. In Carol McDavid’s study of the Levi Jordan Plantation, she attempts to make this project widely accessible to the general public by creating web-based interaction through a website. Ultimately, her aim is to, “use archaeology to create a more democratic society” while also providing opportunities for “equitable exchange” among the participants (McDavid 2004). Despite her enthusiasm, she expresses the concerns of public outreach within archaeology by explaining how “even well intentioned archaeologists, who believe in the value of communicating their work to the public, are sometimes uncomfortable with the messy realities of sharing control of their research with people outside of archaeology” (p. 37)

During her project, she did encounter issues with the descendants, especially with the negative associations accompanied with plantation life. However, McDavid recruited several descendants from both backgrounds (slave and slave-owner descendants) to be members of the Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society, in order to uphold authentic collaboration and support. By initiating collaboration, public participation became essential in the archaeological and historical research of the plantation. It conceded a broader and more collaborative approach, by allowing professional archaeologists and the general public to propose and expand on original questions and assumptions.

Overall, McDavid highlights the importance of public outreach by implementing collaborative efforts, while also making archaeological research applicable and accessible to the general public. In the development of the website, McDavid opts to be aware of and open to individual ideologies by implementing interactive forums to promote discussion and questioning of archaeological interpretations. By creating a multi-dimensional website, McDavid and her colleagues enabled openness and diversity by allowing the community to interact with archaeologically based research.

3-D Scan Technology and Public Outreach

The virtual curation of artifacts has become an increasingly important method of making artifacts and archaeological material more accessible. At the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University, the NextEingine 3-D desktop scanner has become an important addition to their research. Their lab has been funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Resources Management Program and sponsored by the Marine Corps to help, “provide guidance related to the creation and application of 3-D digital collections of artifacts that have or can be expected to be found on DoD installations.” By conducting this project, the Legacy Program in Virginia was able to identify the importance and usefulness of virtual curation and how it is applicable to public outreach and archaeological research methods.

Virtual curation and 3-D scanning is becoming more prevalent in the archaeological community. It obliges researchers and the general public to have interactive and somewhat tangible access to delicate artifacts, while also allowing archaeologists and the public to share and manipulate three-dimensional data without having to travel far distances. Additionally, three-dimensional scanning and virtual curation enhance the preservation of the artifacts by minimizing the potential damage. Furthermore, museums with vast collections of artifacts and limited collection space can also offer digital and interactive exhibits to the public.

Eventually, many of these digital scans are converted into three-dimensional objects by 3-D print technology. This allows the public and researchers to study and hold an accurate copy of an artifact without interacting with the original copy itself. Virtual accessibility and 3-D print technology can benefit schools and education programs by allowing students and faculty to have tangible learning experiences.

Online exhibits are becoming a popular way to advocate archaeological research to the general public. Websites and online exhibits promote interaction and archaeological knowledge, which can allow for a better understanding and appreciation of the past. By incorporating three-dimensional technology to websites and online exhibits, it enables the artifacts to become virtually accessible and interactive to researchers and the general public.

CAS has incorporated many of these methods to inform the community and researchers about the significance of archaeology. On the CAS webpage, blog posts and volunteer programs are advertised to promote interaction and open opportunity for individuals to participate in archaeological experiences. Personal testimonies and background information of the CAS staff also gives the audience an important insight on the work and research that archaeologists do. Additionally, three-dimensional online exhibits will be eventually incorporated on the CAS webpage so that the public and researchers will have the opportunity to interact and virtually manipulate artifacts from CAS’s collections.

Conclusion

By interning at CAS, I was able to take part in archaeological projects and understand the importance of community outreach within archaeology. I am proud to say that, through this internship experience, I acquired a valuable set of archaeological skills, which will aid me in future opportunities. Without this experience, I would have not had the amazing opportunity of learning how to operate a 3-D scanner and use professional curation software. Eventually, the 3-D Scans that I conducted will be uploaded to the CAS website and will allow the public and researchers to have virtual access to one of CAS’s unique collections.

 

Bibliography

McDavid, Carol. 2004 From “Traditional” Archaeology to Public Archaeology to Community Action: The Levi Jordan Plantation Project. In Places in Mind: Archaeology as Applied Anthropology, edited by P. Shackel and E. Chambers.Routledge, New York. 35-51

Bernard K. Means, Ashely McCuistion, Courtney Bowles. 2013 Virtual Artifact Curation of the Historical Past and The Next Engine 3D Scanner. Technical Briefs in Historical Archaeology 7: 1-12

[1] “The Mission and Vision of the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University” www.cas.anthropology.txstate.edu/about/mission.html

About the author

The Internship Coordinator

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