In an age when developing technologies propel us into a rapidly changing future, VCU students are using 3D scanning and printing technology at the university’s Virtual Curation Laboratory to delve into the past.
The student-run Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team was founded this semester by club president Ashley McCuistion and a few friends.
“We wanted to develop an organization that focused on archaeology and the use of technology in archaeology,” McCuistion said.
Although 3D scanning and printing technology has been available for a while, according to McCuistion, it has taken off in archaeology as a tool to promote the past, and can be used in education and research.
“With a 3D model you get all of the morphology of it, all of the texture and everything is preserved there,” McCuistion said.
The group was designed to get students from a variety of majors at the university involved in learning new uses of 3D technology. VAST started with five members and has since grown to a group of 50 students that are interested in learning the technology.
McCuistion described a typical situation in archaeology in which one researcher would have, for example, a skull that he or she could not identify. With 3D scanning and printing technology, that researcher could make a plastic replica of the artifact and mail it to a researcher at a different lab to assess.
Another use for digital modeling technology in archaeology is to scan artifacts that are disintegrating.
“Scanning them preserves them, at least in a digital sense,” McCuistion said. “Other departments that have this technology don’t have the ability to share it with other people. We’re unique in that we can share it with others.”
John Glover, a librarian at the Cabell library, said once upcoming Cabell library building renovations are completed, more students will have access to the technology.
Innovative Media, the newly renamed and reconceptualized Media and Reserves Department on the 3rd floor of the library, will provide a 3D printing laboratory among other equipment, Glover said.
Projects like VAST are important for getting students interested in fields of study like anthropology and archaeology, Glover said.
“Everyone’s seen Indiana Jones, but actually seeing what people are doing in the field and what current research is like, it excites people,” he said.