As an archaeologist, my first experience with modeling came almost as an afterthought to my thesis work. I had an opportunity to present my work as a poster during the Southeastern Archaeology Conference in Athens, Georgia and wanted to show people in a readily accessible visual format what the watermill structure looked like prior to the weather, moss, and debris created what exists today. Much like when an artifact is printed and made available to the public, I had a desire to connect the public to my mill. Once I realized its outreach capabilities, the model I had created became a center point of my research.
I began this model as an attempt to recreate the mill and then develop a scale model. The mill is a mid-nineteenth century watermill that is the focus of my master’s thesis. As it stands today, the mill is a dilapidated concrete foundation nestled on the shore of a creek in Central Florida, the wheel and gears are missing as well as the mill house that would have held milling equipment. Severe disturbance from both water intrusion and modern construction around the area made finding smaller artifacts difficult, and in the end only a few bricks and some metal pieces associated with the axle were recovered.
Since so little was found, I was forced to rethink what I could learn from the mill foundation, rather than a collection of artifacts. As a result, I turned my focus to determining the size of the wheel, the size of the gear and then from that information how much power the mill would have been able to produce. This led me to modeling.
While in the field I took measurements with surveying equipment as well as hand tools. I would later use this information to recreate the mill in Tinkercad, an excellent modeling site that is free. I decided to create a scale model of the mill, for several purposes:
- I wanted to play with different size wheels and gears and how they would have fit within the existing foundation.
- I needed to see what the association was between wood inserts in the floor of the gearbox and a gear.
- I wanted to be able to show future audiences how the mill would have looked when first constructed.
The mill, recreated in Tinkercad, was designed on a 1 inch:1 foot scale, though it was scaled much smaller when printed to reduce cost. With the 3D reconstruction, I was able to visually determine that the wheel would have most likely been between 4 and 5 feet in diameter with a maximum width of 2 feet. Any smaller and the wheel would have lost efficiency. I also found that a gear would have aligned perfectly above the wood inserts in the bottom of the gear box, perhaps serving as a buffer in case the gear bounced against the floor.
The mill was printed using an online printing service and I took the model with me as a visual aid for a poster presentation I gave at the 2016 Southeast Archaeology Conference. Watching grown archaeologists spin the wheel on my model, only confirmed my belief in its ability to capture the public’s interest.
Modeling artifacts has brought them out of the lab and scale models of buildings and machines will bring large or immovable structures into the hands of the public. The educational material this type of reconstructive modeling could produce is vast; math (scale modeling teaches ratios), history (changing technologies can be recreated to give temporal context), physics (calculating horsepower and energy of machines), communication (creating modern instructions on the operation of a historic machine), etc. Making sure that math, history, science, and language arts are all covered is the intent of any archeologist working in schools.
Next week I will review Tinkercad and talk more about its potential in an educational setting.
Elizabeth Chance Campbell is a Master’s student at the University of Central Florida and will be defending her thesis, on an 1866 watermill, in the spring. She worked in a low income middle school for five years where she taught students with learning disabilities before moving to Georgia, where her wife is stationed in the Air Force. She hopes to take her experience as an educator and as an archaeologist to the next level by creating lessons that can be incorporated into classroom settings with students of all levels.