A Giant Ground Sloth is 2 ½ Fourth Graders Tall

By Bernard K. Means, Director, Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University

Go to any public archaeology event or even an academically oriented archaeology conference, and you will probably see at least one button, shirt, or even a ball cap emblazoned with an image of a dinosaur (probably a Tyrannosaurus rex) contained within a thick red circle and bisected by a thick red line.

Below or surrounding that image might be the words “Archaeologists Don’t Dig Dinosaurs.” I use this image myself on my first day of lecturing in my Introduction to Archaeology course each semester. One of the basic messages that I try to impart on that first day is that archaeologists are not paleontologists.

3D scanning a bone from an enslaved context at VMNH pictured is Dr Elizabeth Moore
3D scanning a bone from an enslaved context at VMNH pictured is Dr Elizabeth Moore. Image by author.

We might like dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals, but if those animals lived before or did not interact with humans or their hominid ancestors, those “terrible lizards” and other ancient creatures fall outside of our purview. I also warn any budding archaeologist that they will get asked, probably by a relative and certainly by a member of the public, if they have “found any dinosaurs yet?” after their first, second, third, ad nauseam, dig.

However, I’ve begun to rethink over the last few months that image of the dinosaur struck out in red.

This reassessment of the phrase “Archaeologists Don’t Dig Dinosaurs” has grown out of my work in the Virtual Curation Laboratory with various natural history museums, notably the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville, Virginia, the Western Science Center (WSC) in Hemet, California, and the Las Vegas Natural History Museum (LVNHM), not surprisingly in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Beginning at VMNH, I found fossils creeping into what I 3D scanned. Paleontologists at that museum asked if I would not mind scanning the occasional fossil in between artifact scans, such as Miocene whale vertebrae, a lungfish bone from Chile, or various Ice Age animals. In fact, for VMNH right now, I am 3D printing mirrored 3D scans of giant ground sloth bones—VMNH has lefts and rights and needs rights and lefts.

3d scanning a prehistoric camel skull at WSC
3D scanning a prehistoric camel skull. Image by author.

I’ve actually been 3D scanning and 3D printing quite a few Ice Age animal bones over the last year. In addition to the aforementioned giant ground sloth bones from VMNH, I have 3D scanned giant beaver (VMNH), mastodon (VMNH, WSC, and a private collection), mammoth (VMNH, WSC, LVMNH), short- faced bear (WSC), American camel (WSC, LVMNH) and dire wolf (LVMNH)—yes dire wolves were once real and not just something made up for Game of Thrones. These animals are all now extinct—and these fossils do potentially represent an overlap between archaeology and paleontology as these animals all lived at the time after humans entered the Americas. Some scenarios even argue that humans are partly or solely responsible for the extinction of these Ice Age megafauna (e.g. big animals!). But, the dinosaur bones I 3D scanned at LVMNH or the dinosaur tracks I 3D scanned at VMNH well predate the presence of humans in the Americas or anywhere across the globe, as dinosaurs went extinct millions of years before humans first evolved.

3D scanning an allosauroid vertebra at LVMNH
3D scanning an allosauroid vertebra at LVMNH. Image by author.

 

So, why bring up dinosaurs, or even the fossils of Ice Age animals from contexts not associated with human activity? This is because I increasingly find myself in settings that are less archaeology oriented, but more focused on how 3D technologies—particularly 3D printing—can help inform the past. And, I am talking to audiences that are generally interested in the past—whether the human past or an even deeper past. I want to encourage and celebrate this interest, this fascination with science, and not be quite so pedantic about, ”Well, no, I don’t do dinosaurs, ask someone else.” Paleontologists, as well as archaeologists, are also interested in public outreach and share our goal of teaching people about the past—our disciplinary differences are important, but I think we need to sometimes blur these boundaries.

3D scanning maeve foster
Scanning Maeve Foster.

Which gets me to the title of this blog. On May 1, 2017, I was invited to speak to the soon-to-be retired Judith Fitzpatrick’s fourth grade class about applications of 3D printing, and I brought along a wide selection of recent 3D prints, including artifacts from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and India, animal bones from archaeological and modern contexts, and various fossils, including a giant ground sloth claw. I also had with me a 3D print of a 4th grader—Maeve Foster—who had interviewed me the previous month for her class, as she is interested in 3D printing. Maeve was out ill that day, but her fellow classmates were fascinated that she was there in miniature 3D-printed form, and they placed her figure on her desk. The students really liked the opportunity to handle the replicated objects, and to discuss their significance.

3D printed giant ground sloth claw
3D printed giant sloth claw. Image by author.

 

maeve foster 3D
3D printed Maeve Foster. Image by author.

They were also glad to find out that they could download and 3D print some of the objects from our Sketchfab site. One of the items that I passed around that was of great interest was a 3D printed giant ground sloth claw, 3D scanned originally at VMNH. A young 4th grader asked how tall giant ground sloths were, relative to 4th graders. 4th graders not being a standard measure in archaeology or paleontology, I asked if one of the students would offer up their height. A young girl quickly stated that she was 4 feet tall. So, this makes the extinct giant ground sloth 2 ½ 4th graders tall.

setting up 3D prints at Short Pump elementary school
Setting up 3D prints at Short Pump Elementary School.

I certainly think the future of public archaeology—and public paleontology—as well as educational applications will be found in the chirping and beeping of the 3D printer. For more on educational applications of 3D printing, I refer the reader to this recent blog: Enhancing archaeological research with 3D printing.


In the Virtual Curation Laboratory, a team of Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate students and alumni works under project director Dr. Bernard K. Means to digitally preserve the past and share it with the world. Check out and download digital artifact models on our Sketchfab page.

Incorporating 3D Models into FPAN Curriculum

At the Florida Public Archaeology Network’s East Central office we have been hard at work adapting 3D modeled and printed objects into curriculum based on artifacts recovered from the Kingsley Plantation National Park Site, a former slave plantation in northeast Florida. FPAN and the Kingsley Plantation host an annual workshop for teachers to introduce Project Archaeology curriculum and the site-specific supplemental, Investigating a Tabby Slave Cabin . The supplemental curriculum uses the archaeological investigations of one of the plantation’s slave cabins as the framework for discussing how archaeologists investigate shelter.  One of the educational aids used in teaching the curriculum is a floor mat based on plan drawings of the site. Teachers and students then use paper cutouts of artifacts recovered from the site. While this is a neat idea, the problem is that paper cutouts are not terribly engaging to adults, let alone children.

01.JPG
Participants in the Project Archaeology workshop that takes place at the Kingsley Plantation work together to recreate an archaeological site to learn how archaeologists investigate the concept of shelter. Here, they are using cut-outs of artifact drawings to replace them into their original context.

A real improvement to the curriculum could be made if the paper cutouts were replaced with 3D printed models. FPAN requested access to a portion of the Kingsley Plantation artifacts from the National Park Service which were housed at the University of Florida. This portion of the collection is currently a part of ongoing research of the site under the direction of Dr. James Davidson, who directed the archaeological research upon which the FPAN curriculum is based.  One thousand photos in eighteen sets later, I was ready to start on the real work of photogrammetry

(Left) author Jeffery Robinson collects pictures for processing. (Right) Example of 360 round-table set-up for photography of artifacts.

The program that I used for photogrammetric rendering was Agisoft Photoscan, as it is the standard program for this use in the archaeological community. Now, because we had used a lightbox to shoot the artifacts in, masking the photos became a necessity. Trying to process without the masks caused Agisoft to render the model incorrectly. I also found several other reasons for errors in rendering: sharp edges, flat surfaces, reflective surfaces, and differences in lighting. Due to this and other errors, only twelve of the eighteen photosets were able to be completed. Those models can be viewed, and pending NPS review, downloaded  here.

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All of the completed models as shown on sketchfab.com/fpan. The models will be available for view/download pending NPS review.

After uploading, I printed out the models on a Makerbot 5th Generation Replicator. This is a great machine for printing out good quality models and is pretty user friendly too. After a short experimentation period to get it set up right, I was able to print out all of the models. The models were then sanded down with a dremel to provide a nice even surface. The models were then painted to provide more realism, as no one wants to look at a boring grey model.  Hopefully we will soon be able to send kits of these objects out to go with the curriculum sometime in the future.

(Top left) 3D models are printed on a Makerbot 3D printer. (Top right) the printed, plastic 3D models. (Bottom) The author applies acrylic paint to the models.

 

Jeffery Robinson has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Central Florida. He has been volunteering at FPAN’s East Central office for the past year.

World History, PBL, and 3D Archaeology

Reading about archaeology and museums and ancient civilizations can be a lot like reading about anything else at school – some kids might find it moderately interesting, while others probably would not. But what if students could play the role of archaeologists and museum curators, researching and creating their own museum exhibits using the very latest in super-cool modern technology?

I teach a World History survey course to 8th graders in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The scope of the content covers time from the Paleolithic Era to 1500 CE, and in the first few weeks of school, students are introduced as much to the study of history as to the content. In a virtual meeting with an archaeologist, my co-teacher and I got the idea for a Project-Based Learning (PBL) experience, culminating with a museum exhibit, complete with 3d-printed artifacts and augmented reality software, to showcase their learning to their parents. Below is the outline of the PBL.

The Entry Events:

img_3330I. Meeting with a Professional:

During the first month of school, students met (via Google Hangouts) a real archaeologist, Sarah Miller, and were introduced to the field, learning how the science of archaeology helps us understand the past. Miller told us about her work and shared how new advancements in technology improve knowledge of the past. (The Standard of Learning related to this lesson states, “Students will be able to explain how archaeological discoveries are changing present-day knowledge of early peoples.”) She discussed how archaeologists can get a replica of artifacts as 3d printables,
and sent us this picture of a Sumerian ziggurat. She said scans of the ziggurat and thousands of other ancient artifacts were available for free in museum libraries on the img_7400internet. Anyone can download them and print the artifacts in 3d (though of course many would be miniature versions of the originals, since few people have pyramid-sized 3d printers.)

II. Teacher’s Personal Experience with a Museum:

Last summer, I visited the Louvre and I showed students some pictures, sharing with them how meaningful it was for me to see artifacts from civilizations I have taught about for years (civilizations they are about to study — Mesopotamia). I then introduced the Museum project: Students would create a museum exhibit on a civilization or topic and have the opportunity to choose an artifact to print using our school’s 3d printer.

III. School Vision: Involving stakeholders

We are a school that needs our parents to feel connected, so I invited Mrs. Frazier, our principal, to talk to students about how much we want their parents to feel welcome at our school. She expressed that students can help by inviting their own parents to see their museum exhibit on Parent Teacher Conference Night.

THE MAGIC: PROJECT BASED LEARNING

Phase 1: Introducing the topic

img_3817I introduced the task and driving question for students, “How do we as museum staff create an exhibit to show the achievements of our topic?” Topics included empires of Mesopotamia, kingdoms of Egypt, and empires and religions of classical India. Our Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) and I used the book Learning on Display to help us organize the process and create rubrics for assessment. We began with a Gallery Walk and students reflected on the following:

  • What is a Museum?
  • Why do we have museums?
  • What makes museums engaging for 8th graders?

Phase 2: Research

img_3853Students completed a research guide to learn more details about the society they were studying and determine what made their topic historically significant.

The teachers created questions directing students to find information aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning (what students are supposed to be learning).

Phase 3: Exhibit Planning


img_3867Students planned their exhibit, and considered these questions:

  • How will we show what is important to remember about our topic?
  • How will we get visitors to experience our story?
  • What will our completed exhibit look like?
  • Will our exhibit work?

img_3865In groups, students showed their plan on large paper so that they could receive feedback from fellow students to inform their revisions.

After the plans were posted, students completed a gallery walk, viewing their peers’ plans to offer feedback that should be specific, helpful and kind. Students used post-it notes, and based on the protocol I learned at Buck Institute, they were given sentence starters: I like to commend an idea, I wonder to ask clarifying questions, and I have to offer a suggestion.

Upon being asked to reflect on the gallery walk, one student said, “criticism is not all bad. . .this is helpful!”

img_3873One group said, “we didn’t get a lot of helpful feedback” so they asked if they could present their plan to the whole class. I thought this was so powerful for students to put themselves “out there” for help.

After receiving feedback, students revised their plans, and were ready to put it all together.

Phase 4: Writing a Label Copy

img_3837Before students were able to print their artifact and set up their exhibit, the label copies were written to help their visitors understand the key points of their display, including the relevance of the artifact. The idea of creating the label copy before the creation of the exhibit is that if they waited until after the exhibit was done, they would be too excited to calm down and “write,” BUT it was wonderful to see them edit several times before the final copy was finished.

Phase 5: Constructing the Exhibit


This was the most exciting part for the students as they saw their research, plans, revision and ideas come to fruition.

Not all students chose to print a 3d artifact; a few students used the program Aurasma, making the exhibits interactive.

Here are a few comments from the students:

img_3959PBL was very good at teaching students to research on a focus and create project that not only teaches the student but others as well. The 3-D printer is a great way to create an artifact since most students can’t go around an archaeological dig. The 3-D printer is also good to create an artifact if a student’s focus was not able to have any historical artifacts. We didn’t really learn about archaeology in the PBL, but Archaeology was taught throughout depending on each focus project. Archaeology and artifacts helped us learn about what influenced the people of the time and what their life was like. – Paulo Pulido

img_3956I liked using a 3d printer because it creates a visual. I learned that archaeology is very time consuming and you have to be patient.

I think using a 3D printer for an artifact is a great idea. It makes the project more hands on.

img_3965On the last day of the project, as students were busily putting their exhibits up, some leaders from the school board – including Dr. Scott Baker, Superintendent and Mr. Keith Wolfe, Executive Director of Secondary Education and Leadership – observed the students preparing their exhibits. They were so intrigued by what we were doing they came back the next night for Parent-Teacher Conference night to see the students showcase their projects. Most of our parents came to interact with their students as they demonstrated their learning of their topic in history as well as the authentic tasks of creating a museum exhibit using real-life tools of the trade in archaeology.  

img_3964As an 8th-grade teacher, I may see 4-5 parents a couple times a year for “Conference Nights,” but more than 40 families came to interact with their children as students shared their learning.

This experience was an opportunity for students to see the relevance of history in a 21st-century setting, where they combined modern technology with the old-fashioned skills of inquiry and collaboration.

 


Sarah Bates King has been teaching for 15 years and has spent most of her career in World History with 8th graders. In 2012, she attended the National Social Studies conference, where she reconnected with a college friend, Sarah Miller,  an archaeologist. Since that time, they have made it a point to have a yearly virtual field trip to introduce urban students to archaeology in real life. She is very passionate about the study of human history and the humanities, and instills in her students the love of History. Outside of teaching, she enjoys relaxing with yoga retreats, running and spending time with her husband and two girls. In her downtime, she processes and reflects with posts to her blog about teaching in light of motherhood and a personal blog about life.  

Painting an Olive Jar Neck Sherd from the Luna Site in Pensacola, FL

Last month, I discussed some useful tips on how to paint 3D printed plastic objects. Today, I will walk you through the painting process using an olive jar neck sherd from the Luna site. The sherd was one of the defining artifacts that helped UWF archaeologists recognize and establish the significance of the site. Below is my step-by-step guide on how to paint this specific artifact using the equipment and tips I outlined in my previous post.

  1. painting-stationHere is my painting station, equipped with the colors I use for this artifact (minus two that I added in), paint brushes, paper towels, my “palette,” and a water cup. 
  2. I start by adding a layer of unbleached titanium over the whole object.first-layer-ubt-mariana
  3. Then, I mix some paints to create the reddish color of the entire vessel. I use red and yellow to create a salmon color and add bits of Unbleached Titanium and Raw Sienna. I use the dabbing technique to create texture.

    1. Here is a close-up of the texture.
      second-layer-detail-mariana
    2. Here is the entire second layer.
      second-layer-whole-mariana
  4. colors-used-for-gray
    Colors used for gray.

    I mix the colors I use for the gray sides of the artifact. I obviously do this by mixing white and gray and then paint one layer on the sides. For a second layer of gray, I add a little bit of Raw Umber to the mix, which makes it slightly more brown. When I layer it on top of the light gray color, it creates depth and texture. There is also a line of gray at the bottom of the artifact.

  5. I do something similar to the entire object now. I add a little bit of grays and browns over the entire object to match the various tones and colors the artifact has in real life. I do this using a mix of dabbing and dry brush techniques and I try to be gentle and light about applying this layer.
  6. The final touch is to add a black detail towards the bottom corner of the concave side.
    black-feature
  7. This is the final product:

The final product is definitely not perfect, but it will do! Painted models, such as the olive jar neck sherd, can be implemented in educational demonstrations in classrooms, out in the field, in museums, or anywhere where archaeologists are able to interact with the public. I really hope that you enjoyed these blog posts about painting plastic artifacts and found some useful information. As always, feel free to respond with any questions or feedback.

Happy painting!


Mariana Zechini is a graduate student at the University of West Florida. She received her B.S. in Anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014 and has four years of experience in 3D scanning archaeological materials. Her thesis focuses on analyzing stable isotopes from human remains from a medieval cemetery site in Berlin, Germany.

Bringing Archaeology and 3D Modeling to the K-12 Classroom

Many archeologists, as part of their public outreach efforts, see the recent movement to bring science and math based curriculum into classrooms as an opportunity to introduce both teachers and students to archaeology and anthropology. This trend has also caused schools and programs to reach out to archaeologists and other scientists to present to their students. However you end up standing in front of thirty 5th graders, there are some things that will help you achieve your goals and survive to see another invitation extended to you.

I would argue that archaeology is uniquely suited to classroom presentations in that it covers every subject being taught in today’s schools, especially when 3D modeling is included, and is an inherently hands on and accessible science. In order build an easy to use guide for people interested in bringing 3D modeling and archaeology to public education I have drawn on my knowledge of the public education standards and how to best cooperate with public school teachers, gained by five years experience in a classroom. Though I will focus mostly on archaeological modeling and K-12 education in this post, all of the material covered here is applicable to all fields of anthropology, all subfields of archaeology, and really any field of science.

Getting into the classroom

The two biggest things to remember when presenting in a kindergarten through 12th grade education setting is time and flexibility. Time is everything to a teacher, and even more important to the students. Frustrations about time are not necessarily exclusive to the time you are taking out of their day by presenting. Sometimes it is the time of day you want to come into the class, and sometimes it is the time of year. This is where flexibility comes in. Here are my quick and easy tips to getting a teacher to say yes, and to have them ask you back:

  1. Contact schools you work with and get a school calendar, or join their Facebook page. If you know what is going on at school a teacher will not turn you down because you asked to come and present on field day. 
  2. Know or ask what topic/subject they are covering and explicitly tell the teacher how the material you are presenting matches that. My other suggestion to this is do not concentrate only on science. See the next section for more details on this. 
  3. Bring ALL necessary supplies (including pencils and paper) and make sure to communicate this with the teacher. Also, if you will be using computers, arrive early and make sure everything is in order for the kids to log on.

Standards

All topics taught by a teacher must meet what they call a standard. These standards can include things like teaching a kindergartener that a book has a front cover and a back cover (standard “LAFS.K.RI.2.5”). Before you freak out I’m not proposing that anyone learn the standards, though they are available for your reading pleasure on every state’s education website. Here are the Florida standards for language arts and math by grade level.

standards
Kindergarten standard for reading. (Source: Florida Department of Education)

 

The chart below connects the four main subjects to 3D modeling and printing in archaeology. The great thing about many topics covered within each subject is that they can be taught at almost every grade level, with varying degrees of difficulty of course. Elementary schools, for example, may only have the students classify according to shape, size, and color whereas middle schoolers are capable of predicting the use of an object and classifying based on those observations. Seeing these parallels will save you some time in writing lessons and will increase the variety of grade levels you can present in.

Subject

Archaeological 3D Modeling

Archaeology (all subfields)

Math

– Scale and ratio
– Conversion of standard to metric
– Fractional measurements
– Coordinate grids
– Laying out a unit (Pythagorean Theorem)
– Positive/Negative numbers
– Angles
– Degrees

Science

– Building experimental models
– Classification
– Documenting results
– Geology
– Weather Cycles
– Evolution
– Chemistry (Carbon 14)

History

– Photography for preservation
– Interpreting sites and items
– Understanding context
– Academic research
– Preserving historic items
– Validating sources

Language Arts

– Creative writing prompts
– Argumentative writing about interpretations
– Academic writing prompts
– Report writing
– Critical dissent
– Concise writing through abstracts
This table is only a sampling of the topics that can be taught per subject, I stuck with general ideas because each school district and each state has their own standards that need to be met.

To help clarify, I will expand upon one topic within each subject and choose a grade level to give a better perspective of how they connect to classroom instruction.

Math: Scale and Ratio

minicatapult1
Min catapults in a math class for exploring math and historic technology. Full article here. (Image by 3dprint.com)

In Florida, most 6th grade students are beginning to learn how to work with ratios and scale modeling. A possible lesson connection could be scaling a building within modeling software so that it could be displayed and explored in a museum by smaller kids. This is a hands-on math intense topic that helps others and has real world applications.

Science: Classification

Elementary students begin to classify objects very early on, by shape and size, as early as kindergarten. Using 3D printed lithic points and pottery students could work on their classifying skills while also handling what would otherwise be fragile artifacts.

magnetized-model-2
For further reading on the power of these models to communicate context, see this post. (Image by Mariana Zechini)

History: Understanding Context

Holding an object only seen in pictures before can often be revolutionary. Changing a person’s perspective and understanding of an item. High Schoolers begin writing research papers early on in their freshmen year, and often write about things they have only seen in books. Physically touching a cannonball that shattered on a tree, like the one printed by UWF students Janene Johnston and Mariana Zechini, can add context to the tree, the cannon ball, and the person who surely escaped death.

Language Arts: Writing

Amazingly, this is often forgotten by archaeologists and yet comprises a large percentage of what we do. Academic writing and writing an opposing critique are skills they will need as they move into college, something we as archaeologists and scientist are painfully aware of. Archaeologist have a unique relationship with journaling and note taking, a skill that many take for granted.

 

By providing some general examples and simple tips, I have given those that desire to bring 3D modeling into a classroom some tools to access the world of education standards. Because this is only a starting point, if you are an archaeologist hoping to do some public outreach or a teacher looking to give some of your standards a new spin with real world applications, please share if you have ideas of your own.

 


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.