Saturday, September 17, 2016

Helping to Lead the Way in 3D Public Archaeology




Last year, several FPAN staff began to engage with a new type of technology that was making waves in the field of archaeology: 3D visualization of archaeological sites and artifacts (see here and here). Three-dimensional models of artifacts and archaeological sites have been around for a few years now, though for much of that time the hardware and software required to undertake a project was a bit cost-prohibitive, at least to us. However, as cost and 3D technology began to make a pivot towards more public use, we jumped at the opportunity to see what we could do with it. We were lucky in having colleagues, such as those at the VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory,  who had ventured into the field already and were able to give us much needed pointers. At FPAN, we immediately saw how this emerging technology could couple with our archaeology education outreach to engage the public in new and exciting ways.

Recently, we saw that the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has partnered with Google to assist in engineering a portion of the museum that will provide access to more of the museum's collections through 3D visualization. Many museums have the mass of their collections in storage, due to the fact that there is simply not enough space to display these items, or that the items are too fragile for display. This new, interactive display will allow visitors to follow their personal interests through a vast collection of artifacts that have been modeled and interpreted by museum staff. In a way, this creates a unique visitor experience for each and every person that comes to the museum. Astonishing!

But, FPAN got there first! We have been busy creating 3D models of artifacts and archaeological sites that the public is able to interact with through our Sketchfab site. There, you can see unique items up close and personal. You can even, if you are able to, download the item for 3D printing. Of course, this is just some friendly bragging; several groups preceded us and there are sure to be many who will follow us in utilizing this new technology. What is important is that the public now has ways to interact with archaeological resources from around the world in ways they have never been capable of before. Want to visit the British Museum, but can't afford an airline ticket? Have a lunch break to check out what archaeologists in Korea are working on? Want to see what a shipwreck looks like, but don't want to bother with all that pesky SCUBA diving? Take a peek here. Certainly, this new trend in interpretation and engagement is taking solid hold, and we're happy to see the Smithsonian embrace the technology for the public!
FPAN will continue in incorporating 3D technology in our future outreach and will also apply it to current curriculum. Plenty of projects are in the works, and we are currently working on incorporating 3D models to our current Project Archaeology curricula for Kingsley Plantation and Florida Lighthouses. But, stay tuned for more!


You can learn more by checking out the links above, or you can swing by the 3D Public Archaeology Working Group Facebook page where professionals from around the world share ideas, answer questions, and show what they're currently working on. No prior knowledge needed; we're happy to talk anytime!

Text and Pics: Kevin Gidusko
Models: Kevin Gidusko and Tristan Harrenstein

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