By Brian McNeill
University Public Affairs
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Over the past month, a Virginia Commonwealth University lab has been using 3-D scanning and printing technology to create chess sets, with each piece a 3-D-printed replica of historical artifacts found at archeological digs at Jamestown, Mount Vernon, Montpelier, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and elsewhere.
“Sometimes when you’re scanning, it’s kind of boring. It takes about 20 minutes to scan an artifact,” said Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory. “So we thought, you know, it’d be kind of fun to make chess pieces out of items from archeological sites.”
The lab was launched in 2011 as part of the Department of Defense’s Legacy Resource Management Program, which aims to preserve the United States’ natural and culture heritage, including through archeological investigations. The lab’s mission is to use its NextEngine 3-D scanner to digitally scan artifacts and animal bones, creating a virtual catalog of historical objects and allowing them to be replicated via a 3-D printer. The lab is part of the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
The chess sets, Means said, are proving to be an excellent way of engaging the public, students and others interested in archaeology and the lab’s 3-D scanning technology.
“We’re finding that it’s a really great way to interact with the public because they can watch you play chess and then you can describe each individual piece,” he said.
In one of the chess sets, each piece is a 3-D plastic replica of artifacts from 1607 to 1610 found at a dig at the Jamestown Settlement.
The pawn of the Jamestown set is a scaled-down model of a bust based on the skull of a 14- or 15-year-old boy killed by an arrow in 1607. The bust was recently on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
“He was killed by an arrow from an American Indian, so they call him ‘Arrow Point Boy,’” Means said. “We scanned him and made him our pawn.”
The Jamestown set’s king is a “Bartmann” jug fragment, or German stoneware depicting a “Bartmann,” which means “wild man.” “They’re bearded figurines,” Means said. “Some of them are really stern. They have a lot of them at Jamestown.”
The queen is a jeweler’s mold of an embossed pelican standing on a pedestal.
“[The Jamestown settlement] brought a jeweler over very early on, but then he disappears from the historical record,” Means said
The Jamestown set’s knight is a 3-D model of a butchered dog mandible. The jawbone has cut marks indicating that settlers likely ate the dog, and the bone dates to the Jamestown settlement’s “starving time” in the winter of 1609-10.
Read the rest of Brian McNeill’s article on the VCU News site.