3D Scanning and Artifact Collections Management Expansion and Upgrade

Project Title: 3D Scanning and Artifact Collections Management Expansion and Upgrade

Project Lead's Name: Jeb J. Card

Project Lead's Email: cardjj@MiamiOH.edu

Project Lead's Phone: 513-529-5994

Project Lead's Division: CAS

Primary Department: Anthropology

List Departments Benefiting or Affected by this proposal: Anthropology Department. Classics and Museum Studies can also benefit through the Archaeology Minor, as students from those departments are currently enrolled in the minor and it takes advantage of the proposed equipment.

Estimated Number of Under-Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 45

Estimated Number of Graduate students affected per year (should be number who will actually use solution, not just who is it available to): 0

Describe the problem you are attempting to solve and your approach for solving that problem:

Background and Need

Our last request for tech fee funding for equipment successfully contributed to our efforts to meet growing student interest in archaeology. Since the 2017 funding competition, the Archaeology minor has become operational and in two years has grown to the same size as the older Anthropology minor (currently 23 minors after dipping from 28 at the end of last year with graduation, so we expect it will rise throughout the year). We have also increased and expanded our archaeology offerings, including an intensive capstone course ATH416: Applying Archaeology and a persistent program of 4- 8 interns each semester undertaking collections management. The skills that these students develop are in demand elsewhere in the university with participants contributing to the development of exhibits and other efforts at several of the university's museums. A number of these students were directly recruited through our teaching collection and our 30 technology offerings in either classrooms or outreach programs such as Summer Scholars.

Key to all of this is the Department of Anthropology's archaeological and ethnographic collections. The donation of the initial core of the collection by Miami alumnus James A. Coulter in 1957 drove the expansion of anthropology at Miami, including the creation of an Anthropology Museum. The creation of the museum, in turn, led to additional donations, the aggregation of existing archaeological materials from various divisions of Miami University, and increased prominence of anthropology and archaeology. Starting in 1957, the department amassed approximately 10,000 archaeological and ethnographic materials, primarily from the Americas but also with key smaller sub-collections from Europe and other locations.

Changing priorities of the university and the Department of Anthropology led to the decision to transform the Anthropology Museum into a teaching lab space (Upham 120A, B, C) and teaching collections. A selection of artifacts have been used to great success in teaching courses including ATH145 Lost Cities and Ancient Civilizations, ATH155 Introduction to Anthropology, ATH212 Introduction to Method and Theory in Archaeology, ATH313 Latin American Archaeology, ATH314 Old World Archaeology, ATH388 Culture, Art, and Artifact, and now ATH416 as noted above. These artifacts have also been instrumental in broader educational presentations to university visitors, students in other divisions, high school students in Summer Scholars and the Bridges outreach programs, and in other capacities. This new pedagogical strategy has led to significant success in terms of full or overfull courses (my overall class fill rate is over 95% including summer and winter courses, and this is after persistent requests for force-add as all classes begin the semester full), and the developments noted above.

Since 2013, individual undergraduate study of material from the teaching collection has included:

  • Analysis of personhood as depicted in ceramic figurines at Teotihuacan
  • Design of new archaeological pedagogy and teaching exercises through a hands-on comparative analysis of stone tools from North America, Central America, and Europe
  • Study of undergraduate interaction with archaeological material culture in the context of three-dimensional digitization; experimental research using three-dimensional digitization and replication (3D printing) of cylinder seals from South and Central America
  • Digitization and virtual display of west Mexican Chupicuaro artifacts
  • Visual anthropological study and digitization of early 20th-century social sciences pedagogical materials
  • Use of our materials in test-bedding augmented reality experiences aimed at archaeological pedagogy.

Having trained on our collection, students have also used the Department of Anthropology equipment and facilities to digitize and research ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian inscribed artifacts held by the King Library Special Collections.

The equipment (DSLR camera, photogrammetry software, 3D printing filament) obtained through the 2017 tech fee grant has been used not only in teaching scanning and printing methods to students through general digitization of the collections and printing of objects for teaching, but it has also been involved in specific class and independent study projects. Students excavating at McGuffey House in ATH416 in Spring 2018 were able to create photogrammetric 3D scans of their excavations both for the class and for public presentation to the community later in the year. In 2019 photogrammetry was a key element of the Undergraduate Summer Scholar Faith Walker's project on public archaeology on Achill Island in Ireland.

This success produces two opportunities and challenges that can be resolved by students working in classes and in independent study with the Department of Anthropology.

The first opportunity and challenge is increased desire and demand for instruction and research in innovative uses of new technology in archaeology. A major part of our success was catalyzed by the purchase, with Student Tech Fee funds, of a NextEngine laser 3D scanner, followed by a DSLR camera and support for our 3D printer. Beginning with this equipment and expanding into other aspects of digital archaeology has dramatically increased interest in the field of archaeology for both existing and prospective students. Since beginning to work with this equipment we have sent archaeology and bioanthropology students to study in the master's programs at Cambridge University, University College London, University of Colorado, Cornell University, and Arizona State University, and the doctoral programs at Harvard University, Florida State, and Michigan State University. In all cases, exposure to and subsequent research and use of this technology by these students was a key or decisive factor in their career choice and success (building the framework of our 3D online museum as an Undergraduate Summer Scholar, expanding that museum and adding to it with photogrammetry, conducting photogrammetry for archaeological fieldwork, instructing ATH212 students in 3D scanning). Students have also used replicas of our own artifacts experimentally in research on the design and function of these artifacts, presenting this work in various venues including national conferences and state and federal legislatures.

The second challenge and opportunity available to archaeology­ focused Miami students is working to research, curate, and improve access to the teaching collection. Working with the artifacts in the collection has become a core aspect of our undergraduate teaching mission, both in introductory humanities and social science courses and for more in epth instruction. Each year since the revitalization of the collections and lab space began in 2011, students have conducted independent study to improve the state of our collections, allowing more students to use these artifacts in the classroom.

However, we are faced with a reality of prior issues of care for the collection when it was a museum collection prior to 2011. Damp conditions in the artifact storage areas, at times left without dehumidification, allowed mold to become an issue.

The 2017 Tech Fee grant allowed us to buy environmental monitors to gauge the problem and possible alternative spaces for the collection. We also obtained a curation-quality vacuum cleaner for removing denatured mold from organic objects (fabric, wood, bone, etc.) that we cannot conserve with other methods. Conserving artifacts and establishing secure environments for the collections not only will allow more of them to be used, but will allow us to fulfill our obligations as the keepers of this legacy collection. As we work with organics, these fragile materials will be best suited for use if curated in environmentally stable spaces.

We continue to build on our success by offering greater opportunities and outcomes in archaeological instruction for anthropology and archaeology students and for the broader university community. The collections, and our ability to digitally document and propagate them, will continue to feed this success.

Problem Solution

The proposed equipment and software will serve three core needs to be undertaken by students. In addition, there is a fourth smaller need noted below for bioanthropological and linguistic anthropology research by students.

1. Increasing our capacity for artifact digitization and replication by students. Our NextEngine 3D Scanner is still functional and increasingly no longer cutting edge. We will continue to use it for aspects of our artifact digitization. We have also added photogrammetry to our repertoire, especially useful for larger objects in the field.

As technology continues to improve, additional methods for 3D digitization have emerged as valuable tools. One of these is structured light scanning, a technique that detects warps in the geometry of fields projected (with either visible light or invisible IR) onto objects or spaces. An HP Structured Light Scanner Pro 53 is far faster in scanning time than the NextEngine Laser and provides better detail than both the NextEngine and most photogrammetry. This would take our object scanning to the next level (and also allow for very high-resolution scans of larger objects), and also allow more students to use this scanner than the slower NexEngine. We are also requesting a new PC to run this machine. Two other older structured light scanners are used on campus by the library system and the Hefner Natural History Museum, and these have demonstrated need for high processing and graphics capabilities. We would also be able to potentially transfer our photogrammetry software to this PC, as our work with photogrammetry has demonstrated that processing speed is essential to that work.

2.  Real-time and field 3D scanning. In addition to our high-end lab scanning and photogrammetry, the ability to take real-time scans with a portable IR structured light scanner, attached to an iPad, has been a boon to our efforts. This technology allows the instructor to introduce and explain 3D scanning technology, with real-time results to students. It also allows for scanning of larger spaces and objects, at lower resolution, than our desktop high-end scanners. We would like to supplement our existing Structure IR scanner with the Structure Mark 2 IR scanner. This upgraded scanner allows for scanning in outdoor conditions and has higher resolution. We would attach this to one of the iPad Minis that we obtained with Tech Fee funding in the last competition.

3.  Curation of less robust artifacts. Using the iPads (for documentation in situ) and the vacuum (for removing mold), students have begun to tackle the more difficult task of conserving organic materials (textiles, wood, bone, and other material). However, as these objects are fragile, before we expand these efforts to allow students to learn and conduct conservation and for students in classes to benefit: from these additions to our teaching collection capability, we need more stable environmental spaces for storage and curation. Our monitors, obtained through the previous tech fee, have shown that there can be significant changes in relative humidity in Upham Hall seasonally and throughout the day. To help meet this challenge, we are requesting a museum curation quality cabinet, This includes mechanically fastened closed-cell silicone gaskets to provide airtight storage. This will minimize exposure to dust, insects, and moderate changing environmental conditions in Upham.

4.  Audio analysis of primate calls and other forms of communication. Lastly, our bioanthropological efforts also emphasize experiential learning, including in the field. In addition to ATH/B1O 496 Observing Primate Behavior (for which our iPads from the previous grant serve one of their roles) in which Dr. Ellis takes students to observe primates at the Cincinnati Zoo, Dr. Ellis also brought students to the field in Ecuador this year. Primate calls are a key part of this research, and students will be able to analyze them in more depth with the RavenPro audio software from Cornell's Ornithology Lab. This software will also be of use to linguistic anthropology courses taught by Dr. Peterson and others. We are requesting a single standard license that does not require a subscription.

How would you describe the innovation and/or the significance of your project:

Importance for Students

Our proposal aids students at two levels. With this equipment, a smaller (but growing) number of students work intensively in researching, documenting, and curating artifacts in our previously less-than-documented collection. In the past, this has dramatically enriched student learning and experience, providing an experiential platform for student success in competitive grants, internships, and graduate. The efforts of these students have generated greater overall utility of our collections in classrooms and outreach. Not only has this made these experiences more fulfilling and more desired by students (based on demand for classes, internships, and other experiences), it has increased the number of students wanting to work more intensively with these materials, joining the first group.

Previous student work with our collections using advanced 3D technology has been highly innovative and successful. These results have been significant in increasing interest in Miami and its archaeology offerings, in part leading to the establishment of a new minor and the addition of course offerings beyond increased student independent research and study. As discussed below in assessment, students will increase our capabilities, with the aid of the requested technology, for teaching other students at the same time that they are learning highly useful professional skills and building their skillsets and portfolios for success as undergraduate students and beyond.

Courses Impacted

  • ATH145
  • ATH155
  • ATH212
  • ATH311
  • ATH312
  • ATH313
  • ATH388
  • ATH416
  • ATH/B10 496

How will you assess the success of the project:


While there are broader outcomes from the proposed project, including increased interest and demand for archaeological and anthropological science at Miami, some narrower and more easily assessed short-term outcomes include

  1. Expansion of the photogrammetry exercise for ATH212 Introduction to Archaeological Method and Theory to include Structured Light. Undergraduate Associates and other independent study students will design, starting with Fall 2020 an expanded protocol to bring a large number of students into 3D data collection activities as part of ATH212, ATH388, ATH416, and possibly other courses. The success of these efforts will be gauged by a survey instrument asking students about the impact of this experience. The designing student(s) will present the results of this work as a research presentation.
  2. Addition of organic objects to our Sketchfab/Online Anthropology Museum. We are in the process of transferring our current 3D scans, obtained with photogrammetry and laser scanner, to the Sketchfab platform to host within our virtual museum efforts. With new access to less robust organic objects, we will be able to provide high-quality scans using various techniques including structured light. These efforts will be undertaken by both independent study students and in anthropology courses as experiential exercises. As with other objects, these models will be built into our online museum space and used in exercises for ATH313 Latin American Archaeology, ATH388 Culture, Art, and Artifact, and ATH416 Applying Archaeology. The success of these efforts will be gauged by a survey instrument asking students about the impact of this experience. The designing student(s) will present the results of this work as a research presentation.
  3. Curation of less-robust artifacts. Now that inventory has been conducted (using the iPad Minis) student interns can move further on with less robust artifacts currently in unstable storage environments. The museum storage cabinet will provide a documentable stable space. A report on these activities will be produced in 2020.

Financial Information

Total Amount Requested: $12,386.45

Is this a multi-year request: No

Please address how, if at all, this project aligns with University, Divisional, Departmental or Center strategic goals: For anthropology, these requests continue the STEM and experiential approaches we have been developing with archaeology, emphasizing public archaeology through 3D scanning and printing of our existing artifact collection and now through our excavations, as well as serving students in USS and other research. Students routinely use these technologies in their research, presented both here at the Undergraduate Research Forum, and at national conferences,  such as student Salem Arvin's work with 3D reconstruction that was presented this year at the Society for American  Archaeology meetings. These strengths align with broader strategic goals at levels higher than the department.

One aspect of this has been the emphasis of 3D technology in public outreach and in student recruitment. These technologies and our use of them with archaeological artifacts have been quite successful in recruiting students for CAS and the university through Bridges and Summer Scholars.