SHA Storms the Hill!

The government affairs update in May included a long list of issues being pursued and monitored by SHA and its government relations counsel Cultural Heritage Partners. To ensure that key members of Congress know about SHA and its priorities, President Charlie Ewen, President-Elect Joe Joseph, and Eden Burgess of Cultural Heritage Partners went to the Hill for a full day of meetings on June 20. The group visited six Congressional offices to discuss National Science Foundation funding and the FIRST Act, the Military LAND Act, MAP-21 reauthorization, and the value of archaeological research and education. Check out Charlie in front of the Capitol!

As a follow-up, the SHA board plans to schedule a webinar, hosted by Cultural Heritage Partners, on Tuesday, July 22 at noon ET to prepare members for SHA’s first annual Invite Your Lawmakers Day. Congress members typically spend the August recess (August 2 to September 7) in their home states and districts, providing the perfect opportunity for visits to your projects. SHA will be encouraging its members to invite local, state and federal lawmakers –  and the press – to visit nearby sites and digs and learn why archaeology matters. SHA’s Invite Your Lawmakers Day is tentatively set for August 20, 2014  (confirmation forthcoming).

Please watch for an invitation to the Cultural Heritage Partners webinar, and for announcements for SHA’s Invite Your Lawmakers Day. Contact Eden Burgess with any questions in the meantime – eden@culturalheritagepartners.com or 703-965-5380.

SHA 2015: Seattle, Washington

The City: “The Emerald City,” “Jet City,” and “The Rainy City”

Located in the Pacific Northwest in the shadow of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, Seattle is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the US and the fastest growing metro in the US. The city, as it’s often referred to by locals, has a number of nicknames, “The emerald city” because of the lush evergreen forests in the area, “Jet city” through the local influence of Boeing, and “The rainy city,” because it does a rain a lot in Seattle and is often overcast, but many cities in the Northeast, Ohio, and Michigan average about the same number of sunless days.

The Weather: Everyone’s Favorite Love-Hate Relationship

Last year from January 6th to January 12th, 2013 the temperature ranged from 55F/13C to 37F/3C (highs) and 42F/6C to 26F/-3C (lows) with no snow and 1.75 inches/4.45 cm of rain over the course of the week. The previous year from January 8th to January 14th, 2012 the temperature ranged from 50F/10C to 41F/5C (highs) and 39F/4C to 27F/-3 (lows) with no snow and 0.35 inches/0.89 cm of rain over the course of the week.

The Conference Hotel: Sheraton Seattle Hotel

This year’s conference will take place at the Sheraton Seattle hotel (1400 Sixth Ave, Seattle, WA). The hotel is located at the corner of 6th and Pike St., in the heart of downtown Seattle’s central business district. All of the conference sessions, plenary, meetings, and banquet will take place at the hotel. Off-site events at a variety of unique venues are being planned, most notably the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, whose annual public “Archaeology Day” will take place during the conference this year, and the Museum of History and Industry/Center for Wooden Boats, located on the lakefront at the south end of Lake Union.

The hotel is located within two blocks of premium shopping at two malls, the flag ship Nordstroms (5th and Pine St.), numerous fast food and gourmet establishments (and bars), and the hotel is within one to two blocks of four Starbucks. If Starbucks is not your first choice there are a number of local coffee shops, all with a few block radius of the hotel. As the venue is in the heart of Seattle, the area has a wide array of events, museums, and attractions to see, including the iconic Pike Place market (1st and Pike St.) which is only six blocks from the conference hotel.

The SHA has special rate of $129.00 (plus a 15.60% tax per room/night and a $2.00 per room/night tourism fee) for a single/double occupancy room (online booking code will be available soon). A $20 fee per room/night will be added for a rollaway (if desired) and a $20 fee for additional adults above two. Suites are also available at a conference rate of $350 (plus tax and fee) per room/night. For additional information please visit: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=460

There are a number of hotels within a mile radius of the conference hotel, if the limited number of rooms at the conference hotel are filled an overflow hotel may become available.

Traveling to the City: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Traveling to and from Seattle by air, train, and car is quite easy. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport or Sea-Tac (SEA airport code) is the 16th busiest airport in the US and boasts of the world’s largest parking structure with over 13,000 parking spaces under one roof. The top 5 carriers into Sea-Tac are Alaskan, Horizon, Delta, Southwest, and United Airlines, but the airport has flights from over 20 airlines.

The easiest and cheapest way to get to the hotel from the airport is to take the Central Link Light Rail. The service runs from 5am to 1am Monday through Saturday and 6am to Midnight on Sundays. The trip from the airport to downtown (below Westlake Mall at 4th and Pine; 2 blocks away from the hotel) will take approximately 37 minutes and cost $2.75 each way. The trains run every 7.5 to 15 minutes depending upon what time of day. (http://www.soundtransit.org/schedules/central-link-light-rail)

If you prefer a taxi service the trip can cost $40-$50, with some hotel to the airport services for $40 and may take 25-30 minutes without traffic.

For travel around the city, the “Metro” public bus system operates throughout Seattle and King County, and is one of the most extensive and highly-praised in the nation. To find a route, maps, and fare information visit Metro online at (www.metro.kingcounty.gov).

There is a scheduled bus service to downtown Vancouver, Canada, through Quick Shuttle, with stops in downtown Seattle, Bellingham International Airport, the Canadian–U.S. border, and at the Vancouver International Airport (www.quickcoach.com).

If flying isn’t an option or you’re worried about the weather, the train is another option. Amtrak offers a number of trains running from Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, OR, and Vancouver, BC and all across the west coast of the US. (http://www.amtrak.com/home)

If you choose to drive to the conference, Seattle is the beginning or the end (depending on which way you’re traveling) of Interstate 90 which connects to Interstate 5 which runs through the heart of the city with numerous downtown exits. However, parking downtown and at the hotel ($46 a day) can be very expensive and hard to find. Luckily if you choose to drive you can park at the Sea-Tac airport for cheaper (<$20 a day) and take the light rail for $2.75 each way.

Throughout this summer and fall, the SHA website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook page will be updated with information about local attractions, restaurants in the area, and updates on the conference including the preliminary program, call for volunteers, reminders for the ACUA photo contest, and much more! Don’t forget the deadline for papers and posters is Thursday July 10, 2014! http://sha.org/index.php/view/page/annual_meetings

#SHA2015 #SHAConference #SHA

Plastic for the People: Printing the Past and Engaging the Public

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

In the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we are continuing our work to create digital models of artifacts and ecofacts from historic and prehistoric sites for research, teaching, and, increasingly, outreach efforts by myself and the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) undergraduate students who work, intern, and volunteer in my lab.  Many of the items that we scan either are on loan to us from established museums or heritage locations, such as George Washington’s Ferry Farm or the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and avocationals with a passion for archaeology, notably the Westmoreland (Pennsylvania) Archaeological Society.  We also take our portable setup to culture heritage locations, and have developed particularly close relationships with Historic Jamestowne (Preservation Virginia) and George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Animation of 3D digital model of a mummified opossum. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

The digital models we create can capture the attention of scholars and lay people alike, particularly if animated in the full glory of their natural colors (virtualcurationmuseum.wordpress.com).  In my presentation in a co-creation session at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin this past April, the strongest reaction I got from the audience was when I showed an animated mummified opossum (Figure 1). How we obtained a mummified opossum demonstrates itself the power of outreach efforts.  Basically, a young boy’s parents followed our main blog and approached us about touring the lab with their son—and asked for help identifying what type of animal the boy’s grandfather had sent him (it was found in its desiccated state in the back of the grandfather’s garage).  We were able to quickly identify this as a juvenile opossum using our reference collection, and offered to scan the mummy for him. Within a week, we were able to return to young Lowell Nugent a printed, plastic replica of his opossum mummy—something he could safely bring in for show-and-share, as opposed to the odiferous (slightly) and fragile actual item.

Butchered horse tibia being scanned in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Plastic replicas of actual artifacts have allowed us and our partners at culture heritage locations to engage the public in ways that would otherwise not be possible—or at least not prudent.  Particularly over the last few months, we have scanned a number of artifacts in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory and collections facility (Figure 2). These artifacts were selected not only for their research and educational value, but also for how the printed replicas could be incorporated into site tours and other public programs.  Among the items selected by Historic Jamestowne’s Merry Outlaw, Curator of Archaeology, and Jeff Aronowitz, Assistant Manager of Public and Educational Programs, were butchered animal bones from the Starving Time and an ivory compass used to tell time and determine direction. One of the animal bones is a butchered dog mandible, and painted replicas are regularly incorporated into site tours for members of the public to illustrate the perils faced by the fledgling colonists who established James Fort, particularly during the Starving Time of 1609-1610—when colonists ate everything on hand, including not only their dogs, but also their horses, and eventually resorted to cannibalism (Figure 3).  The ivory compass, manufactured in Germany, helps illustrate a tale told by Captain John Smith, where he used his own compass to astonish American Indians who had captured him and thus save his own life. The detailed painting of these plastic replicas by undergraduate students, notably Becki Bowman, Vivian Hite, and Mariana Zechini, and the 3d animations really bring these objects to life—as documented in this video produced by Historic Jamestowne’s Danny Schmidt (Figures 4).

Animation of 3D digital model of butchered dog mandible from Jamestown. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.


Vivian Hite used printed plastic replicas while talking to a school group at Geroge Washington’s Ferry Farm. Image courtesy of Laura J. Galke.

Painted and unpainted plastic replicas figure regularly into Vivian Hite’s role this summer as the designated Public Archaeology Intern at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Figure 5).  Here, George Washington grew up, from the age of 6 to his early 20s, and archaeologists are laboring to uncover traces of the lives of George and his family, as well as those who came before (including an American Indian occupation dating back thousands of years) and those who came after (notably Union encampments during the Civil War).  The excavations at Ferry Farm attract visitors regularly throughout the day, as well as organized school groups and summer campers.  Vivian and others at Ferry Farm use the plastic replicas to tell the many layered stories infused into this historic landscape. People really enjoy touching an artifact from the past—even if it is twice removed from the actual thing, first as a digital model and then as a printed and (usually) painted replica.

One advantage of digital artifact models is that they allow pieces of the past to be re-contextualized and re-envisioned in forms that might be more familiar to those who are otherwise unfamiliar with archaeology. The simple addition of a digital disk to an artifact model can transform a “Frozen Charlotte” doll or butchered horse tibia into a chess piece, for example.

4th graders play chess with pieces inspired by archaeological items. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

In the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we have created a number of chess sets with pieces transformed from a wide range of artifacts recovered archaeologically at Jamestown, Poplar Forest, Ferry Farm, and Mount Vernon. A recent visit to a fourth-grade class at the Richmond Waldorf school demonstrated how the classes interest in chess could translate to an understanding of the historic past, as they uncovered the stories for each piece as revealed by archaeologists (Figure 6; Read more: http://ideastations.org/radio/news/vcu-lab-prints-3d-chess-pieces-historic-significance; https://www.richmondmagazine.com/articles/vcu-virtual-curation-lab.html).

The wide range of historic artifacts that we have scanned in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, dating from the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to pieces of the Space Shuttle Discovery, have allowed numerous opportunities for co-creation by my students.  They have presented papers or posters at research venues on campus or at regional conferences—and published papers in the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology, Pennsylvania Archaeologist, and the Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia. Printed plastic models have featured prominently in many presentations, particularly as painted replicas adhered in a detachable fashion with Velcro to the most recent posters.  Lauren Volker’s poster on Jamestown 1607-1610, created for an on VCU campus undergraduate student research poster symposium, now hangs proudly in the Jamestown Rediscovery lab (Figure 7).

Vivian Hite returns an artifact to the Virtually Curated Jamestown, 1607-1610, now hanging in the Jamestown Rediscovery laboratory. Image courtesy of the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

In the coming months, I will be working with my students on a number of new endeavors designed to encourage more interactive public engagement.  VCU student Lauren Hogg, who has a strong interested in K-12 education, is working with me to create a “Make-Your-Own-Exhibit” activity using our plastic replicas—but more on that in a future post.