As we moved into our second round of sample submission, we noticed that a lot of our faunal bone samples had cut marks on them. With help from our colleagues at the University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology, we decided to 3D scan these bones to preserve the information they contain before we send them off for radiocarbon dating.
What is 3D scanning?
3D scanning is a non-destructive way to create a detailed digital copy of an artifact. This digital copy can easily be shared, studied, downloaded, and archived, and can even be used to 3D print replicas of an artifact.
Why bother 3D scanning?
We decided to 3D scan the bones in order to preserve as much information about our samples as we can. Cut marks on archaeological bone give us lots of information about how that bone (and the meat formerly on it) was used. We’re going to have to destroy parts of the bones in order to radiocarbon date them, but if we 3D scan the artifacts beforehand, we can preserve that information digitally so future researchers can still use it, even if we aren’t using it for our project right now.
This also makes it easy for us to share high-quality images and representations of our artifacts with colleagues and the public!
How does it work?
We created our 3D scans using a NextEngine Desktop 3D Scanner at the University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology. We also referred to this super-useful article by the good folks at the Virtual Curation Laboratory, whose blog you should follow if you’re interested in learning more about 3D scanning, digital curation, and public outreach.
There are actually not that many steps involved in creating a 3D scan of a bone, and once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty fun process. First, we secure the artifact on this pedestal, so it doesn’t wobble around as the pedestal turns to get scans at different angles.
Then, we scan the artifact from a few different angles. This helps us make sure that we get good images of all the nooks and crannies of the bone, and ensures we get the most accurate pictures possible.
Then, we digitally remove all the parts of the scan that aren’t the bone, including the pedestal itself and the bar which held the artifact in place.
Then, we fuse the cleaned-up images together, so that we end up with one complete image rather than three or four with “holes”. We do this by taking two of the scans side-by-side and identifying a number of points which exist on both. The software then fuses them together at these points.
At this point, we now have the finished product: a single 3D image of the bone which recreates all the details of the artifact itself, including cut marks, breaks, even color and surface patterning. This artifact is now ready to be submitted for dating!