Tracy H. Jenkins
In our field, we’re constantly developing new techniques and technologies to improve our ability to discover, preserve, and share the past. Recently, Archaeology in Annapolis has been conserving iron artifacts associated with a spiritual deposit at Wye House Plantation in Talbot County, Maryland. We believe that about a dozen iron objects laid near the corner of one of the slave quarters and in close proximity to a number of circular objects may represent an altar to the Yoruba deity Ogun, the god of the forge. In order to verify this hypothesis and to protect the rusted remains of these items, we set out to stabilize and identify each fragment of iron from this deposit.
Conservation of iron objects refers to a number of ways of taking the rust off, leeching out impurities, and coating the artifact with a barrier to humidity and oils from our skin that would lead to further deterioration. Because this is a destructive process, it can sometimes damage the artifacts, especially when there is so little original iron left that the artifact is only held together by rust. As a result, we make it standard practice to photograph each artifact before it enters the conservation process so that we have a record of it. Recently, we have taken this to the next level with 3D scanning.
In 2014, The University of Maryland equipped McKeldin Library with a Makerspace, a room dedicated to the new technologies of 3D. The makerspace contains 3D scanners, printers, modeling software, and a vinyl cutter. Any student can register to use the space! Students can also rent handheld scanners from the help desk on the 2nd floor of the library, and the makerspace also offers online training and help from an IT specialist. Special thanks to Preston Tobery for all his help!
After checking out one of the scanners, a Sense scanner by Cubify, we brought it back to the lab and scanned the hoe blade. The software the scanner uses has a program in it to recognize objects, so it was easy to isolate the artifact in our model. After a bit of editing, we had a fairly accurate representation of the hoe blade! We then transferred the file to the makerspace computer and sent it to the printer, running it overnight. The result is an almost perfect copy of the fragile hoe blade in durable plastic. This copy will be going into our new exhibit in Hornbake Library on our excavations at Wye House!