Category Archives: OWHL

Homo naledi and 3D printing

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the announcement of Homo naledi’s discovery in 2015, this South African fossil hominin has made an appearance in the multidisciplinary science course Human Origins, taught at the Peabody and offered as a senior science elective by Phillips Academy.

Over 100 specimens of Homo naledi have been scanned and made available via Duke University’s MorphoSource website. This represents unprecedented access to the fossils. Typically, we rely on older casts (our plaster casts from Wenner-Gren’s twentieth century casting program have become quite fragile!) or models made from photos and measurements.

Image of Homo naledi hand from Morphosource website.
Reconstruction of Homo naledi hand from MorphoSource website.

Last year in Human Origins Phillips Academy Mkerspace guru Claudia Wessner helped us 3D print Homo naledi’s femur, which includes some unusual features, including a distinct sulcus or furrow on the femoral neck that is not known in other hominins. Students and instructor alike puzzled over the femur, and compared it to other casts and models in the Peabody collection.

This year Ms. Wessner was kind enough to host us again and discuss different types of 3D scanning and printing and help us think how these might be useful in paleoanthropology and physical anthropology.

Image of students and Makerspace guru Claudia Wessner with 3D print of Homo naledi hand.
Human Origins students look on as Claudia Wessner prepares the resin print of Homo naledi’s hand for a bath in alcohol.

Instead of the femur, we chose to do a 3D print of Homo naledi’s hand, also available via the MorphoSource website. We were treated to side by side 3D prints using the Makerspace’s filament and resin printers. While the prints with the filament printer were interesting, the resin print is at a level comparable with a cast or model, in terms of finish and detail. Lee Berger and his colleagues, involved in discovery and study of Homo naledi, have pointed out that the hand is quite similar to that of a modern human, but also has curved bones likely related to tree climbing. Students in Human Origins 2017 got a chance to see Homo naledi’s hand up close and compare with bones of a modern human, noting the similarities and differences.

Image of resin 3D hand print.
Resin 3D hand print.

In the intervening months between the 2016 and 2017 Human Origins classes we’ve learned a lot more about Homo naledi. Lee Berger’s book, Almost Human, was published, adding lots of exciting details to the discovery and quest to date the remains, and perhaps most important, we now understand the dating of the fossils. In May 2017 we learned that Homo naledi dates between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, making them a cousin, rather than great-grandparent of modern humans. It is fascinating to imagine, however, that a hominin that combined aspects of Australopithecines and much more modern features existed around the same time as the earliest anatomically modern humans.

Image with comparison of four hands: from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.
Comparison of hands, from upper left, clockwise: 3D resin print of Homo naledi; plastic anatomical model, modern human; 3D filament print, Homo naledi; real bone anatomical model, modern human.

An end of the term assignment, Human Origins in the News, asks students to find recent and relevant news stories and share them with the class. One story—from September 2017—reports on new fossils found at the Rising Star Cave system. Also members of the new genus and species, these fossils may help understand how Homo naledi accessed the cave and if they were being interred there.

Beyond the classroom, Homo naledi inspired some excitement in one of the seniors who took the course in 2016. I was delighted when she wrote to me in May 2017 to report that Lee Berger’s Almost Human book was out–she had pre-ordered on Amazon and her copy had arrived. A few months later she had a chance to hear Dr Berger deliver a lecture on Homo naledi at the Chautauqua Institute in New York.

Vessels, and Paddles, and Lasers, Oh My!

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Recently I have been interested in expanding our programming around the methods used by indigenous people to create and decorate ceramic vessels. While at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in April 2016 I saw Florida’s archaeology month poster, which features “Artisans of the Woodlands.” The poster described how Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery was decorated with intricate designs stamped on the surface of the vessel with a carved paddle; the poster even featured a replica paddle.  Ah ha!!!!! Genius! Now I knew what I wanted to do and I knew just who to contact.

Image of Florida's 2016 Archaeology Month poster titled Artisans of the woodland
The 2016 Archaeology Month poster from Florida.

When I arrived back on campus I contacted Claudia Wessner, OWHL Makerspace Coordinator, and asked if the library’s laser cutter could reproduce one of the complicated stamped paddles. She was sure it could and was excited to collaborate on such an interesting project. I just had to find JPEG images of line drawings that could be uploaded.

With that in mind I began looking through the book A World Engraved edited by Mark Williams and Daniel T. Elliott. The book focuses on the Swift Creek culture, which is centered in the Southeastern United States. The Swift Creek people are famously known for their pottery which features intricate paddle stamped designs. It is believed that by gaining insight and knowledge about these designs that archaeologists might be able to begin to understand more abstract aspects of the culture, such as religion and world view.

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This vessel is from the Peabody Museum collections and was excavated by Clarence B. Moore from a site in Florida. The vessel dates from 100 AD – 300 AD.

One of the designs that Claudia and I selected was a Late Swift Creek design (circa AD 580) which is a mask-like image with slanting eyes, furrowed brows, and a frowning mouth. The image that we used as a starting point for the laser cut design can be found on page 63 (Figure 6-1) in the chapter Swift Creek Design Investigations: The Hartford Case written by Frankie Snow in A World Engraved.

Image of the mask-like motif in clay
Image of the mask-like motif impression in clay

We also picked a design that was used in another type of pottery called Irene Complicated Stamped. The name for this pottery is only used for specific pottery found on the Georgia coast. To be honest I only picked this because we had just hired Irene Gates as our temporary archivist and I thought it was so fun that there was a stamped design that shared her name!

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The five paddle designs that we created. The Irene Complicated stamp design is the farthest on the left, made from 4 swirls that join in the middle.

Claudia and I spent an entire day testing out depth and paddle handle width and have finally settled on what we believe will be the best paddle type for the large variety of people who will be using them.  This has certainly been a fun and educational project!

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The laser cutter hard at work!

 

 

Image of 3D scan in the 3D printing software

3D Scanning Artifacts: How Does it Work?

Contributed by Claudia Wessner, Makerspace Coordinator and Library Experience Designer

Huge progress has been made in the collaborative project between The Nest, the makerspace at Phillips Academy, and the Peabody Museum! From the first day we received the Next Engine 3D Scanner, we had hopes of testing out this new technology in a fun and interesting way. After talking to Marla Taylor, we both thought it was a no brainer to form a collaboration between the museum, the makerspace and a group of work duty students (Alana Gudinas ’16, Jacob Boudreau ’16, Mia LaRocca ’16, and Sarah Schmaier ’16) to further explore the scanning possibilities.

In a previous post, Marla discussed the parameters in which the artifacts were selected. Once we brought the artifacts over to the Nest, we were able to make custom stands for two of the three artifacts so that they would be stable on the scanner. Then we got to work!

So, how does it work?

Before the scanning starts, we set up preferences such as resolution, color mode, and the number of incremental scans, as well as positioning the object in the camera’s field of view. The higher the desired resolution, the longer the scanning process will take.  Most of the objects we scanned took around one hour.

Collage of photos showing the lasers during the scanning process
Lasers scan the artifact

The scanner begins by taking a 2D image of the object then shoots out an array of red laser beams to capture the depth and texture of the object. Next, it completes a series of slow incremental rotations, based on the level of resolution selected, and performs the same 2D/3D rendering for each increment.  The Next Engine software slowly builds the 3D model before your eyes as it layers the data captured by the scanner.

Image of 3D scan of artifact
Fully rendered 3D model from the scan

After the scanning is complete, the 3-dimensional model of the artifact appears in the Next Engine software. Depending on how the artifact is scanned, there may be some holes in the model. This would be where the lasers may not have been able to reach, such as the top or the bottom of the artifact. There are ways to avoid holes by completing several scans of the same object (top, bottom, full 360) and then fusing them together. This is something I am looking forward to experimenting with in the future, but for our initial exploration we did a single scan.

In order to fill the holes in our model, I “polished” it using the Next Engine software. The program will automatically find and select holes in the model. Then you can use a paintbrush tool to select the areas in which you’d like to fill.  This can also take some time and experimentation, especially with very high resolution scans where image rendering can use a lot of computing power.

Once the editing of the model is complete, it is ready to prepare for printing by saving it as a .stl file and opening it in the Makerbot Desktop software. In the software you can scale, rotate, and place your object in the desired location on the build plate. You can also preview how long the print will take.  This artifact, which was approximately four inches tall, took about 5 hours to print.

Image of 3D scan in the 3D printing software
The 3D scan is ready to print

The Makerbot 3D printer uses a material called PLA that is stored in a spool in the back of the machine. The PLA is heated in an extruder and lays down very thin layers of material to build the object from the bottom up. Think of it like a glorified glue gun! The makerbot will automatically add “support material” that will support the object as it is printing so that everything stays intact. Once it is finished printing, any support material easily breaks off from the print.

Image of the 3D printed artifact
The 3D printed artifact!

We are so excited about the results of our project! We are looking forward to scanning more artifacts in the Peabody collection and refining our skills with this new technology! Stay tuned!

Peabody Student Symposium

IMG_9042_editedJoin the Peabody and the Gene Winter Chapter of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society for a night highlighting student work and research. Three groups of students will present their research ranging from historic preservation to 3D printing artifacts to 19th century portrayals of Native Americans.

Tuesday, February 16, 7:00pm

Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, corner of Main and Phillips streets, Andover, Mass.

Stay Woke: Finding Prejudice in the Research Process

stay woke

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Stay Woke: Deriving from “stay awake,” to stay woke is to keep informed of what going on around you in times of turmoil and conflict, specifically on occasions when the media is being heavily filtered.

In the past few years, the Peabody Museum has collaborated with members of the Phillips Academy community on projects that not only have benefited the Academy’s students, but also have allowed us as professionals to learn new ways to look at a variety of topics and issues that are beyond our areas of expertise.

For example, recently the Peabody partnered with the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library to create a 50-minute workshop for students that will be part of the school’s programming for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. The process we followed in developing this workshop was quite interesting, since the way in which librarians Liza Oldham, Beth Tompkins, and Stephanie Aude view or think about issues is very different from how I approach the same topics. It was exciting to sit together, throw ideas around, and build on one another’s suggestions to create a workshop that will enlighten and engage PA students.

We began our development process by agreeing on the focus of the workshop: digital landscapes (the librarians’ expertise), with a particular emphasis on Native Americans (my expertise). Then we began generating ideas. One was to concentrate on the issue of mascots or native people as costumes. Another was to focus on how Native Americans are represetneted in the media. Next, Stephanie mentioned it would be interesting to investigate how subjects are tagged in blogs or other online resources. From there, Beth started talking about how the Library of Congress tags subjects and mentioned some that she felt were problematic.

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Librarians Liza Oldham and Beth Tompkins and I meeting 

I then brought up a Google image search activity that I had performed with students regarding how native people are perceived. If you enter “African American,” “Asian American,” or almost any other racial group as a search term in Google, you will receive contemporary photos. If you enter “Native American” as a search term, most of the images you will receive are from the 1800s. This means the manner in which Google generates its images, although unintentional, reinforces the damaging belief that native people only live in the past and do not exist today.

AfricanAmerican

Screen grab of Google image search for “African American

NativeAmerican

Screen grab of Google image search for “Native American”

After conducting additional Google image searches and looking at some of the search terms or categories in the Library of Congress, we decided to focus the workshop on how digital resources related to Native Americans were categorized and grouped, and compared that to other groups. Approaching race in the United States in this manner seamlessly melded our two areas of focus into a simple yet cutting-edge way to look at race in our society. Such a multifaceted approach and understanding of the complexities of race in the United States and elsewhere is critical for our students to have if they are to become global citizens.

Here is the description of our workshop that the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD; https://www.andover.edu/StudentLife/CAMD/Pages/default.aspx) will be sharing campus wide in its MLK Jr. Day programming materials:

Stay Woke: Finding Prejudice in the Research Process 

Contemporary prejudice is often insidious. It doesn’t announce itself with a clear sign – “Look at this clearly defined racism!” – but rather creeps in, makes itself at home, and becomes such a part of everyday life that it’s hard to see. Understanding the prejudices that are built into the digital and organizational landscapes we use constantly, like Google and libraries, is vital to modern ethical development. Through hands-on activities and discussions, participants will begin to explore the complex issues surrounding this topic and improve their awareness and digital literacy.

We are very excited to run this workshop, and I look forward to sharing more about it and its outcomes with everyone in January!