The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia was initially established under VCU archaeology professor Dr. Bernard K. Means in August 2011 to comply with the requirements of a Defense Department (DoD) Legacy Program funded-project (#11-334) “Virtual Artifact Curation: Three-Dimensional Digital Data Collection for Artifact Analysis and Interpretation” (Means 2014; Means et al. 2013a, 2013b). The basic goal of this project was to test the suitability of the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner on as wide a range of archaeological materials as possible, including animal remains recovered from archaeological contexts or present in zooarchaeological type collections.

Following the conclusion of this pilot project, a new DoD Legacy Program project (#13-134) was funded in October 2013 entitled “Virtual Mobility Archaeology Project with Further Applications of Three Dimensional Digital Scanning of Archaeological Objects.” The new project is targeted toward the creation of digital type collections to ensure speedy and accurate identification of materials recovered from archaeological sites on DoD (and other) lands, specifically one digital type collection of temporally diagnostic chipped stone tools and another of animal remains. Zooarchaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Moore of the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) aided with the selection of materials for this digital faunal collection, and the majority of material 3D scanned as part of the new DoD Legacy project are from VMNH’s physical type collection or from archaeologically recovered bone currently being studied at VMNH. VCU alumnus Mariana Zechini served as the Digital Zooarchaeologist on this project while still an undergraduate student, and guided much of the day-to-day work of creating and editing the 3D digital morphological models. Ms. Zechini has presented and published on her research (Zechini 2014a, 2014b) and an as yet unpublished Anthropology honors thesis (Zechini 2014c).

In the VCL, there has been a particular effort directed toward creating digital morphological models of skeletal elements from the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). September 1, 2014 is the centenary of the extinction of the last known living passenger pigeon. Archaeologists likely have bones of the passenger pigeon in their collections, as the species was ubiquitous in diets extending deep into antiquity and until the late 19th century. However, without printed replicas of passenger bones, it is challenging for zooarchaeologists to accurately identify skeletal elements from these species. Post-cranial elements of the passenger pigeon were largely obtained from an archaeological site in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Natural History and two skulls, a sternum, and pelvic bones were scanned in the Bird Division of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.


Means, Bernard K.
2014 Virtual Curation and Virtual Collaboration. In Blogging Archaeology, edited by Doug Rocks-Macqueen and Chris Webster, pp. 121-144. Landward Research, Ltd. In Association with Succinct Research and DIGTECH LLC.

Means, Bernard K., Courtney Bowles, Ashley McCuistion, and Clinton King
2013 Virtual Artifact Curation: Three-Dimensional Digital Data Collection for Artifact Analysis and Interpretation. Prepared for the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program, Legacy Project #11-334. Prepared by the Virtual Curation Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.

Means, Bernard K., Ashley McCuistion, and Courtney Bowles
2013 Virtual Artifact Curation of the Historic Past and the NextEngine Desktop 3D Scanner. Technical Briefs in Historical Archaeology 7:1-12. Peer reviewed article available online at:

Zechini, Mariana
2014a Zooarchaeology in the 21st Century. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia 69 (1):29-36.
2014b Rocky Raccoon: The Application of 3D Technology to Zooarchaeology. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84 (1):19-22.
2014c Digital Zooarchaeology: Faunal Analysis in the 21st Century. Unpublished undergraduate honors thesis in Anthropology, School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.

Virtual Curation Lab

The Virtual Curation Laboratory developed methodology for 3D digital data collection and virtual artifact curation that will be applicable for a wide range of archaeological objects. By utilizing this ability to scan and produce 3D images of artifacts, the Virtual Curation Laboratory has created an extensive virtual catalog of American Indian and historic artifacts.

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ALT Lab models and inspires connected learning for a networked world through faculty development, student engagement, communities of practice, and technology enhanced active learning. We cultivate distinctive experiences of deeper learning fostered by high engagement for student success.

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