3D Prints and Public Outreach: A Refit Activity
In CAP this year, we’ve been brainstorming about public outreach activities. We’ve been focusing on activities for kids – who sometimes need a little extra help engaging with archaeological materials. This is my first year as a graduate student at MSU, and my first year being a CAP fellow, so I was excited to see how kids engaged with the activities that CAP already uses at outreach events. The activity that kids were most drawn to, and that they spent the most time on, had been created by former Campus Archaeologist, Jeff Burnett. It’s a artifact refit activity: a broken ceramic plate with magnets set along the edges of the paste so that participants can put the pieces back together. There are weak points to this activity, however. The plate sherds are heavy and the plate is slightly concave, so while magnets keep the sherds together while held in place, when the plate is set down some magnets pull apart as the plate succumbs to gravity and loses its concavity. Furthermore, the magnets protrude from the sherd edges enough that the gaps between sherds warp the shape of the vessel. Jeff Burnett, who created this activity, did an excellent job, and kids love it. Would it be possible to maintain the efficacy of the activity and troubleshoot its limitations to create a sort of sherd refit activity 2.0?
I started by addressing the gaps between the sherds that were caused by the protruding magnets. Could we use magnetic paint instead? Campus archaeologist, Ben Akey, bought magnetic paint to experiment with. We agreed, however, that magnetic paint might not be strong enough to hold ceramic sherds together. How could we address the heaviness of the sherds? Enter: 3D printing.
My graduate assistantship at MSU includes working in the DHI lab, so I have access to structured light scanners, photogrammetry equipment, and 3D printers. Could I scan plate sherds and print them? 3D prints are much lighter than ceramics. Perhaps the lighter material would enable us to use magnetic paint on the sherd edges.
Now for the fun part: breaking a plate! (Of course, I could have chosen something other than a plate, but it’s what I had handy!) I chose a plate that had some geometric patterning on it. These patterns would show up on the 3D printed sherds and guide the refitting process. I put the plate in a plastic bag and dropped it on the floor. I chose to drop it on the floor, rather than, say, hitting it with a hammer, because I wanted to create a break pattern that would more accurately mimic real life. Putting it in the bag (thanks to a suggestion from my colleague and CAP fellow, Emma Creamer) so that the pieces wouldn’t fly all over the DHI Lab!
Broken plate: check! Now I had to start scanning (pictured above). I used an Artec Space Spider Scanner and a hand-powered turntable. I secured each sherd with clay, because any jiggling would prevent a clean scan. So far, I’ve scanned 5 of the 7 sherds that make up the plate. Soon I will start 3D printing, paint the edges with magnetic paint, and test out this activity! Stay tuned!