Passage to India: Exploring 3D Printing at HNB Garhwal University

Bernard Means

Bernard Means

As you know from previous blogs, Bernard Means, PhD., who heads up the Virtual Curation Laboratory and is an Instructor of Anthropology and Advisor for the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST) at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia is working with AntiquityNOW on The Slavery Project. He and Shirley K. Gazsi, president of AntiquityNOW, will be presenting the project at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference in New Orleans, LA in November. The Slavery Project (TSP) is an ongoing, interactive series of modules that incorporates lesson plans along select historical plot lines detailing slavery in a particular society during a specific period.  TSP is designed to provide students an immersive experience where a culture is explored according to the social, cultural, political and economic conditions of the time. Lessons will include the use of Minecraft and 3D printing.

MiniMeans visits India.

MiniMeans visits India.

Recently, Means took a trip to India to share his knowledge in 3D printing. Below he describes his journey to this ancient land and what he believes the technology offers to archaeologists and cultural preservationists. By the way, Means was accompanied on his trip by Mini-Means, who seemed to enjoy himself as much as his namesake. See the slideshow after the interview for images from the spectacular mountains of India as well as Means and Mini-Means’ side trip to the British Museum.

What was the purpose of your trip to India? How did it come about?

The purpose of my trip was to develop a formal partnership with HNB Garhwal University so that my students at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) could learn about and interact with Indian archaeology, history and heritage by sharing digital models of artifacts scanned by HNB Garhwal archaeologists. This project was funded by VCU’s Global Education Office’s Global Classroom Initiative.  My proposal emphasized how I could use these digital models and 3D printed versions in my classes to teach world heritage and also how to exhibit artifacts. I also talked about how students could experience Indian archaeology without going to India.

This trip came about because Dr. Vinod Nautiyal searched Facebook for someone who knows about 3D scanning, and I have a strong presence on Facebook, including pages dedicated to the Virtual Curation Laboratory and the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST), which is a VCU student club dedicated to 3D archaeology. Basically, Dr. Nautiyal and his team at HNB Garhwal have a scanner identical to one of the ones we use in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, and they were having issues. He actually came in late 2014 to Washington, D.C. to visit family and we were able to meet in person.  With our meeting, I realized that the best way I could assist was to travel to India and use my experience to help them identify their issues and also streamline the process.

Why were Dr. Vinod Nautiyal, and HNB Garhwal University interested in 3D printing? How did he and others at the university believe it would enhance students’ educational experiences?

Actually, Dr. Nautiyal and his university were more interested initially in 3D scanning. They want to use 3D scanning to help preserve their archaeological finds, and also to raise the profile of their Museum of Himalayan Archaeology and Ethnography by creating a digital presence for the museum.

The 3D scanning would also facilitate student education by allowing VCU and HNB Garhwal students to both share and study the same digital models.

They became interested in 3D printing of their collections after they examined the 3D printed replicas that I brought with me. They seemed taken in particular with the 3D printed models of objects in the British Museum collections. (On my way to India I stopped in London to visit the Museum.) I had previously downloaded and 3D printed two objects from the Museum. I compared one printed object (a sculpture of a sphinx) to the original, much larger item.  The other object was out on loan.

What is unique about this area of India? What were your reactions to it as a cultural repository?

This area is mostly mountainous, and includes part of the Himalayan range. Despite this area’s mountainous nature, people have lived in this region continuously for hundreds of thousands of years. This long history of humanity is seen everywhere, and today the area is dotted with colorful towns and temples precariously perched on mountain sides.

This area has been called Devbhumi (literally “Land of the Gods”)[1] because of the large number of Hindu temples, including major pilgrimage sites. Everywhere I went I saw people’s devotion to their religion, and that included active temples that were also ancient archaeological sites.  One figuratively magical day I traveled to the temple of Rudranath (Gopinath), which is dedicated to the god Siva. On my way leaving HNB Garhwal University, we passed thousands of Hindu pilgrims making their way to one of the major pilgrimage centers.

So, my reaction is that history and heritage are very much alive for the people of the region, and woven directly into their belief systems.

What are the challenges facing cultural heritage in India? How do they compare to the US?

India has a growing population and there is building happening all over the place, some of which might be encroaching on heritage places. This growth in some places is unregulated, unlike most of the U.S.

One of the challenges with using cutting-edge technology like 3D scanning is related to infrastructure. The power went out a number of times while I was there at the university, but fortunately they had a battery system for their computer equipment.  Their universities like ours are not as well funded as they could be.  For example, we determined that their computer had just enough capability to help them scan artifacts, but not edit them.  So, one of the unexpected aspects of this project is that the editing of digital models of artifacts scanned in India is actually happening in the U.S.

Can you draw any similarities between ancient India as you saw it and contemporary life? Any artifacts that have a striking connection to modern times?

The artifacts and sculptures that I scanned in India included that of a woman in a dancing posture from the second century A.D. that would not be out of place in contemporary art, including modern Indian dance ( The 12th century A.D. Ganesha sculpture, if freshly painted, would not be out of place anywhere in India today as well ( India’s ancient heritage is also its modern way of life.

What is the future for universities and 3D printing in general, and for cultural heritage in particular?

3D printing is becoming ubiquitous in American and European universities. At VCU alone, we have 3D printers in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, School of Dentistry, School of Engineering, School of Education and School of the Arts, as well as one that students and faculty can use in the VCU library.

3D printers are becoming key to making the world’s heritage available to everyone. This heritage will make its way into all levels of education as most K-12 schools as well as universities have access to 3D printers.

After visiting the British Museum, what are your observations about what museums are doing with 3D printing and/or other preservation strategies?

Museums are increasingly turning toward 3D scanning to preserve objects and make them more accessible, both to researchers and to the general public.

As is true for a recent exhibit created for the Virginia Museum of Natural History, 3D printed objects can add a tactile component to exhibits as well as interactive components that will not damage original objects. The Virtual Curation Laboratory contributed over 200 different 3D printed objects to the Exploring Virginia exhibit that opened September 5, 2015, including one scanned by archaeologists at HNB Garhwal University (and the rest by the Virtual Curation Laboratory).

How did Mini-Means enjoy the trip? I noticed he was in many pictures, and especially seemed to enjoy the food.

Mini-Means, who has a flat top because I was scanned by one of my shorter students while I was standing, appreciates travel, culture and food. He particularly likes to go to museums, and to then have a nice dinner accompanied by a pint of beer or a glass of wine (usually red).

Any final comments?

These web sites should help for more details

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