3D scans support students working with SUAC Africa Collections

December 7, 2021
Hannah Frost
Wooden sandals (Democratic Republic of the Congo, 20th century) in the Stanford University Archaeology Collections.

A pair of wooden sandals carved and worn by Songye people in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, early to mid-20th century (Object IDs 84.599A and 84.599B).

Once again the Digital Production Group (DPG) is partnering with the Stanford University Archaeology Collections (SUAC) team to bring 3D scanning technology into the classroom to enrich the study of artifacts by Stanford students. This autumn we were invited to participate in the class, “African Archive Beyond Colonization”, a seminar co-taught by Dr. Sarah Derbew and Postdoctoral Scholar Denise Lim, who is breaking new ground at Stanford with the Africa Collections Project.

Students in the class are making digital exhibits with multi-sensory experiences, and 3D models of select artifacts from the collection -- produced from scanning sessions done right in the classroom -- are an important part of the mix. “The students are really excited about the hands-on activity,” says Dr. Christina Hodge, Academic Curator and Collections Manager of SUAC. “And they enjoy learning about the capabilities of 3D technology, and applying it as another tool for critical thinking.” 

A student handles a terracotta figurine from Ethiopia as Postdoctoral Scholar Denise Lim looks on.

Above: Student Sarah Abdalla inspects an ancient ceramic figurine from Ethiopia (Object ID 93.1264) as Postdoctoral Scholar Denise Lim looks on.

Some of the African artifacts scanned include a pair of wooden sandals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in addition to ax heads and figurines.  We also scanned: a bowl by Diego Romero; a Nayarit figurine, the subject of an Art History student’s senior thesis; and a Danish hand ax at the request of Associate Professor Andrew Bauer for use in an upcoming winter course. 



This opportunity to scan objects with the class was timely. Supported by a generous gift from Adrian Arima and Monica Yeung Arima, the DPG recently acquired a new 3D scanning device; it is an improvement over our existing equipment because it is more portable and ergonomic, capable of scanning larger objects, and produces higher quality models. We were eager to field test it!

Tony Calavano using the Libraries' new handheld device to scan a figurine from Mexico dated AD 400-1528

Above: Tony Calavano uses the Libraries' new handheld 3D scanner to document an artifact from Nayarit, Mexico dated ca. 400-1530 CE (Object ID 56.110).

In spring 2022, Hodge and Lim will co-teach “Museum Cultures: Material Representation in the Past and Present” where students will produce a full exhibit incorporating 3D models with DPG's support. According to Hodge, “3D models are clearly becoming central to teaching in fields involving material heritage. Faculty use them as a visual reference during lectures when physical access to the objects is impractical, and have started to rely on the models year after year. This is not about teaching with digital surrogates because of COVID, it is normalized.”

For research questions related to library resources for African studies or anthropology and archaeology at the Stanford Libraries, please contact Karen Fung, Curator of the African Collection and/or Regina Roberts, Librarian for Anthropology & Archaeology.