3D Documentation and Visualization Techniques for Cultural Resources and Museum Collections

Image of report cover


National parks are often touted a physical laboratories for discovery and research, but they are also rich troves of cultural heritage that shape national park system policies and management strategies across the United States. This project meets national needs in historic preservation by undertaking research that adapts existing 3D technologies in innovative ways to preserve, document, and visualize cultural resources and museum collections in national parks. These activities advance ideas about how National Park Service (NPS) units can preserve museum collections using digital technologies. Specifically, this trans-disciplinary project combined the expertise of cultural geographers, geospatial visualization technicians and scholars, and museum collections staff of the National Park Service to document and help preserve rare and/or fragile ethnographic objects in a national park museum collection. We used low cost but cutting edge 3D scanning technology to create high resolution images of ethnographic objects in the David T. Vernon Collection of Native American social and cultural objects, held in the museum collections of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The collection represents tribes from across the United States and objects collected between1830 to 1940, including clothing, jewelry, weapons, and tools.

two woman looking at 3d scanned image on large screen.

Drs. Yolanda Young and Donna Delparte discussing 3D image creation

Through a process of photography, combined with 3D visualization software (AgriSoft) and Sketchfab, we created approximately 45 high resolution 3D images of objects ranging from moccasins to leather shirts to beaded pouches. Before 3D scanning, all objects were vetted first by the tribes with affiliation to the objects through a series of meetings between NPS museum staff and tribal liaisons to select objects best suited to this scanning process. Over a series of several trips to Grand Teton National Park’s headquarters and main collections site in Wyoming and the WAAC (Western Archaeological and Anthropological Center) collections conservation site in Arizona, and in collaboration with NPS project partners and collaborators, we photographed objects using a digital camera. Each object required between 150 to 400 photographs that were then processed into 3D composite images through the software AgriSoft. After that process, geovisualization trained graduate students and faculty reviewed and finalized the 3D images and uploaded them to a free, public access website (Sketchfab). In addition, we created a training video and uploaded it to YouTube for free, public access viewing and easy sharing/linking to NPS websites. The results of this project underwent scholarly review at various stages of work through several academic conference presentations.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119