Archaeology Preserves All Kinds of History: Professor 3D Scans the World’s Oldest Ham and Peanut

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2-professor3dsI’ve always considered expiration dates to be guidelines more than rules. A limited budget plus an almost obsessive aversion to wasting everything has led me to consume some things probably beyond what most people would consider a smart amount of time, but I haven’t had any problems yet. If it passes the smell test, it’s fine. Even I, however, wouldn’t eat the 113-year-old ham on display at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Virginia.

I would make a 3D printed replica of it, though. Imagine hosting Christmas dinner and bringing out what appears to be an ancient, shriveled bit of meat that was either left too long in the oven or dug out of the yard – it’d be a great prank to horrify the family and probably get you off the hook for hosting dinner ever again. If you’d like to 3D print the world’s oldest ham, you may soon be able to do so thanks to Bernard Means, Ph.D, an anthropology professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies.

Dr. Means is the director of the university’s Virtual Curation Laboratory, which is dedicated to 3D scanning and digitizing historical artifacts. When he heard that the Isle of Wight County Museum was in possession of both the world’s oldest ham and the world’s oldest peanut, he had to make a field trip.

hamscan

“How could one resist 3-D scanning the world’s oldest ham and world’s oldest peanut?” said Dr. Means. “I decided that this would be a fun thing to do, especially as we go into the end of the semester.”

gwaltney

[Photo: Isle of Wight County Museum]

The elderly foods are both courtesy of P.D. Gwaltney Jr., whose family was a major producer of both salted pork and peanuts in Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Once Gwaltney took over the family business, he decided it needed some fresh life breathed into it. Ironically, this fresh life came in the form of a dried ham, which was cured in 1902 and misplaced for about two decades. When it was rediscovered, Gwaltney either lost his mind or had a brilliant marketing idea. He fashioned a brass collar for the ham, dubbed it his “pet ham,” and began taking it to expos on a leash to demonstrate his company’s skill at preserving pork.

peanutThe ham now resides at the museum along with a peanut dug from Gwaltney’s father’s field in 1890, which he also used in marketing. When museum curator Tracey Neikirk heard a lecture that Dr. Means gave on 3D printing, she invited him to come to the museum to scan some of its most popular artifacts, which include the ham and peanut.

Dr. Means was happy to oblige, and he took a trip to the museum where he used two different handheld scanners to digitize the ham, and a tabletop NextEngine scanner to scan the peanut along with an aged bottle of rattlesnake oil. The ham, he said, looked almost like it had been cured recently, although its smell said otherwise. A small piece flaked off while he was scanning it, but he wasn’t tempted by it.

“While it was certainly a size that could be easily consumed in a single bite, there was simply no desire to eat this desiccated piece of pig,” he said.

Dr. Means intends to use the scans in his classes, and they will likely be part of an upcoming presentation about the human use of animals and plants, which will be implemented by Dr. Means and his students in the spring semester. Meanwhile, the museum will post the digital images on its website and social media accounts, and may 3D print the ham as well. (You can examine the digital peanut from all angles below.)

“We would love a 3-D printing of the ham to use as a teaching tool or for other programming,” said museum director Jennifer England. “Since guests can’t touch the ham and other artifacts now, they’d be able to get a little closer [and] examine it. This [would give] guests a better experience at the museum. Since the world’s oldest ham is one of our main attractions, anything we can do to get folks to be more involved and more excited about the museum is always wonderful.”

The museum has already offered a lot of ham-centric activities, including a recent “Pan Ham” competition that invited participants to bring a picture of P.D. Gwaltney and his pet ham along with them on their travels and photograph them in tourist locations. If you’re looking for something to do today, you can watch the ham in action (?) with the live-streaming Ham Cam below, courtesy of the museum’s website. I’ve been checking in on it periodically as I’ve been writing this article, but so far the ham hasn’t done anything interesting. I plan to check back at night, however, to see what it gets up to after everyone is gone.  What are your thoughts on these scans?  Let us know in the 3D Scanned Ham and Peanut forum thread on 3DPB.com.

[Images: Bernard K.. Means / Source: Forbes]

 

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