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[Photo: Isle of Wight County Museum]

P.D. Gwaltney Jr. may have been a bit eccentric, but he was certainly a creative and resourceful thinker. Gwaltney, whose family was a major producer of salted pork in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, discovered a cured ham that had been misplaced for two decades. Rather than tossing it out or, thankfully, trying to eat it, Gwaltney did what anyone would do, obviously: he put a collar and leash on it and began traveling around with it, calling it his pet ham and using it as an example of the company’s skill in curing meats. Skilled they were indeed, because the ham still exists today, proudly bearing the distinction of world’s oldest ham.

This weekend, the ham will turn 116 years old, and will celebrate as anyone would – with a rockin’ party. The ham’s hometown of Smithfield, Virginia will host the annual party, complete with cake, party activities, a visit from the local library’s bookmobile, and a special present for the ham – a 3D printed portrait of itself.

It’s not the first time the ham has been 3D scanned and 3D printed. Less than three years ago, Bernard Means, PhD, an anthropology professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies, visited the ham at its current home in the Isle of Wight County Museum and 3D scanned it along with the world’s oldest peanut, also courtesy of Gwaltney. The ham and peanut were later 3D printed. Now, in honor of its birthday, the ham is being 3D scanned and printed again.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Rebecca McGovern 3D scans the world’s oldest ham. [Image courtesy of Bernard Means]

The reasoning behind the 3D scanning and printing goes beyond just wishing the ham a happy birthday: having 3D prints of such a popular museum item means that the prints can be handled and passed around, so that museumgoers can examine the ham up close. It also allows Dr. Means, who is leading the second 3D scanning and 3D printing effort as well, to keep track of how well the ham is holding up. Think of it like a regular checkup – if Dr. Means 3D scans and 3D prints the ham again in a few years, he’ll be able to see if it has shrunk or deteriorated at all. It’s held up for this long, though, so I imagine that it will still be going strong for years to come.

A look through the Ham Cam.

Dr. Means leads the university’s Virtual Curation Lab, which specializes in 3D scanning and 3D printing historical and archaeological objects. Dr. Means and his students have scanned close to 4,000 objects thus far.

If you’re wondering what a piece of cured meat smells like after 116 years, Dr. Means can’t give you an exact answer, because, as you can imagine, a 116-year-old ham probably doesn’t smell like anything else.

“It’s a smell you couldn’t quite describe,” he said. “It’s not a hammy smell.”

The 3D scan of the world’s oldest ham is also available to the public online, in case you’d like to 3D print your own. You can also follow the ham’s activities (or lack thereof) on the Ham Cam on the Isle of Wight County Museum’s website, or follow it on Twitter. Yes, the world’s oldest ham has its own Twitter account, because why wouldn’t it? It may be an old ham, but it’s hip to new technology.

Discuss old foods and new technologies at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

 

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