The The Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP) is a web-based osteological reference collection in 3D. The intent of the project is to provide a comprehensive aid to the analysis of osteological remains from northern archaeological (and palaeontological) sites. The goal of the project is to replicate the characteristics of a traditional osteological reference collection, while providing functionality only possible in a digitallyased environment. The VZAP builds on a pilot project that tested the potential of a web-based virtual zooarchaeological collection of Arctic species. In VZAP Phase 2, a full complement of Arctic species will be added to the web-based collection and accessible to researchers and educators. VZAP Phase 2, incorporates the feedback from a user survey; completes the scanning of the full suite of taxa intended for the project; refines and streamlines the database, user interface, and 3D rendering capabilities; and develops a means for allowing usergenerated content for the website, to insure its continued growth and applicability beyond the scope of the funding cycle.

Project Report

One of the most important characteristics of the National Science Foundation’s emphasis on using science to solve real-world problems is the use of archaeological data to track long-term changes in ecosystems. This is especially relevant on projects that are investigating important economic species such as cod or salmon, or endangered species such as sea otters and sea lions, and projects that track pivotal human responses to climactic change. Key to this approach is access to comprehensive comparative collections of osteological specimens (animal bones) so that studies of the ancient bones can be completed in a timely and cost-effective manner. This has been difficult because there is no comparative collection at any museum in the world with a large enough collection to accurately identify the thousands of bones recovered from some of these ancient archaeological sites. The Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP) was created to solve this problem for those scientists working in northern regions. Using advanced 3D scanning technology, a new database structure, new 3D viewing tools, and through the creation of on-screen measurement applications, VZAP is transforming the analysis of bones from archaeological sites by providing a comprehensive on-line collection of 264 specimens representing 169 northern species. This includes 52545 high resolution photographs and 7826 3D models (Table 1). The web site was designed so that any student, researcher, or anyone in the world with an internet connection can access the collection. While it is designed to be used by used as a research tool for professionals, it contains significant resources for students and the general public to learn about and explore vertebrate osteology. It is organized to show individual bones, groups of the same bone from different species, or all of the bones from an individual specimen. Zoom and rotation features, multiple search options, and on-line measurement tools provide an individualized experience in using this digital collection (Figure 1). The scans we produced are extremely high resolution, oftentimes with detail greater than one could distinguish with the eye under normal lighting conditions. Figure 2 present three high-resolution images of a walrus skull scanned at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. This is a 3D scanned rendered in 2D for presentation. This project created a number of synergies and collaborations. We scanned a number of specimens from the Smithsonian Institution, the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, from the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and from the Canadian Museum of History We also completed the first 3D scan of an orca at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (Figure 3 top), and the second scan of an Orca at the Sitka Sound Science Center (Figure 3 middle), and the first complete scan of a Humpback whale for Glacier Bay National Park. In the context of constructing the online database, we created a suite of educational tools that have parts of individual bones labeled, or present complete skeletons for comparative analysis. Figure 4 shows multiple views of all of the Beluga whales scanned at the Museum of the North rearticulated. The intellectual merit of this project has been profound. This project is transforming the way analysts use comparative collections, and is currently being used by archaeologists around the world. We created new on-screen analytical tools that can be used for any type of digital image, and we created a new 3D browser that allows viewing of multiple images on the same screen. In effect, we solved the problem of incomplete comparative collections in museums by merging multiple collections into a single site, providing a resource that expands the global capacity for accurate analyses. The broader impacts of this project are seen in its use. Users from around the world have commented that this project created new research opportunities and provided key information for the completion of undergraduate and graduate research projects, for studies done by senior scholars, and even for high school students. Users from countries in six contents and around the US have used this online collection. Perhaps the greatest merit and impact is that the tools, techniques and applications created during this project can be applied to any collection in the world. This project is transforming paleontology, archaeology, museum studies, geology, art, architecture and a suite of other disciplines that see VZAP as the beginning of a world-wide shift in collections access and curation. Museum professionals around the world see this project as a new method for documenting collections, for increasing access while reducing handling and damage, and for monitoring preservation. It is a great step-forward in the democratization of science-based natural history collections.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Polar Programs (PLR)
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Anna Kerttula de Echave
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Idaho State University
United States
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