Lycoming College and WAMS collaborate on Delaware Museum of Natural History exhibit

PHOTO PROVIDED Students look at a “Deciphering Maya Hieroglyphs” display at the Delaware Museum of Natural History.

Lycoming College’s archaeology program took faculty-student collaboration to the next level to create tangible elements for a travel exhibit at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. The Mystery of the Mayan Medallion exhibit includes multiple 3D hieroglyphic models created with the help of technology housed at Williamsport Area Middle School (WAMS) and data collected by the Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project.

The goal of the exhibit is to illuminate Mayan culture in a way that captures the attention of young students and heightens their understanding of the ancient world. The 3D models allow students to touch and manipulate replicas of Maya glyphs, making the learning experience more interesting and enjoyable.

“The possibilities for implementing 3D printing into social studies classrooms are endless; there are artifacts from every period of every society to be recreated,” Lycoming student Jacob Maneval ’19, Williamsport, said.

Out of a total of 10 classic Maya words, the museum displays the hieroglyphs for the terms book, deer, fish, jaguar, star, turtle, bird and maize (corn). Museum-goers can dig up these hieroglyphs, along with a variety of other replica Mayan artifacts, to solve the mystery behind why archaeologists fled a dig site in Palenque, Mexico. This simulation allows adults and children alike to experience Mayan culture as a real archaeologist would.

The project came to fruition when Helen Bilinski, exhibits manager at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, discovered research that Jessica Munson., assistant professor of archaeology and anthropology at Lycoming College, conducted with the Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project. This database, owned and developed by Martha Macri, professor emerita in Native American studies at the University of California Davis, and Matthew Looper, professor of art history at California State University, Chico, houses a collection of digital images of Mayan hieroglyphs and their translations. Bilinski requested tangible versions of these hieroglyphics to augment The Mystery of the Mayan Medallion exhibit, and Munson knew a collaboration with WAMS would be a great way to experiment with unconventional technology in a learning setting.

Munson had previously connected with Dustin Brouse, a social studies teacher at WAMS, when she present her research to one of his classes and discussed integrating technology into the classroom. Brouse shares Munson’s interest in archaeology and serves as an adviser for the 3D Archaeology Club at Williamsport Area Middle School. His background in manufacturing and industry inspires him to use a wide range of unique technology to supplement learning. Recently, Brouse received a grant from the Williamsport Area School District to purchase 3D printers for a 3D lab.

“I started our 3D lab in 2016 with a grant from the Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation with the sole purpose of bringing history to life. It allowed me to put emerging technologies into the hands of my students,” said Brouse.

He enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to collaborate with Munson, and due to his busy schedule, the pair decided to recruit Maneval to assist Brouse in the completion of the 3D hieroglyphs. Maneval’s experiences as a history major pursuing a secondary education teaching certification made him the perfect fit for this project.

Throughout the course of a month, Maneval and Brouse printed a total of 20 models, supplying the museum with 10 hieroglyphs. Maneval employed newly learned software skills to convert each 2-dimensional hieroglyphic drawing into a format easily interpreted and understood by a 3D printer. This involved transporting the drawings to a CAD program to add height, scaling the dimensions to the desired size, and placing the 3D hieroglyphic on a square base. Subsequently, Brouse stepped in to handle the logistics concerning actually printing the models.

“The collaborative nature of this project truly represents the intended goals of [Macri’s and Looper’s] Maya Hieroglyphic Database. With Mr. Brouse’s technological expertise, Jacob’s enthusiasm, and DMNH’s interest and initiative, this exhibit is bringing to life the ancient words for the flora and fauna that were so important in Classic Maya society,” Munson said.

The exhibit, with the addition of the 3D hieroglyphs, opened on June 23, and runs through Sept. 3. Museum-goers of all ages are welcome to partake in uncovering the mystery of the dig site and finding the prized medallion. More information is available at http://www.delmnh.org/portfolio-items/mystery-of-the-mayan-medallion/.

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