Researcher from the Canadian Museum of Civilization joins group in building a virtual laboratory with 1-million dollar grant

October 19, 2010

Posted on: 18/10/2010

Researcher from the Canadian Museum of Civilization joins group in building a virtual laboratory with 1-million dollar grant

Gatineau, Quebec, September 30, 2010 — Efforts by Idaho State University (ISU) and Canadian Museum of Civilization researchers to further create an online, interactive, virtual museum of northern animal bones have been bolstered by a grant of $1,029,232 from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

“We are building on the success of our pilot project,” said grant principal investigator Herbert Maschner, ISU anthropology research professor, director of the ISU Center for Archaeology, Materials, and Applied Spectroscopy, and interim director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History. “This new National Science Foundation grant will result in a ground-breaking website that will provide the tools necessary to assist more efficient, accurate and cost-effective analyses of Arctic animals by researchers around the world.”

The grant, titled “Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP): Phase II,” was awarded to Idaho State University earlier this month. The grant’s other principal investigators are Corey Schou, PhD, professor of information systems and director of the ISU Informatics Research Institute, and Matthew Betts, PhD, curator of Atlantic Provinces Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and a former postdoctoral researcher at ISU.

This group of researchers used pilot funds from a $310,000 NSF grant received in 2008 to begin creating an online two- and three-dimensional archaeological collection of Arctic animal bones, which was built using techniques developed in the Informatics Research Institute and the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory ( The VZAP team has now produced more than 3,000 individual 3D models and more than 12,000 digital photographs, while also developing advanced 3D laser scanning protocols, implementing a robust database, and creating a revolutionary graphical user interface, the Dynamic Image Engine.

Animal bones rec­­overed from northern archaeological and palaeontological sites are often superbly preserved and therefore provide a high-resolution record of ancient human behaviours, climatic regimes, past ecological variability and animal populations. However, researchers who analyze these materials are significantly hampered by the absence of comprehensive northern-focused vertebrate reference collections, of which only a handful exist in North America. High-resolution reference collections are necessary to adequately identify bone fragments.

“VZAPreplicates the complete skeletons of 132 taxa (a grouping of organisms given a formal taxonomic name such as species, genus, family) of northern fish, mammals and birds, in both 2D and 3D, and delivers them on a unique online database,” Schou said. “A workshop held to demonstrate the functionality of VZAP, and to provide input from the scientific community, resulted in survey data that demonstrate the broad community support for this concept in general, and VZAP in particular.”

The VZAP tools were recently shown in France and are being tracked actively by bloggers.

Phase 2 of VZAP, funded with