Three-dimensional scanning has many applications to the field of archaeology. 3D scanning can solve various preservation issues and can be used as a tool in public archaeology. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Virtebra showcased another great use of 3D scanning by using the NextEngine scanner to record the inscription on a cemetery marker of local historical figure Spencer Bibbs, who is buried in John the Baptist Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida. Our goal was to scan the vernacular style marker in the hopes of better understanding what is inscribed on it. While part of the inscription is readable, a portion of it is difficult to discern due to age and weathering.
The Virtebra team undertook this mini-project in support of a larger project known as By These Hands: The Vernacular Markers of Pensacola’s African American Cemeteries Project, which is sponsored by John the Baptist Church in partnership with UWF and is funded in part by the Florida Humanities Council. The work detailed here is an in-kind service in support of this project. The goal of the By These Hands project is to educate the general public on the artisans, individuals, and ideologies of the early 20th century African American community through historical research, professional talks, tours, and interpretive materials related to historic African American burial grounds in Pensacola. This project builds on the mission of the Pensacola Area Cemetery Team (PACT), which aims at addressing issues dealing with historic cemeteries in Pensacola, and was inspired in part by the success of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at VCU in scanning tombstones.
On Saturday, November 28, Dr. Kristina Killgrove, archaeologist Margo Stringfield, Fred Hall of John the Baptist Church, graduate student Andrea Acosta, and I met at the cemetery. After a brief tour of the cemetery, we began to use the Sense scanner to create a 360° model of the grave. The Sense scanner is a handheld, portable 3D scanner that can be used to scan large objects or people. While it was a good tool to scan the entirety of the tombstone, it did not offer any more clues as to what was inscribed on the tombstone as the resolution is not ideal. Instead, we used the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to capture the inscription. Using the NextEngine presented two challenges: first, finding a power source to drive the scanner, and second, not being able to mount the object of interest on the rotating platform. To solve the first issue, we plugged the scanner into a 3A inverter that was itself plugged into the 12V DC power connector in Mr. Hall’s car, and into the laptop via USB. To solve the second issue, we placed the scanner on a tripod in front of the grave to capture the inscription via panel scan, which is faster and all that we needed given our success in capturing the whole marker with the Sense.
The maximum distance the scanner can be from an object is about 16 inches. This posed a few problems as it was impossible to get one scan of the entire surface without going farther than 16 inches. To remedy this we placed the scanner in various locations and scanned small portions of the tombstone at a time. During the editing process, the seven panel scans were merged together to create a nearly complete model of the inscription.
This particular marker was of great interest because of the person it represented. According to the Pensacola Historical Society, Spencer Bibbs was born in Montgomery, AL, in 1859 and moved to Pensacola at age 13. He worked as a “hackman” (similar to a cab driver today) and as a “drayman,” a term used in the early 1900s that generally meant the driver of a horse-drawn wagon who moved goods to and from a port. More importantly, Bibbs worked tirelessly to promote education for minority children in Escambia County, and he was the first black supervisor of colored schools in Pensacola. An elementary school was eventually named after him. Bibbs’ life history is one of the focuses of the By These Hands project, and we look forward to learning more about him as the project progresses.
Before the scanning of Bibbs’ tombstone was done, we were unsure of many of the letters on the upper right-hand side, and the inscription looked like it read:
OF GU HUS_____D
DIED DEC 18 1922
The scan, however, showed more clearly that the inscription likely reads:
SACRED TO THE HART
OF GU(R?) HUSBAND AND
DIED DEC 18 1922
There is still obviously a question about the exact meaning of the marker. The GU on the second line may be OU(R), with the inscription maker using a G instead of an O in impressing the lettering. The third line probably means FATHER, with the inscription maker including an extra R in the middle. Several of the Ds are reversed as well. This type of vernacular marker is not unusual for this time period and area, and the idiosyncrasies of these markers demonstrate regional links in makers and the communities they served.
Another question regarding this marker was whether or not there was anything inscribed in the lower right-hand corner. The scanner did not pick anything up; the blank space, however, could indicate that something had been attached there previously that has since fallen off or disintegrated.
This mini-project adds another dimension to By These Hands. A better understanding of information contained on the marker will help researchers interpret the overall feature and those associated with it. The digital models created from the tombstone can be shared with others who are interested in learning more about John the Baptist Cemetery or other local cemeteries. The models will be used in presentations, lectures, community outreach programs, or lesson plans to enhance the public’s knowledge of archaeological material. Furthermore, the NextEngine scanner is able to record information on an artifact that may not be seen otherwise and is a useful tool to implement in situations of uncertainty.
Partial funding for By These Hands: The Vernacular Markers of Pensacola’s Historic African American Cemeteries is provided through a grant from the Florida Humanities Council with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the Florida Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.