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Provocative Cat Statuette Forges New USF-Smithsonian Partnership

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is working in collaboration with the University of South Florida Library to digitize and virtually display a famous artifact seldom seen outside museum curation. The Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections at the University of South Florida Library, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, used structured light scanning and high definition imaging to create an exact 3D model and replica of the Key Marco Cat figurine.

The Key Marco Cat is moving from its home in Washington, D.C. to Marco Island, Florida, where it was uncovered in the late 1800s. Researchers believe it is nearly 600-years-old. What makes this wooden statuette especially unique, is that it was preserved by being buried in an oxygen-free layer of muck. The Key Marco Cat is described as one of the “finest pieces of Pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered.”

Given its significance, the USF Library's Digital Heritage and Humanities Collection (DHHC) was tasked to collaborate with the Smithsonian’s Digital Program Office, to fully 3D digitize the six-inch statuette. The USF team’s models will be used on the Smithsonian website, so the piece will be broadly accessible even in its absence during the South Florida exhibition, slated to be on loan to the Marco Island Historical Museum through 2021.

"We see 3D imaging technology as a powerful way to unlock these collections behind the scenes," said Vincent Rossi from the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office. "We can make these USF captured scans, along with the associated educational material, accessible to the general public and to researchers around the globe. We hope that that this initial project with USF is only the beginning of a long-term partnership.”

The USF DHHC has been selected for several high-profile heritage and museum projects due to their use of advanced technologies using 3D documentation tools, including structured light imaging such as that used to capture the color, geometry and surface of the Key Marco Cat. The online gallery and digital collection will include additional objects discovered from the same archaeological site area as the Key Marco Cat, with the items today curated at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

"These 3D models have a public component as well as offer important preservation and conservation information,” said USF DHHC co-director Lori Collins, Ph.D. “Our mission of education, research, andbroad dissemination of knowledge and information, dovetails nicely with the Smithsonian Institution, and we are excited about what opportunities and results will emerge from this collaboration.”

The USF Library is displaying the 3D printed replica of the Key Marco Cat, and you can find information about the project and links to the models at: The USF DHHC is also showcasing the piece on the Smithsonian’s 3D viewer at:

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