VCU professor 3-D scans world’s oldest ham, peanut

Bernard Means, Ph.D., uses a handheld 3-D scanner to scan the world’s oldest cured ham at the Isle of Wight County Museum on Thursday. Photo courtesy Isle of Wight County Museum

Bernard Means, Ph.D, an anthropology professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies who specializes in 3-D scanning archaeological artifacts, visited the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, this week to 3-D scan two unusual artifacts.

“How could one resist 3-D scanning the world’s oldest ham and world’s oldest peanut?” said Means, a faculty member in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “I decided that this would be a fun thing to do, especially as we go into the end of the semester.”

The ham and peanut are part of the museum’s collection, which also features prehistoric fossils, a snake oil medicine box, a turn-of-the-century country store and artifacts from the Smithfield Ham industry. The most notable piece in the collection, however, is the ham, which dates back to 1902 and has been featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

“P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s famous pet ham currently resides at the Isle of Wight County Museum. In 1902, a cured ham was overlooked, and for 20 years, the ham hung from a rafter in one of his packing houses,” the museum’s website states. “By 1924, the pet ham was kept in an iron safe which was opened daily for guests to view. Advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham, Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method.”

The ham, which can be viewed 24/7 via the museum’s “Ham Cam,” looks as if it could have been cured this year, Means said.

“It did have a powerful scent that I cannot describe,” he added.

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