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The bronze sculpture of Archie the aetosaur, located on Appalachian State University’s campus, was created through a collaboration between faculty and students in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and Department of Art.

BOONE — A prehistoric reptile that prowled the Earth more than 230 million years ago has found a home on Appalachian State University’s campus. Archie the aeotsaur, a bronze sculpture four years in the making, was recently installed in its permanent habitat among the exhibits of Appalachian’s Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory/Interactive Rock Garden.

The Archie project, a collaborative effort of faculty and students in Appalachian’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and Department of Art, “is the largest and most accurate aetosaur sculpture in the northern hemisphere and one of the best in the world,” said GES professor Andrew Heckert.

Archie is based on a handful of fossils that were unearthed near Raleigh in 2015 and are currently housed in the permanent collections of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Heckert identified and documented the fossils as a new genus and species of aetosaur known as Gorgetosuchus pekinensis, publishing his research as the lead author of an article featured in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Appalachian’s aetosaur sculpture and habitat will help educate future generations of students and community members about North Carolina’s prehistoric landscape and the evolution of creatures from the Triassic Period.

After brainstorming a way to bring Archie to life on Appalachian’s campus, Lauren Waterworth, senior lecturer of environmental law in the GES department, reached out to Travis Donovan, assistant professor and sculptor in the Department of Art, to create a collaboration between their two departments and turn her vision into a reality.

In spring 2016, Archie the aetosaur was modeled from the actual fossil record by Department of Art faculty and students. Donovan, along with six of his advanced sculpting students, created a life-size sculpture of the aetosaur.

Matt Celeskey, a paleontological artist and exhibit designer from New Mexico, came up with the original sketch for Archie. Celeskey then used computer-aided design software to turn his sketch into a 3D model for the sculpture.

Archie’s armored scales, or osteoderms, were constructed using insulated foam, Plasticine — an oil-based modeling clay, and other types of clay. After construction, Archie was sent to Inferno Art Foundry, a bronze foundry in Atlanta, to be cast in bronze.

“The detail of the final bronze piece is immaculate. It looks so similar to the actual clay model — you can still see the fingerprints from the students who were working on that process,” Donovan said.

The initial funds to take Archie from Waterworth’s concept to a Plasticine model came from a grant through Appalachian’s University Research Council, and additional funds used to cast Archie in bronze were contributed by more than 50 corporate and individual donors.

The Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory/Interactive Rock Garden, where Archie now lives, is named in honor of Fred Webb Jr., the first and longest-serving chair of the GES department upon his retirement.

To learn more about Archie outreach and engagement opportunities, contact the GES department at mckinneymuseum@appstate.edu or visit https://earth.appstate.edu/outreach.

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These reconstruction sketches of Gorgetosuchus pekinensis are based on the preserved fossils identified by Appalachian State University professor Andy Heckert in 2015.

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These reconstruction sketches of Gorgetosuchus pekinensis are based on the preserved fossils identified by Appalachian State University professor Andy Heckert in 2015.

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A screenshot of the initial aetosaur model created using digital sculpting software.

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The digital model was adjusted based on resources derived from the fossil record data and paleo illustration created by Matt Celeskey, a paleontological artist and exhibit designer from New Mexico.

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Advanced sculpture students at Appalachian State University scale up the skeletal paleo illustrations in preparation for constructing the accurate, full-scale model of Archie. Pictured, from left to right, are Daniel Desmarais, of Banner Elk; Hunter Hill, of Boone; the late Matt LeBlanc, of Hermantown, Minnesota (1995–2020); Rebecca Bremer, of Mars Hill; and McKenzy Culbertson, of Waxhaw.

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Appalachian State University students create a steel and foam armature for the Archie sculpture based on a paleo illustration of an aetosaur. The armature serves as a basic structure scaled to the general size of the imagined aetosaur. Pictured, from left to right, are Hunter Hill, of Boone; Rebecca Bremer, of Mars Hill; and McKenzy Culbertson, of Waxhaw.

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Appalachian State University’s Archie the aetosaur sculpture begins to take shape as the foam and steel armature is covered in oil-based clay.

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Details and textures are carved into the surface of the clay with reference to the fossil record data and to emulate the skin and muscle of crocodiles, some of Archie’s present-day relatives.

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This image of Appalachian State University’s Archie the aetosaur sculpture was taken by commercial photography students in Appalachian’s large-scale production studio.

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The Archie sculpture arrives on Appalachian State University’s campus in March from Inferno Art Foundry, a bronze foundry in Atlanta. Members of Appalachian’s Facilities Operations unloaded the sculpture and helped install it in the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory/Interactive Rock Garden outside Appalachian’s Rankin Science South Building.

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Andrew Heckert, professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, snaps a selfie with Archie.

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Archie the aetosaur in his permanent home in the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Laboratory/Interactive Rock Garden outside Rankin Science South on Appalachian’s campus.

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