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.