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Digitization Program Office

A Showcase for Digitization Projects at the Smithsonian

Key Marco Cat

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 16:55 -- DattoriaM
Lori Collins, Ph.D. USF Libraries and School of Geosciences
key marco cat 3d renders

Happy National Cat Day!

The Smithsonian and the University of South Florida Library’s Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections (USF DHHC) have collaborated to have USF create a 3D color render of this iconic cat. The USF team used structured light 3D scanning and high resolution imaging to capture the geometry and surface texture qualities of this sculpture, digitally archiving and creating interactive means of exploring and viewing this significant artifact.  

It was discovered in 1896 by American Ethnologist and Anthropologist, Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900), during an expedition and archaeological excavations at Key Marco, Florida. The figurine is dated to the Calusa culture, Late Mississippian period, A.D. 1400-1500.

The feline, likely depicting a Florida panther in transformation to a human (shapeshifting), is shown kneeling with forelegs resting on top of folded legs.

Finish and Polish

The Key Marco Cat is finely finished and polished, likely with an animal fat that would have been rubbed on all surfaces. Curators and Conservators at the Smithsonian have noted the presence of wax- possibly with a tinting- that is present on the surface and in the crack areas, and they note that this was likely done following excavation for preservation purposes. A number of conservation concerns and areas of detail can be analyzed using the 3D data collected. These data and models created are also useful for public engagement, research, and increasing accessibility to collections.

3D Printing

The University of South Florida Libraries has created exact replicas at one-to-one scales and smaller of the Key Marco Cat, utilizing stereolithography (SLA) printing technologies. These high-resolution micron scale prints are useful for tangible sharing and interaction in the classroom, and afford wide accessibility for objects and artifacts. Prototypes such as these can help in understanding art and manufacturing techniques, conservation and condition, and can be used for tactile exploration to enhance appreciation and understanding.

Returning to Florida

The Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) will be exhibiting the Key Marco Cat and other rare Pre-Columbian Native American artifacts starting in January 2019 at the Marco Island Historical Museum. This will be the first time in more than 100 years that these artifacts will be together on Marco Island since their discovery. Read more about this on

Take a detailed tour of the statuette, and download and print your own Key Marco Cat here!

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