Initial Uses of 3D Printing in Archaeology

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3D printing is the new thing, no doubts about it. There is so much potential to be unleashed with this technology, and finally we are breaking through the last barrier that stops us from 3D printing every day, which is cost. I wrote an article a month ago about the subject, and already the price for a basic 3D printer has halved, from 1500 £ to 700, and it is bound to decrease even more with the end of the patent which should be next year. Soon every household will be able to print out designs downloaded from the internet of any object they may desire, and with scientist at work on printing food and many other things, the possibility are endless.

Given this boom in interest and popularity, and the detail of which 3D printers are capable of, it would be foolish to think that the archaeological world can avoid being swept in. From exact replicas of artefacts, to miniature sites for display, we are soon going to be treated to new ideas in archaeology.

3D-printing

Some of these ideas have already started producing some results, and one of the most interesting articles I have found is this one: http://www.webpronews.com/3d-printers-are-helping-researchers-recreate-mummies-2013-08

I won’t go into detail on the background, as you can read the article yourself, but the main story is that a group of archaeologists have managed to 3D print mummies using x-ray images, therefore leaving the bones within the bandages.

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The real thing to notice here is the beautiful detail achieved by the archaeologists involved. The skeletons are perfectly replicated, leaving little to interpretation and preserving something that may easily get damaged if unravelled. I’m assuming that the best approach in this case would be using a CT scan to get the 3D model, rather than from a series of simple X-rays, as these would be too inconsistent to work with. This does create the problem of having to get this type of equipment for archaeological use.

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This experiment however is important for one main reason: it is something we could not do before. Often with new technology the problem is that people see it as technology for technology’s sake, as in something without an actual practical use that we do simply because we can. Recreating skeletons of mummies without damaging the actual bones relies entirely on 3D printers, and it is not possible to find any traditional approach to it. It therefore shows that the potential is there and it can bring innovation.

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