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The stories behind the relics - How 3D printing is helping us to discover more about the past

The stories behind the relics - How 3D printing is helping us to discover more about the past

Could 3D printing help us to learn more about ancient history? In this post, we explore how 3D printing is helping us to learn more about the ancient artefacts that sit inside our museums.

Bringing relics to life

Mummified relics are coming to life in Aberdeen with the help of 3D printing technology; researchers at Aberdeen University are utilising photogrammetry, in order to allow for a better study of the mummified relics that are kept in their museum. Photogrammetry involves taking photographs of an object at different angles and piecing them together to create a digital 3D model, the objects are then printed and placed on display in the universities’ museum, where they are viewed and studied by visitors to the museum.

Researchers were most impressed by the insights that 3D printing provided into some of the mummified objects; among them was a small mummified cat - believed to be at least 2,000 years old, as it was extracted from the temple at Bubastis, which dates from at least 450BC. Researchers concluded that the mummy was most likely a family pet, or an offering to the gods. As well as gaining a close-up of the mummified object through the use of 3D printers, researchers were also able to see inside of the mummy using a

a CAT scanner - this gave them an insight into the inside of the artefact. The researchers found that the skeleton was a lot smaller than the outside cast, speculating that the mummy was padded in order to make it more expensive - compared to a smaller mummy.

In another case, the University of Melbourne in Australia reconstructed a mummy’s head and face using 3D printing, helping them to discover more about the artefact. The mummified head was found among the collections of the University of Melbourne in Australia. Curious to find out more about it - the curator sent it for a CT scan.

After undertaking the scan, Varsha Pilbrow, a biological anthropologist at the University of Melbourne's Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, sought to create a 3D 3D-printed replica of the mummy's skull. The 3D-printed model allowed the researchers to study the skull carefully, without having to worry about its fragility - allowing them to discover more about the skull’s characteristics. The researchers deduced, using the 3D-printed model, that it belonged to a young woman - of approximately 25 years of age and likely of high-social standing, as she had been mummified.

Live Science delves deeper into the discovery and what the technology was able to dig up:

“The true origins of the mummified head are still unknown, though. Scientists think it belonged in the collections of Frederic Wood Jones, a professor who conducted archeological work in Egypt before joining as the head of anatomy at the University of Melbourne in 1930. From the distinctive style of the linen bandaging and embalming of the specimen, the researchers think Meritamun was mummified in Egypt and that she may have lived at least 2,000 years ago. They will now use radiocarbon dating to date the specimen more precisely, the scientists said.”

A clearer picture

3D printing is helping us to discover more about what lies behind our ancient artefacts - helping us to piece together stories and to make more insightful, better-informed inferences about the relics of the past.

Tagged with: archaeology