Feb 18, 2016 | By Alec

While the combination itself sounds completely unrealistic, 3D printing is actually proving to be a very useful technology for increasing our understanding of historical and archaeological artefacts. Several researchers and museums have already made new breakthroughs and gained more understanding of ancient objects by 3D printing them; remember how one archeologist used a 3D printed replica to prove that a 2,000 year old spear wasn’t actually a spear? With the help of Belgian 3D printing experts Materialise, paleo artist Gary Staab recently tackled an even greater challenge: creating a medical-grade replica of Ötzi the Ice Man, the world’s most famous natural mummy. This remarkable story featured in a Nova PBS documentary on Wednesday.

The story of Ötzi the Ice Man is a remarkable one. Discovered back in 1991 by a pair of hikers on a Tyrolean Alpine peak in northern Italy, Ötzi actually died some 5,300 years ago. Upon his discovery, he became an overnight media sensation for being one of the best naturally preserved mummies ever found. He has been studied again and again for the past two decades, and recent forensic evidence revealed he was actually murdered on top of the lonely mountaintop. “Miraculously preserved in glacial ice, his remarkably intact remains continue to provide scientists, historians, and archeologists with groundbreaking discoveries about a crucial time in human history,” PBS says of the remarkable artefact.

Because Ötzi is of such immense importance for our understanding of human life in that period, he has unfortunately been locked out of sight in a frozen crypt in Bolzano, Italy – to protect him from contamination and decomposition. That’s very unfortunate because this severely limits the ability of researchers to study him, and for audiences to witness this extraordinary mummy. That is exactly why NOVA and famous paleo-sculptor Gary Staab turned to 3D printing. Staab managed to gain access to the frozen tomb, and was allowed to make an exact replica that can be studied and exhibited far more easily. While some museums have exhibited an educational puppet of the Ice Man in the past, this will be the only official replica and will provide researchers with more information about Bronze Age life and death.

To make that replica, Staab turned to Bryan Crutchfield, the Managing Director of Materialise, USA, to use the Belgian company’s medical 3D printing expertise. Staab had previously worked with them for a project involving the other famous mummy, Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Materialise’s 3D printing solutions, as you might know, are already extensively used in medical hospitals for the development of surgical replicas and more. Numerous US hospitals are alredy using Materialise 3D printers, including the Mayo Clinic, Boston Children's Hospital, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Cedars Sinai Hospital and several others. As Staab explained, that ability to accurately 3D print vital organ and bone models provide the level of accuracy that a good replica of Ötzi requires.

To make the replica, the Ice Man’s body was first scanned using a CT machine – though some parts were missing. These were painstakingly filled in by Materialise’s modeling engineers. “One such missing part were some of Ötzi’s ribs, which an engineer had to design back into the body by mirroring other existing ribs in 3-matic,” the PBS team reveals. Once a full body image was created, Materalise turned to their signature mammoth Stereolithography 3D printer. As you can see in the documentary, the Ice Man’s 5’5” replica body slowly emerged from the amber bath of liquid resin. Staab then set out to complete the model with paint and clay, adding life-like touches that make the model almost impossible to distinguish from the original. “Materialise process-segmented all of the scan data, made a fantastic accurate print, and I was able to add the details over the top of the print to turn it into an accurate, life-like replica of the original. It was another fantastic 3D collaboration with Materialise and its team of engineers,” Staab said of the project.

According to the team, Materialise’s top level medical 3D prints enabled researchers to study particular medical complications in the Ice Man as well, revealing more about the diet and life expectations of Bronze Age humans. For instance, the Ice Man suffered from hardened arteries that suggested a tendency towards heart disease, while the remaining parts of digestive parts have shown that he also suffered from some kind of abdominal inflammation. “We are proud that our 3D medical modeling technology could make a contribution to a greater understanding of the Iceman and his times. That our medical printing technology is so advanced yet flexible enough to be adapted to such important scientific and historic study is truly reflective of our team’s emphasis on research and value for its healthcare customers,” Crutchfield said of the remarkable project. Check out the full documentary here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Sydney wrote at 2/18/2016 2:56:06 PM:

Awesom! Uzis is so old 🙀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀 did he have a mom and dad living ?

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive