Apr 21, 2016 | By Alec

Remember Ötzi the Iceman? A caveman who died 5,300 years ago, he was discovered in 1991 by a pair of hikers on Tyrolean Alpine peak in northern Italy. To prevent further decomposition, he was quickly locked away in a freezer in Italy, which made it difficult to study him. That’s why US paleo artist Gary Staab recently teamed up with Materialise to 3D print medical-grade replicas for display and research purposes. Their work is now complete, and three Ötzi replicas are set to travel to the US: one to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, and two more will go to the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center in New York (DNALC).

Ötzi the Iceman’s story is very remarkable. Upon his discovery, he became an overnight media sensation for being one of the best naturally preserved mummies ever found. Recent forensic evidence revealed he was actually murdered by an arrow on a lonely mountaintop at around the age of 45. The caveman, who was 1.6 meters (or 5’3”) tall and weighed just 50 kilos, was found with clothing and equipment (including a copper axe and a bow and arrows) on his person. His last meal consisted of venison and ibex meat, and he was lactose intolerant, arthritic and infested with parasites. Remarkably, he was also covered in 61 tattoos. All this data obviously reveals quite a lot about bronze-age life, and it is believed Ötzi holds a lot more information we don’t know about yet.

Below: an earlier model based on the Ice Man.

But that information is hard to reach. Though virtually all cavemen have just decomposed like the rest of the world around them, Ötzi was miraculously preserved in glacial ice. Upon his discovery, he was locked in a frozen crypt in Bolzano, Italy, to prevent further contamination and decomposition. This was necessary but unfortunate, as it severely limited research and educational opportunities. That’s exactly why paleo sculptor Gary Staab was given the opportunity to make medical-grade replicas.

To realize this ambitious project, the Ice Man’s body was first scanned using a CT machine – though some body parts were missing. These parts, including some of the ribs, were painstakingly filled in by Materialise’s modeling engineers by mirroring other body parts. “The reconstruction of the hands was also a challenge, since they could not be captured on CT scans,” added the spokesperson from the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, northern Italy, where the final models were unveiled.

But this whole process wasn’t without its challenges either. “When I tried putting him back together from the scanned slices, the pieces didn’t seem to match,” recalled project engineer Eric Renteria. “So I did some research and found his total height and compared that to the total height of all the pieces I had reconstructed. Once I saw that there was a mismatch, I moved his head piece into the correct spatial location, which revealed that there was a gap missing.” As can be seen in the clip below, Materialise subsequently 3D printed the replica on their largest stereolithography 3D printer.

The final models were then completed by Staab. “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.

The 3D printed models are currently housed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, but are ready to go on tour. The first Ötzi is set to become part of a travelling exhibition that will tour throughout North America, beginning in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh in October 2017. The other two models, meanwhile, will become educational tools at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center in New York (DNALC). Hopefully, they will be able to reveal a lot more about life, death and humanity at the eve of the earliest civilizations.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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