Sep 6, 2016 | By Nick

Researchers in the UK have recreated artefacts from the Mary Rose shipwreck, including human skills that could prove the efficacy of 3D printing as an archaeological tool.

The team, made up of researchers from Oxford University, Swansea University and the Mary Rose Trust have joined forces to see how much they can ascertain about the ship’s crew, their lives and their general health from 3D printed digital reproductions of their bones.

It wants to test the scientific potential of digital archaeology and see whether researchers really can study PLA models, rather than the original artefact.

Modern museums around the world are starting to scan and digitize their collections. The potential benefits are obvious, as institutions can share data, compare various samples with software and print physical copies that mean priceless and historically significant pieces don’t have to be transported.

Now, though, the researchers want to know if this theory work as well in practice as it does in theory.

"Lots of museums are digitizing collections, and a lot of the drive behind that is creating a digital copy of something," said Dr Richard Johnston, a materials scientist at the university. "We're going to challenge the research community to see if they can actually do osteological analysis.

"Then we will take the results from around the world and try and compare those to a study that we did, where people looked at the real remains. Do you really need to hold the skull, or can you tell a lot from the digital one?

“There's the potential to speed up science dramatically, but this needs to happen first."


The researchers have launched a public website to share their findings and present an interactive display of a carpenter’s skull. There’s a full Virtual Reality presentation online, too, at: Virtual Tudors

This particular carpenter was in his 30s, had bad teeth, abscesses in his jaw and arthritis. He was suffering from a number of other conditions and his bones had started to fuse as age crept in. But this ailing craftsman who died in 1545 could change the modern world.

The team took 120 separate photographs of his skull and have stitched them together with photogrammetry software to create a 3D model. From that, researchers even managed to create a facial reconstruction.

The university will now supply copies of this skull and nine more to specialist consultants around the world. They will compare their findings and use this information to determine just how useful a 3D printed copy of a bone could be to the scientific research community, archaeology and even the medical profession.

Clearly it is better to have the physical artefact at hand, as subtle surface textures and colors can give invaluable clues with regard to diseases and even lifestyles. They might not show up on a model, although that could change as technology advances.

If the 3D printed models we can produce right now prove sufficient for clear research, though, then scientists and doctors can suddenly access experts around the world by e-mailing a file. That will be a huge step forward.

The team didn’t stop with the skulls, either. They have scanned a vast number of artefacts from the Mary Rose, including the carpenter’s tools, and they form part of the digital exhibit.

The theory is that giving the public unprecedented access to these artefacts, albeit in digital form, will ignite their passion for the past and bring history to life.

“It’s a workplace for the people on board, it’s a home and it’s a machine and it’s a warship and it’s also a moment in time,” said Alex Hildred, head of research and curator of human remains at the Mary Rose Trust.

The Mary Rose was King Henry VIII’s flagship and it went down in the Battle of the Solent in 1545. More than 500 people died when the ship down and there were just 35 survivors. The wreckage lay dormant on the ocean floor of the south coast of England, before a salvage crew brought it to the surface in 1982.

It’s an iconic piece of British history and now it and the bones of its crew are available to the world, all thanks to advances in 3D scanning and 3D printing.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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