Jun 8, 2017 | By David

Heritage is one of the fields that is benefitting the most from 3D technology. We’ve reported before on how an antique rifle replicated through 3D scanning and printing methods so that it could be physically held by museum visitors in Poland, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Historical educators can now make use of such tangible, accurate copies of artefacts, as can archaeologists carrying out research into eras even further back in time.

A project carried out at Virginia Commonwealth University has led to the establishment of a Virtual Curation Laboratory, which over the past few years has built up an impressive catalog of 3D printed Native American artefacts and historic items.

Progress in archaeological research can often be hindered by the issue of access to artefacts. Something that was dug up from the ground on the other side of the world is not easy for a busy and perhaps underfunded research team to go and study in depth, nor is it always something that can be easily transported to them without damage.

But 3D technology has started to change this situation for the better. 3D scanners are now available to capture an image of the artefact that renders every detail and intricacy to a high degree of precision, and this 3D model can then be printed out and studied as if it was the original object. Interested visitors to museums can also get their hands on such 3D printed artefacts to learn a little more about their past, and educators can use them as teaching aids.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory in Virginia was developed to support undergraduate students majoring in archaeology at Virginia Commonwealth University. It was created in August 2011 as part of a project funded by the U.S Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management. Their intention was to test how effective the NextEngine Desktop Scanner would be for modelling archaeological discoveries on DoD land.

The VCL team is led by Dr Bernard K. Means, who has a PhD in Anthropology from Arizona State University. The team is able to create 3D printed replicas of all kinds of artefacts, from human and animal remains to fossils and historical items, making use of an Ultimaker 3D printer for their work because of its reliability and the wide range of materials that it allows them to print with.

PLA is most commonly used, with an acrylic paint applied after printing to match the original colors of the artefact as closely as possible. As well as the NextEngine scanner and its native ScanStudio software, a Structure Scanner is sometimes used due to its portability. This makes it more useful for capturing scans on trips abroad.

This kind of work encourages collaboration with other research institutions, as well as opening up the field of archaeology to interested outsiders.

3D printing and scanning technology could eventually turn these casual observers into independent researchers, studying and comparing artefacts in the comfort of their own home or in virtual reality environments. It could also enable people with limited faculties or mobility to explore archaeology, such as the visually impaired, or those living in care facilities.

Bernard says that his team are "energized by their engagement with others working to preserve and make the past come alive," as the implementation of cutting-edge technological advances forms a perfect complement to their delving far back into our planet’s history.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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