Nov 21, 2017 | By Tess

A team of Danish archaeologists have used 3D printing technology to reconstruct the skull of Gorm the Old, the first historically recognized Viking king of Denmark. The famous king reigned over the Scandinavian country from the year 936 to his death in 958 CE.

3D printed replica of Gorm the Old's skull

(Image: Marie Louise Jørkov)

3D scanning and printing technologies have proved to be extremely useful in the field of archaeology, where specialists have turned to the technologies to analyze and reconstruct ancient artefacts, relics, and bones without having to physically manipulate the original object.

In fact, Gorm the Old is not even the first king to have his remains turned into 3D, as a project from 2016 used 3D scanning techniques to digitally replicate the grave of King Richard III. For the Danish king, however, the 3D printed skull is a first.

Gorm the Old’s skeleton was originally discovered in 1978, buried under the floor of Jelling Church, located in the village of Jelling where Gorm the Old ruled from. Before the old king’s bones were reburied in 2000, a team from the National Museum of Denmark made CT scans of them.

Digital 3D replica of the king's skull bones

(Image: Anthropology Laboratory / Chiara Villa)

And while the quality of the 3D scans has not allowed for much conclusive analysis, it has enabled archaeologists to 3D print replicas of the king’s broken skull bones—the original skull was crushed and flattened after centuries of being underground—and reconstruct them.

“It’s a great feeling to stand with [the 3D printed bones] in your hand, turning them over, and looking at them,” said Adam Bak, the curator at Kongernes Jelling from the National Museum of Denmark. “From a pure science communication perspective, it’s so much better to have a ‘real’ bone in your hand than to read a dry text about a historical person. I can’t deny that I’ve also played Hamlet with his skull.”

Gorm the Old's exhumed skeleton
(Image: Anthropology Laboratory / Chiara Villa)

Not just fun to play with, the 3D printed replica of the royal skull has enabled the archaeologists to learn some new information about Gorm the Old. For instance, the king had a boney growth at the base of his skull called an external occipital protuberance.

“He had a very pronounced growth on his neck just where it meets the back of the head,” explained Marie Louise Jørkov, a Forensic Pathology postdoc at the University of Copenhagen. “It looks like a bird’s beak and it’s really pronounced. It’s not totally unheard of, but we don’t see it very often.”

Though rare, occipital protuberances can be caused by pressure or weight put on the muscles and ligaments that are effected by the protrusion. In Gorm’s case, the bump would not have been visible unless he had cropped or no hair, and likely caused no real symptoms, except perhaps for some sleeping discomfort.

When asked if it would be possible to exhume the king’s bones again to perhaps capture a higher resolution scan or to extract DNA from the bones, the archaeologists are hesitant.

The king's occipital protuberance (in yellow) is visible from this angle

(Image: Marie Louise Jørkov)

“He’s been in the grave for 800 years, which for much of that time was under water, and his bones are very damaged,” explained Bak. “I doubt that it’s possible to extract DNA or strontium [an element that can indicate where a person lived]. Moreover, he’s been disinterred three times now, so it’s also a question of allowing him to rest in peace.”

Whether Gorm the Old’s bones get dug up again or not, at least there is a 3D printed skull that can be displayed and held!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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