Apr. 29, 2015 | By Kira

When I think about history museums, the first thing that comes to mind is a dim, stuffy old building filled with stationary displays, sleep-inducing plaques, and “do not touch” signs. While that might have been the case a few decades ago, today, more and more museums are at the forefront of technological innovation, using 3D digitalization and modeling techniques not only to enhance research and preservation methods, but to create entirely new interactive and educational experiences for visitors of all ages.

One such museum is the Medelhavsmuseet in Stockholm, Sweden, where a groundbreaking new 3D digitization project has been installed that allows visitors to get up close and personal with ancient Egyptian mummies like never before. The project is part of the new permanent Egyptian exhibition, and features a digital reproduction of the mummy Neswaiu as well as a 3D-printed replica of a golden amulet that was buried with him over 2300 years ago. Using an interactive touch table, visitors can ‘unwrap’ Neswaiu layer by layer in order to discover complete, photorealistic images of the mummy, both inside and out, and even hold the amulet in their own two hands. Rather than risking the destruction of priceless historical artifacts, the 3D digitization method allows researchers and visitors to gain new insights about Egyptian culture, without causing any damage to the original.

The project is led by Interactive Institute Swedish ICT in Norrköping, which hopes to set a new benchmark for how museums utilize new technologies, and the way visitors can experience and learn about ancient cultures. “With this project we hope to inspire museums to work with 3D digitization, interactive visualization and 3D printing to make their collections accessible in a new way,” said Thomas Rydell of Interactive Institute. “In this project we worked with mummies, but the same methods could be used on a large variety of objects, such as natural history objects and other historical artifacts.”

To begin the 3D digitization process, Neswaiu, a mummified priest from the third century BC, was shipped from the museum in Stockholm to Linköping University Hospital. Here, alongside several other mummies, Neswaiu was scanned with a dual energy Siemens Somatom Definition Flash CT scanner. The radiology and forensic experts at the hospital’s Center for Medical Imaging and Visualization (CMIV) developed special protocols to make sure that the mummies were captured in the most precise and detailed way possible, revealing not only the interior and exteriors of their bodies and accessories, but also the types of materials that make them up.

In order to create the most realistic and detailed images of the mummy’s exterior as possible, the combination of dual energy Computer Tomography (CT) and 3D photogrammetry was used. Whereas traditional CT scanning can provide information about the interior of the mummy, it doesn’t provide any color or surface information. To remedy this, industry leader Autodesk and 3D measurement technology company FARO collaborated to create the intricate surfaces, colors and textures of the mummy, cartonnage and sarcophagus, and data gathered from the photogrammetry and laser scanning methods was processed with Autodesk ReCap, resulting in a textured surface mesh with extremely rich details.

The complete 3D model of the mummy was then combined in the Inside Explorer, a visualization software tool developed by Interspectral. The Inside Explorer is a kind of interactive touch-table that takes volumetric data from the CT scanning and the 3D mesh data and textures from the surface scanning in order to create a true digital representation of the mummy. Museum researchers, educators or visitors can then partake in a truly interactive learning experience that is completely different from the traditional, stationary exhibits most of us are used it. Using simple multi-touch gestures, much like on an iPad, users can explore the mummy as a whole or zoom in to see tiny details. They can also unwrap the mummy layer by layer to reveal anatomy and other artifacts buried with the body.

Taking this tactile experience even further, some of those artifacts have been physically recreated using 3D printing technology, giving visitors a more hands-on experience, and improving access for the visually impaired. For example, a golden, Falcon-shaped amulet that was buried with Neswaiu to guide him into the afterlife was built using modern 3D scanning, 3D printing and traditional metal casting methods.

While the actual amulet is safely wrapped inside the mummy, the 3D replica can be handled and manipulated by visitors, allowing them to learn first-hand about Egyptian religions and beliefs. “Our new exhibitions focuses on the human aspect, while also offering new perspectives on Egypt,” said Sofia Häggman, Museum Director. “3D digitalization technology enables us to describe the health and fate of individuals, as well as ancient Egyptian’s beliefs about the afterlife.”

For example, the exhibit states that amulets were believed the transfer magical properties to the wearer, and that the falcon was associated with the god Horus, who was worshiped at the time Neswaiu lived. Now, imagine reading that off of a plaque while staring at a picture of the amulet, versus actually holding the amulet and feeling a physical connection to its powerful history. I’m willing to bet almost any museum-goer would prefer the latter experience.

History museums and other institutions concerned with education and preservation can clearly benefit quite a bit from 3D visualization, digitization and modeling technologies. Not only do they breathe new life into the visitor experience, they also allow researchers to gain insights into ancient cultures without damaging priceless artifacts.

“It is truly inspiring to see how technology, now so much more powerful yet so accessible, can offer unprecedented new ways to experience, explore and learn about our past,” said Tatjana Dzambazova of Autodesk’s Reality Capture. With so much of our cultural heritage being lost on a daily basis to natural disasters, wars, or the everyday passing of time, she argues, it is our responsibility to take advantage of the 3D digitizing technologies on hand to preserve and save as much as we can.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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