May 29, 2015 | By Simon

While the benefits of using 3D printing to aid in the development of modern day products have been told loud and clear, one of the less talked about - albeit probably more exciting - uses of the technology has been in replicating products that were made hundreds or thousands of years ago in their near-exact form.  

Previously, we’ve seen this method of 3D scanning various historical artifacts and archiving them with the possibility of 3D printing being used by museums and other historical archive institutions.  Now, an artist from Canada is using a similar method to recreate a collection of tanning tools that were previously made by her ancestors.    

The artist, Tania Larsson, is currently a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and recently completed an internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian where she learned how to use modern 3D technologies to recreate objects in the museum’s collection.  

The process, which involves the use of laser scanning and photogrammetry techniques to create accurate digital 3D models, was used to recreate everything from tanning tools to fishing spears.  After the 3D models were made and optimized, they were then 3D printed out of sandstone and used as reference models to build identical tools using the traditional materials used in the original designs including bone and antler.

For Larsson - who grew up in France but later returned to her native Canada to reconnect with her culture - the act of recreating the tools was more than just a way of putting modern technologies to good use - it was a way for her to reconnect with her ancestors in ways that previously might not have been available.  The 25-year-old’s, home in Yellowknife is in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where her native Gwich’in ancestors have lived for centuries as North America’s northernmost Athabaskan group. 

“My mom didn’t have tanning tools, so I don’t have tanning tools,” said Larsson.

“So I thought, I might as well go find the oldest tools I could find and replicate them. I knew there were some tools in the [Smithsonian] collection and I really wanted to see them, maybe for a sense of authenticity, and to just be able to have that connection with my ancestors through these tools that are in the museum.”

With a background in working with metals, Larsson was no stranger to the fabrication process and was able to craft the final tools herself.

“The biggest thing about Native Americans and First Nations is that we always adapted to the technologies we came across, so it’s a totally normal step to use 3D scanning and 3D printing, because this is a new tool that is in front of us,” she said.

“This is a great way to actually take the reference of these tools, 3D print them and then be able to recreate our old tools through new technologies … It’s very exciting because we’re talking about hundreds of years old techniques and traditions and this brand new technology that we can use to recreate it and continue our culture, our traditions.”

Similar to how we’ve seen replicas of artifacts being recreated using 3D printing for museum visitors to hold while observing the original artifact from behind a glass case, the tools recreated by Larsson have also been recreated in child-friendly 3d printed models for museum-goers to try for themselves, too.  

But aside from the ability to handle the tools, perhaps the real value is in their preservation rather than simply the ability to 3D print them.

“Even if something happens to the actual objects, we’ll always have the digital information,” added Larsson.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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