Dec 15, 2017 | By David

Over the last few years, we’ve seen lots of examples of 3D technology being used to bring the past into the present, with detailed reconstructions based on 3D scans of valuable historical artefacts as well as 3D printed fossils of long-dead animals. The latest breakthrough by a team of Peruvian and Polish archaeological researchers has gone further than ever before, with an uncanny reconstruction of the head of a woman who died in Peru over 1,200 years ago. The sculpture is incredibly lifelike, almost adding full-blown resurrection to the ever-expanding range of 3D printing possibilities.

On the coast of Peru back in 2012, the remains of this woman were found in a tomb known as El Castillo de Huarmey. The tomb was located on a site that was once a temple complex for the Wari people, who had lived in this area for centuries before the Incas eventually took over. In total, 58 noblewomen had been buried in this tomb, including four queens or princesses.

The woman was around 60 years old when she died, and archaeologists referred to her as the Huarmey Queen, as she was probably a member of the Wari elite. They made this guess based on the fact that she was buried in her own private chamber away from the others, and she was surrounded with luxuries including a ceremonial axe, gold ear flares, and a silver goblet. Moreover, her skeleton suggested she had spent most of her life sitting but using her upper body, therefore possibly weaving, with the textiles that were more precious and expensive than gold or silver at the time. Some of her teeth were also missing, and this decay hinted that she had been regularly drinking a sugary drink called chichi, which only the Wari elite were allowed to drink.

In spring 2017, archaeologists Miłosz Giersz and Oscar Nilsson set out to reconstruct the face of this woman in physical form, and 3D printing technology was a key part of the process. The skull remains were scanned and then converted into a digital 3D model, which was printed out using a 3D printer in order to form the base of the sculpture. With this in place, the rest of the features were then painstakingly added by hand.

Nilsson examined the skull’s construction, and used detailed datasets to estimate the thickness of muscle and flesh that would have been on the woman’s bone. For reference, he used photographs of indigenous Andeans living near the tomb. He also added real hair from an elderly Andean woman, which Giersz bought from a nearby Peruvian wig market, in order to reconstruct the Huarmey Queen’s haircut. In total, the reconstruction project took around 220 hours.

The 3D-printed skull. Oscar Nilsson

Images credit: Oscar Nilsson

The lifelike impression given by the finished head model is striking, and Nilsson claims that his use of creative license alongside advanced technical processes was the key to this. “If you consider the first step to be more scientific, I gradually come into a more artistic process, where I need to add something of a human expression or spark of life,” he said. “Otherwise, it’d look very much like a mannequin.”

The head is now on public display, at an exhibition of Peruvian artefacts at Poland’s National Ethnographic Museum, located in Warsaw.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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