Was the Nefertiti 3D Scan Heist An Elaborate Scam?


The covert 3D scan of Nefertiti has captivated news sources, including ALL3DP. But did it even happen? New evidence points to the contrary.

The famous bust of Nefertiti was recently “stolen” in a bizarre, technological heist. A pair of artists had captured her image with a concealed 3D scanner, and then 3D printed a bust of their very own, garnering international notoriety in the process. Or did they?

Artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles claimed they made the scan in an “artistic intervention” to make culturally important objects universally accessible. They said they used a hacked Microsoft Kinect sensor to secretly take a 3D scan of the Nefertiti bust at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

But now that experts have dug into the story a little deeper, their account of what took place doesn’t entirely stack up. As outlined by Paul Docherty and Fred Kahl, there are several major problems.

1. The Kinect sensor would need to be connected to a laptop with scanning software in order to be used as a mobile scanner. It would also need an external battery supply. This would be large, bulky, and definitively noticeable, but there is no sign of them in the video.

2. Glass would have been a nightmare when trying to create a good 3D scan. A polarizing filter would be needed to remove reflections, and it would have to be adjusted for changes in camera position.

3. The top would not have been accessible. There is simply no explanation for how the top of Nefertiti’s head was perfectly scanned. It is just as clear and detailed as the rest of the bust. The useful illustration from Docherty below outlines how the angle is, quite simply, not possible.

There are several other reasons for skepticism, not the least of which is anecdotal evidence. As Kahl explains, anyone using Kinect scanners will find the resolution is nowhere near the sub-millimeter quality presented in the Nefertiti scan.

So...did they fly over the bust and security personnel just didn't notice? (Image: Amarna3D)
So…did they fly over the bust and security personnel just didn’t notice? (Image: Amarna3D)

Why All the Smoke and Mirrors Around the Other Nefertiti?

There is one predominant theory on why the artists would have taken liberties with the truth. Namely, the scan could have been leaked by hackers who stole the data directly from the Museum.

A high resolution replica of the bust is actually available for sale in the museum gift-shop, so the data for such a scan does exist and was probably paid for by the museum. By concocting the story of the undercover 3D scan, the artists not only created publicity, but a great cover story for the third party who leaked the data.

When asked about the origins of the scan on the 3D in Review Podcast, the artists claim to know nothing about the details of the device, saying a third party set up the Kinect for the scanning operation, and then took the device away to “download the data”. The artists weren’t present at the critical juncture when the model was created. Furthermore, they claim the hackers left for New Zealand and are not able to be contacted.

That’s where the story ends, for the moment. Representatives for the museum have yet to make a statement on the matter. Now, it’s up to someone else to develop a high-resolution 3D scanner that’s portable and concealable — for scientific purposes, of course.