Archaeologists are embracing 3D printing and scanning as innovative ways to both preserve and display the past. Check out this guide on how these technologies are bringing the past to life.
Ever want to examine rare objects from human history, wander through an ancient city that hasn’t stood for thousands of years, or count exactly how many teeth a Tyrannosaurus Rex rocked? Archaeologists and paleontologists are working with 3D printing and 3D scanning technologies to make those dreams come true for everybody.
Archaeology is the science of studying human history through physical objects extracted from their original locations, often buried under thousands or millions of years’ worth of detritus. Though related to archaeology, paleontology concentrates on the naturally-preserved physical remains of animals and plants, which are called fossils.
3D scanning and 3D printing are also complementary processes. 3D scanning consists of taking thousands of measurements of an object or landscape and compiling it into a 3D image of that object. (Check out our article on the best 3D scanners for more details on how 3D scanning works and where to find the best equipment.)
3D printing, on the other hand, involves actually building an object through additive manufacturing.
Working with old artifacts is extremely exacting work, and often the discoveries of both disciplines are too delicate to be handled in anything except academic papers and articles. But both archaeologists and paleontologists, along with the museums they help populate, are using 3D technologies to change that. Read on to find out how.
3D scanning is the process of collecting spatial data of an area or object using hundreds of points of measurements from a camera or light source. Oftentimes it’s used for analyzing areas that are difficult to explore in the real world or create models of objects for closer inspection than the objects themselves can support.
These are both great assets to archaeology’s study methods, letting scientists discover important relationships and details that previously were inaccessible. Below are a few ways 3D scanning helps archaeologists at various points of their processes.
Archaeologists aren’t just looking for artifacts. They’re hunting for the overarching contexts of their discoveries as well. That’s where 3D scanning comes in:
Museums are also using 3D scanning technology to overcome the inherent inaccessibility of archaeological finds and present full views of the past without endangering the safety of artifacts.
In addition to visiting historical sites and world-famous museum collections from your own home, 3D scanning lets you try your own hand at archaeology.
Smartphone cameras and apps let you 3D scan without needing extra equipment, and many amateur 3D enthusiasts have used their surroundings and findings to recreate historical objects and scenes within their own reach.
Sketchfab has a vast selection of user uploads in its Cultural Heritage & History section, ranging from 3D models of Van Gogh’s painting of his room to recreations of Chinese Buddha statues from early dynasties. Scroll through for major inspiration.
Paleontology shares many of the same qualities of archaeology but focuses on fossilized organic material instead of manmade artifacts. This presents unique obstacles in unearthing discoveries.
Fortunately, the same 3D scanning techniques can be used as answers to different problems with the same results: higher accessibility, deeper study opportunities, and an overall more thorough understanding of our past.
All of these scanned 3D fossils give paleontologists and archivists alike the chance to study and display while preserving at the same time, a feat that lets more people than ever access our ancient ancestors and environments.
Much like archaeology, paleontology benefits greatly from public awareness and participation.
Both archaeology and paleontology benefit from the restorative qualities of 3D printing. It saves artifacts and fossils alike, adding support and structure to shapes that threaten to collapse and making copies lifelike enough for scientific study yet safe for wide distribution.
Although excavation site conditions aren’t conducive to 3D printing themselves, 3D printing can provide plenty of support before scientists head out.
The most popular use of 3D printing in archaeology and paleontology is creating copies of historically important objects that are durable enough for everyday use.
All you need to immerse yourself in paleontology is a 3D printer and free fossil scans to download for your designs. This major leap in accessibility lets everyone from school kids to retired hobbyists explore the natural world in tangible ways.
The American Museum of Natural History uses 3D printing to give visitors a taste of what it’s like to be a paleontologist, using 3D printed copies of bones from their collection for identity and skeleton-building exercises.
3D printing and scanning have opened up archaeology and paleontology to the masses as well as expanded scientists’ abilities to explore these fields. Find a museum, website, or excavation that captures your imagination today!
(Lead image source: Public Archaeology in 3D)
License: The text of "3D Scanning & 3D Printing in Archaeology & Paleontology" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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