Printing the Past

Scientists have 3D Printed a Replica of Otzi the Iceman

Otzi the Iceman

5,300 year old Otzi the Iceman gets a 3D Printed replica, as featured in PBS documentary series “Nova” episode titled “Iceman Reborn.”

Can 3D Printing recreate the past? Almost!

Otzi is a mummified man who died in the Alps between Austria and Italy some 5,300 years ago. He is famous for being one of the best preserved human mummies in Europe — a process that happened entirely by accident. The ice from glaciers kept the body intact until it was found in 1991.

Now, researchers have 3D printed an incredible replica, as documented by the PBS documentary series Nova. The episode, titled “Iceman Reborn,” aired on February 17th.

Otzi the Iceman had a hard life

Researchers believe that Otzi the Iceman had been murdered, the first recorded instance in human history. Since discovery, he has been kept in a frozen crypt for several years to avoid contamination. Now, it seems science is ready to open the door.

Paleo-sculptor Gary Staab was tasked with immortalizing Otzi with the help of 3D-printing firm Materialise. Together, the team has created 2 full 3D prints, meaning that at least some valuable information about the Iceman’s skeleton will be kept safe for future scientists.

3D modeling techniques allowed them to recreate several missing parts, including multiple ribs. An engineer mirrored Otzi’s existing ribs and pieced them into the design. Finally, Materialise created the 5’5” replica using mammoth stereolithography and liquid resin tank. Staab then sculpted a lifelike skin texture on the body to create a more realistic vision of Otzi.

The chance to examine the Iceman up close is not just a treat for viewers, but will help researches learn more about the famous mummified man. The body has even taught researchers about the early art of tattooing, as well as migration through Europe.

This is not the first time printing has been used to help researchers recreate the dead. In fact, Staab has already partnered with Materialise once before to create an accurate 3D replica of King Tut’s mummy. Chances are there will be dozens of more opportunities for 3D printing to preserve more fragile artifacts like Otzi in the future.

Otzi the iceman