3D Printing a Mummy Eagle Back from the After-life

3D Printing a Mummy Eagle Back from the After-life

The ability to mass-produce artifacts in ancient Egypt was staggering: hundreds of thousands of statuettes, pendants, jewels of all kinds were manufactured during almost 3 millennia of Egyptian cultural dominance. It was the dawn of civilization in a way very similar to how 3D printing is shaping up to be a new dawn for civilization. And then there were the mummies: Egypt’s most important gift to modern civilization, allowing us to see the face of humans who lived more than 2,000 years ago.

Through modern digital imaging technologies we are able to see what is under the wraps but we cannot touch it to study it further. It is far too delicate. Not just humans either: the Egyptians mummified many of the animals that represented their divinities as well, to accompany the Pharaohs in the after life. The Special Exhibit “Between Heaven and Earth – Birds in Ancient Egypt”, that took place at the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago, was dedicated just to the birds that once flew over Egypt.

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Among the birds of the exhibit, one stood out: it was an eagle that had been unwrapped sometime in the past and was laying for eternity in a glass case, covered with resin and a thin layer of gold. To further study the bird, Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, a PhD candidate in Egyptology in the NELC Department of the University of Chicago and exhibit curator, turned to Jean-Manuel Nothias from cloud-based 3D printing service Vizua3D. Detailing the entire process in a post on Vizua3D’s online blog, they post-processed the digital imaging (DICOM) data collected and shared it via the company’s cloud service with Leed Dockstartwer, VP of Healthcare at 3D Systems, who 3D printed a replica of the mummy using different colours to indicate the different values recorded in the CT scanning session.

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Programs such as the Smithsonian’s X3D and Africanfossils.org have shown how 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies can supply better tools to learn and study history through its artifacts. Fossils may be delicate but a mummified bird is so delicate that even touching it lightly would ruin it. On the other hand, the 3D printed replica could be easily transported to, and shown to the participants at, the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt in Cincinnati. To you and me this may not seem something so revolutionary but for those who study ancient Egyptian, often without even being able to take artifacts out of their protective casings, it is a paradigm shift.

The digital imaging also showed that the eagle still had an intact skeletal system, which could also be 3D printed to scale by 3D Systems. The bones appeared similar to those of Aqulia rapax and soon will be compared with a Steppe Eagle as well, giving researchers new insights into this ancient eagle and its millenary post-mortem journey, from the very beginning to the future of manufacturing.


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