The majority of 3D printing news is about the extension of the technology, and all of the new possibilities of manufacturing and design that the future will hold. While 3D printing is helping build a more advanced future, the technology is also helping us discover new things about the past.
There are many examples of rudimentary and professional level 3D printers aiding archeologists and paleontologists in their respective fields, from resizing small fossils for ease of study, to constructing one of the largest dinosaurs in recorded history, and printing copies of the oldest chameleon fossil to date.
The results we are seeing using this technology in these fields of study is absolutely astounding, and genuinely advancing the way these artifacts and fossils are understood.
The really interesting part is that you can use many different types of printers to do this type of work, like smaller desktop uPrint SE Plus used by Western Paleo Labs or even consumer level MakerBots at the University of West Florida’s Virtual Bones & Artifacts Lab.
Western Paleo Labs ended up printing a model 50” x 15”, a large model for a desktop machine, and shows the ease of replication to have multiple models on display in several different locations. The Virtual Bones & Artifacts Lab hammer this point home by being able to print bones that researchers in other countries have digitized and sent to the Lab.
The really impressive models come from professional level systems, like the Objet used at the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zurich.
The interesting point about this case study is the fact that not only did the PolyJet technology help them understand the bones at a deeper level and accelerated timeline, the high accuracy of the models allowed them to better understand the brain of the Neanderthal, a part of the body not even printed. The researchers also realized the benefits of having an in-house printer, such as only having to purchase material on an as-needed basis, and the ability to print out specific segments of their models for further study whenever they wanted.
It should also be noted that scanning and 3D printing artifacts and organic remains is the most non-invasive, safest procedure to record and understand history without damaging the original copies. It makes sense, of course; you can handle and manipulate 3D scans and printed replicas in a much rougher manner than the weak bones you originally dig up. Furthermore, with digital copies of these findings, you can exhibit them virtually anywhere, and even print them out on your own 3D printer.
If you’d like to learn more about 3D printing in the fields of archeology and paleontology, you can read this great write-up in the Scientific American on Lehman College and their work on primate skulls.