3D Printing and Artifact Restoration

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Egypt in the News, Living in Louisville!

Last weekend I had the unique opportunity to attend Derbycon 2.0, a conference for the computer security industry. I learned some important things there, such as always keep your computer’s operating system, firewall, and antivirus software updated with the latest security patches unless you want your desktop to become a Roman orgy for malicious hackers!

But mostly it was a chance to reunite with some old friends from a field I worked in many moons ago. It was also a chance to check out some of the new technology, especially 3D printing, which I have long suspected has some applications for artifact restoration and replication.


3D printing is exactly what it sounds like—printing objects from computer code into three dimensions using plastic and other substances. Think of a regular inkjet printer. When you print out the letter “O” the print head puts down a layer of ink into a circular shape determined by the font loaded from software. But imagine now that instead of ink, the print head was laying down a plastic “O”, and instead of a single layer, imagine that it lays down layer upon layer. Now imagine that with each layer of the letter “O” the print head moved in just a little until, with the final layer of plastic, all the edges of the “O” would meet at a point. You no longer have a plastic “O,” you have literally printed out a small plastic dome.

That is how 3D printing works, and in the video below I show a 3D printer making a solar panel for a model of a satellite, and I also show a functional lock and key that were printed out. Pretty much anything you can design in CAD software, such as Dassault Systèmes’ Solidworks, can be printed out as a solid object using a 3D printer. So why not use 3D printing to restore and replicate artifacts?

Normally, artifact restoration is done by using clay or a similar modeling agent to fill in the missing spaces for the artifact. So let’s say you have a nice but smashed piece of redware which you want to restore. You have the base, some of the sides, and part of the rim—more than enough to fill in the gaps with clay to restore the original. But let’s say that instead of using clay, you create the model vessel in Solidworks and print it out on a 3D printer. The missing parts could be represented by white plastic that could be painted a neutral color to distinguish them from the original, and the actual pieces of the artifact could then be plugged into the missing spaces left in the model. Voila, you now have the restored piece.

So why is this an advantage over restoring the piece using clay, which would probably be easier and less time consuming? Because you could also use a 3D scanner to scan the pieces of the original artifact into Solidworks too. Now you have the actual artifact—the broken pieces of the original redware—stored in computer code usable by the 3D printer, as well as the “filled-in” parts that were used in the restoration. This computer code could then be downloaded by any school or museum to print out their own scientifically accurate 1:1 scale model of the artifact. This could be used by universities and museums to make models that could then be painted by restoration staff and put on display, but it could also be used by public schools to let kids experiment with artifact restoration and teach everything from math and computers to art and history, while raising up the next generation of Egyptologists!

So here is the video, an Em Hotep first. Hopefully this will get some discussion going in the comments section. Is this being done already, and if so, how can we build more interest? If it isn’t being done, why not?

YouTube Preview Image


By the way… Derbycon 2.0 took over Camp Em Hotep for a few days, but the next “From Pits to Palaces” article, dealing exclusively with Hierakonpolis during Naqada II, will be up in a day or two!


Copyright by Keith Payne, 2012. All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm and is filed under Egypt in the News, Living in Louisville!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 comments so far

mary crowther

still trying to get my head around 3d printing!, facanating!, many thanks.xx

October 6th, 2012 at 11:17 am

Thank you, Mary! My dear friend, it is so good to see you here on Em Hotep, please keep dropping in! Sorry I took so long to respond, but we are in touch daily, so hopefully you will forgive me 😉


November 1st, 2012 at 6:50 am
Susan Leogrande Alt

OK – so all along you knew what I was talking about! lol on me then … I think this tech will really help students get the feel of the size and so on of objects from this time …

AND I’d still LOVE a 3d Version of the Great Pyramid that I put together with Jean Pierre’s instructions!

April 15th, 2013 at 4:19 am

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