Harvard’s Semitic Museum Is Using 3D Printers To Restore An Ancient Statue

    December 7, 2012

Much of our shared ancient history is told through art. Researchers study statues, carvings and other artwork to piece together the lives of these ancient peoples. Unfortunately, many of these ancient statues were lost to time, or were destroyed by those who have little appreciation for them. Now archaeologists are hoping to undo this damage with the use of everybody’s favorite modern technology – 3D printing.

Harvard’s Semitic Museum recently shared a story of how it’s now attempting to reconstruct a 2-foot-long ceramic lion that was used in the worship of Ishtar in the city of Nuzi. The statue was destroyed when Assyrians attacked the city and ransacked the temple. Now the museum is only left with the front paws and a piece of the rump and back legs of a once majestic statue.

Thankfully, the University of Pennsylvania has a completely intact lion. Harvard’s Semitic Museum has borrowed that lion and contracted Learning Sites Inc. to take high quality 3D scans of the statue. The scans will allow them to reconstruct the missing pieces of Harvard’s lion and restore it to its original form.

The reconstruction process will make us of a 3D printer that sculpts high-density foam into the shapes needed. It might not be the original ceramic material that the lion was made from, but it will allow the museum to display an object that looks similar to the one that was destroyed so many years ago.

It seems that the lion is just the start in applying modern technologies like 3D printing to the world of archaeology. The museum’s assistant director Joseph Greene says that these new techniques will be invaluable in learning new information from artifacts.

“It’s important to devote our time and attention to objects we have in our collection and to apply the latest techniques, techniques not dreamed of when [the artifacts] were dug up. There’s a continual curiosity: What more can we learn? What hasn’t been tried so far? Can we wring new data from objects that have been in our basement for 80 years?”

It just further proves that 3D printing is still evolving into a technology that can serve multiple purposes for different people. We may think printing a giant wrench is pretty cool, but reconstructing thousand-year-old artifacts is on another plain of awesomeness.