The tale of the mummy’s hand
…and how a full-colour 3D printed replica tells it best
“Handling a model provides so much more information than you can absorb from an object behind glass. Handing a replica also helps you connect emotionally to the artifact. And it presents ways to re-interpret holdings in new combinations and contexts.”
-Jing Lu, BCA Partner
You can’t help but wonder: if there’s life after death, did the soul of the Egyptian woman who lived three millennia ago sense anything when, in 2013 A.D., people took hold of her mummified hand? Did it matter that the hand was a precisely rendered 3D printed replica of her real appendage, which is safe in a carefully guarded collection in Great Britain?
We’ll never know, but the handholding made a profound impression on museum professionals who experienced it as part of a class on the possibilities of 3D printing in museum curation. The actual hand, dated at 1550 to 32 BC, is part of the Eton Myers collection of ancient Egyptian art. It was laser-scanned as part of the Eton Myers Collection Virtual Museum project led by the University of Birmingham, UK.
The firm conducting the Museum Development Officers’ class, Black Country Atelier (BCA), had the file transformed into a precise, full-colour physical model using an Mcor IRIS 3D printer. ITEC-3D of Bristol, England, an Mcor Technologies reselling partner, 3D printed the hand for BCA.
“Students who have seen the hand are amazed,” says BCA partner Jing Lu, who led the session. “There is a definite sense that you are connecting with another person across the ages, and that is very powerful. It brings the subject matter to life.”
3D printing of rare and precious artifacts like the mummy’s hand provides a huge range of potential benefits to museums: deeply engaging museum visitors, extending the museum’s reach around the planet, inspiring students from kindergarten through university, preserving disintegrating artifacts, and permitting fragile artifacts to be handled.
“Handling a model provides so much more information than you can absorb from an object behind glass,” says Lu. “For instance, you can tell that the ring on the hand was apparently painted on versus forged from metal, or attached by a string – a detail that would be impossible to see at a distance or in a photograph. Handing a replica also helps you connect emotionally to the artifact,” says Lu. “And it presents ways to re-interpret holdings in new combinations and contexts.”
Essential to the success of the demonstration was the Mcor IRIS’s unique ability to print in more than one million colours simultaneously as it creates solid, photorealistic physical objects from 3D data. The colour is as rich, vibrant and complex as it appears on a computer screen. That’s because the build material is paper, the original and natural medium for coloured ink. Paper also is the reason the IRIS delivers the lowest operating cost of any commercial-class 3D printer. That choice, unique to Mcor, renders durable, stable and tactile models.
“We selected the Mcor IRIS for this work because of its full-colour capability and its potential for low operating costs,” says Lu. “That presents the opportunity for production of quantities of artifacts for appreciation, education or, when appropriate, sale.”
Museums are generally in the exploratory stage of 3D printing. “There’s a big movement in museums around how to refresh engagement with audiences,” says Lu. “Technology and 3D printing are pushing curators to re-evaluate how they can potentially reinterpret collections for the benefit of audiences in all ages, places and settings.”
Reinterpretation could conceivably include more tactile display of artifacts, “mash-ups” of artifacts from different ages or contexts, and deeper interactivity. Imagine a museum patron standing in front of a camera and having her face projected onto a historical figure.
“Museums are being very careful to preserve the quality of the experience,” says Lu. “We are excited about the vast new possibilities that technologies like Mcor’s paper-based 3D printing present for the museums we are working with.”