Printing with purpose: 3D printing enhancing knowledge, research and learning

Archaeology doesn’t always live up to its Hollywood fame—you don’t always bring the cool artifacts home like Indiana Jones.

But with new technology, we can do the next best thing.

Robert Bischoff is a recently graduated BYU master’s student who focuses on this technology.

Focusing his studies on the people of the Southwestern United States, Bischoff has been able to take Fremont and Ancestral Pueblo artifacts away from archaeology sites and into the hands of research colleagues and Museum of Peoples and Cultures visitors through 3D printing and modeling.

The first 3D printer was used in the 1980s by Charles W. Hull to make mechanical part prototypes.

Today, the uses of 3D printers have expanded to replicating artifacts, documenting historic landscapes, and building archaeological models.

In the past, students and researchers were limited to studying artifacts at excavation sites and presenting and teaching the public with 2D photographs. But with 3D printing, archeologists can tangibly share their knowledge as they bring copies of artifacts to conferences, campuses and museums.

When Bischoff and his peers excavated a site in Goshen, Utah where all the artifacts legally belonged to the landowner, they were able to make 3D models of basketry impressions to continue studying their findings. Other students are reconstructing clay lamps and figurines from Petra, Jordan.

Bischoff’s favorite project (so far) was doing 3D modeling of Pilling Figurines.

 

The benefits of this technology expand to students and community residents as they visit the Museum of Peoples and Cultures. Individuals get to handle replicas of artifacts from around the world without risking any harm to the artifacts themselves. Allowing people to touch, handle (and sometimes drop), and see demonstrations with these printed replicas elevates off-site archaeological learning to the next level.

While 3D printing has already expanded the archaeological world, Bischoff notes that archaeologists are always adapting new technology to do even more.

BYU research archaeologist Scott Ure was an early adopter of using drones to take aerial photographs and then processing these photographs into 3D models. This inventive approach provides opportunities for documenting large landscapes and identifying features that cannot be seen from the ground. Ure has created a number of 3D replications of archaeology sites that allow researchers to better understand what is on the ground. As this specific approach evolves, archaeologists will be able to more easily record the exact shapes, dimensions, and appearance of archaeology sites and preserve and share these sites and artifacts digitally.

Another perk to 3D modeling: instead of carefully planning and packing for the transportation of models and artifacts around the world, models can be shared digitally to be shared with the public and archaeologists conducting research across the world.

“Communicating our results to the public is one of the most important things we do, and new technology allows us to do so more effectively,” shares Bischoff.  “New technology [allows] us to discover more sites and to better document and preserve them so we can share what we find with the public.”

Step into models of actual archaeological sites and handle the printed replicas of artifacts that create our history at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

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