All around the world, the progress of rapid prototyping and 3D printing has been astonishing. Heavy industrial equipment, medical grade accessories, prosthetic limbs, sensitive parts in the automotive and aerospace sectors etc. are being made with the help of rapid prototyping. Earlier this year, some 18th century saints’ bust models were created from the available information through rapid prototyping. It enabled Catholics and history enthusiasts to delve into these historic personalities’ lives and gave them an idea as to what they might have looked like. This time though, 3D printing goes further back in time to revive a memoir from ancient Egypt. An Egyptian mummy has been reconstructed with the help of 3D printers that can help scientists, historians, archeologists and anthropologists to better understand the past of mankind.
Recently in Australia, rapid prototyping services teamed up with forensic science, helped to reconstruct the face and head of an Egyptian mummy. This offered a vivid glimpse of the individual’s life and her death to scientists and researchers concerned.
Researchers in Australia can take pride in reconstructing an Egyptian mummy’s head. This mummy belongs to a woman around eighteen to twenty five years of age, who was alive nearly two thousand years ago in ancient Egypt. This is a revolutionary discovery on the part of the research team, and the results have been quite impressive. The scientists have given her the name Meritamun, which literally means god Amun’s beloved. Going by this unique name, the head of the Egyptian mummy has been kept secured in the basement of University of Melbourne’s medical facility.
This mummified head was in fact, discovered by accident at the collections of University of Melbourne, Australia. During an audit, a curator of a museum first expressed concern regarding the current state of the mummy. The officials at the medical building were concerned that the remains of mummy Meritamun’s head might be subject to decay due to environmental factors from the inside. Hence, a CT scan was done on the mummified head to see how it had been faring. Even though the CT scan results showed that the head was in very good condition, the researchers still decided that the head should be preserved in another medium- i.e. rapid prototyping. From the department of anatomy and neuroscience at University of Melbourne, Varsha Pilbrow opined that the skull was actually in rather intact condition, and that it looked well on the inside with its bandages remaining. That later allowed the research team to think of what was to be done next.
The bone structure found from the CT scan machine revealed that the head belonged to a female of that time period. This structure was studied by a Monash University expert on forensic Egyptology, Janet Davey. Upon more analysis some great facts were found regarding Meritamun. A resident of ancient Egypt, her height was found to be around 163 centimeters or five feet four inches.
According to a statement from a teacher of anatomy from University of Melbourne Varsha Pilbrow, who is a biological anthropologist, the main idea behind the project was to taking a historic relic and bringing her back to life with the help of the latest technology.
The process of printing for the reconstruction of the face of the mummified head required around one hundred and forty hours. For this purpose, the 3D printer used was a simple, consumer level one, used by Jennifer Mann. This sculptor reconstructed the face of Meritamun using the 3D printed skull.
First of all, a 3D printed replica was produced from the scans of Meritamun’s head. For this, Pilbrow’s team took assistance from an imaging specialist. After that, the team of scientists did an in depth study of the facial bone structure of Meritamun, which included eye socket characteristics, angle of the jaw, jaw size etc. to find out that it was in fact, a female head. It was also found that at the time of death, her age would not have exceeded twenty five. She was an important figure of Egyptian society, hence was important enough to undergo mummification after her death.
Pilbrow, according to a statement, takes pride in the fact and is fascinated that her team was able to find out so much about the mummy without doing any kind of damage to the specimen in any way. This is of utmost importance in a museum curatorial perspective. However, the true origins of Meritamun are yet to be found out. The team believes that it came from the collection of a professor who conducted archeological research in Egypt, Frederic Wood Jones. The archeologist later joined University of Melbourne as the head of anatomy back in 1930. Looking at the embalming and distinctive linen bandaging style of the mummy’s head, the researchers believe that she was mummified in Egypt and that she might have lived around two thousand years ago. The next step would be to have the specimen radiocarbon dated to find out the exact date of Meritamun in a more precise manner.
In the meantime, the rapid prototyping and CT scan data has given some more information about Meritamun. These include the fact that she might have had some dental abnormalities and certain diseases. For one, the top of her skull was found to be extremely porous and very thin. This suggests that she might have had anemia- according to Pilbrow. Her bone marrow was found to be swollen, as it had been trying to produce more red blood cells to compensate for the lack of it. This deficiency of oxygen and hemoglobin is the reason behind the thinning of her skull bone.
Pilbrow further stated that dental pathologies and anemia were in fact, quite common among the people of Egypt. Even though anemia sounds like a probable way that Meritamun might have died, Pilbrow and her team are looking for other clues that might take them closer to her actual cause of death. For her skin tone, the researchers settled for a dark olive hue and modeled her hair based on another ancient Egyptian woman called Lady Rai. She lived in ancient Egypt from around 1570 to 1530 BCE.
According to imaging technician Gavan Mitchell, the process of transforming the skull from a CT scan data on a screen into something tangible has been hugely rewarding. The 3D model can now be handled and examined. The research done by the team is yet to be published in a peer review journal.
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