Affordable 3D printer: archaeological uses?

Archaeology is slowly getting into 3d representations of artefacts, sites, and so on. I don’t know whether we’ve spent enough time thinking ‘why bother?’. What does having a 3d representation of an object or site help us to achieve? A quick answer might have something to do with public archaeology, or education… but that’s a post for another day (or search the archives of this blog 😉

Anyway, for less than $1000, one can now own a 3d printer, and “print” those objects out, from plastic.  If you want to build your own printer, plans exist on the internet. This was a need I didn’t even know I had, but now I very much want… I’ve posted the video in a separate post (thanks, Wired!) From what I can find out so far, if you’ve got the svg file (I think), and it’s not overly large, you can print it.

So why would an archaeologist bother with this, other than its inherent coolness? Explore Bill Turkel’s Lab for Humanitistic Fabrication and read the rationale:

One of the key problems that social scientists and humanists face is knowledge mobilization: getting information out of the ‘silos’ surrounding particular research groups, integrating it on a broad scale, and making it available to all Canadians. The transformation of image, text and sound into a common digital currency has profoundly lowered the transaction costs for researchers to find and utilize new information. A range of new technologies—powerful search engines, wikis, weblogs, text and data mining tools, and so on—make it easier and faster than ever to conduct research and disseminate results. In many disciplines, however, the focus has remained on individuals reading and writing with traditional desktop or laptop computers.


I propose to develop a methodology and a number of prototype devices to make the digital data sets and interpretations of a strategic knowledge cluster available in interactive, ambient and tangible forms that can be recreated in many different settings. To give some idea of the potential of these kinds of devices, consider the difference between writing with a word processor and stepping on the brake of a moving car. While using a word processor you are typically focused on the task and aware that you are interacting with a computer. The interface is intricate, sensorimotor involvement is mostly limited to looking and typing, and your surrounding environment recedes into the background of awareness. On the other hand, when braking you are focused on your involvement with the environment. Sensorimotor experiences are immersive, the interface to the car is as simple as possible, and you are not aware that you are interacting with computers (although recent-model cars in fact have dozens of continuously operating microcontrollers). As academic researchers we have tended to emphasize opportunities for dissemination that require our audience to be passive, focused and isolated from one another and from their surroundings. We need to supplement that model by building some of our research findings into communicative devices that are transparently easy to use, provide ambient feedback, and are closely coupled with the surrounding environment.

(and also read this for a few more arguments).

Well archaeologists? Are you going to let a historian lead the way with material culture?


5 thoughts on “Affordable 3D printer: archaeological uses?

  1. Fascinating, that’s something I’ll have to look into myself. I am an archaeologist and I’m aready thinking of a few projects the printer would be great for, not to mention as a study aid for students.

  2. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think
    that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead
    of that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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