OXFORD, Ohio – You can’t steal a piece of history. At least you can’t if the person you’re stealing it from has a 3-D printer at their disposal.
That’s the lesson learned at Miami University, where a visiting professor of anthropology is using 3-D scanning and printing technology to create replicas of ancient artifacts, including two that were stolen from the department last June.
Before the items were taken last spring, Jeb Card scanned the 19th century pipe and a painted effigy vessel from the Greater Nicoya region of Costa Rica. The scans stored their digital information on his computer.
Last week, with the use of a new color 3-D printer at the B.E.S.T. Library, Card printed replicas of the objects with the same dimensions and colors as the originals.
Curious how the process works?
3-D printing is additive manufacturing. That means the plastic is built up one layer at a time.
The machine reads the design from the 3-D printable file and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers are joined or automatically fused to create the final shape.
The printer at the B.E.S.T Library puts down layers of gypsum powder and coats them with ink, creating a denser, more detailed replica than other printers on campus that produce plastic replicas.
Printers are capable of creating almost any shape or geometric feature. Jobs can take minutes, hours or days, depending on the size and density of an object.
"This is obviously a significant thing for us, to revive a lost object through this technology," Card said.
This is the first semester Card has made 3-D scanning a standard part of archaeology courses.
He expects to have 40 students using the scanner by the end of spring semester to produce replicas of various artifacts that may eventually become part of a virtual online museum he plans to build.