Ultimaker used to bring 2000 year old Egyptian Mummy back to life

We get very excited when our Ultimaker users make groundbreaking work with their Ultimaker. Cue in University of Melbourne who recent received a lot of press around their recreation of a 2000 Year old Mummy.

Stacey Gorski and her supervisor, Dr Varsha Pilbrow, with part of Meritamun’s 3D printed skull. Picture: Paul Burston.


A team of experts at the University of Melbourne have been able to create a lifelike replica of a 2000 year old Egyptian Woman's Head, using new technologies including CT scanning, an Ultimaker 3D printer and forensic facial reconstruction, combined with good old-fashion Egyptology. This was all done without unwrapping her mummified remains.

The head belonged to an 18 to 25-year-old woman, who they have named Meritamun. Merutamun lived at the time of the Pharaohs.

The reconstruction of the mummy’s face was only the start of a journey to answer questions about how she may have died, what diseases she had, when she lived, where she was from, and even what she ate.


Sculptor Jennifer Mann working on Meritamun in her studio. Picture: Paul Burston.


“The idea of the project is to take this relic and, in a sense, bring her back to life by using all the new technology,”

"This way she can become much more than a fascinating object to be put on display. Through her, students will be able to learn how to diagnose pathology marked on our anatomy, and learn how whole population groups can be affected by the environments in which they live.”

~ Dr Varsha Pilbrow, a biological anthropologist who teaches anatomy at the University’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience.

The project started with concerns that the head, whose origin remains a mystery, could be decaying from the inside without anyone noticing. Removing the bandages wasn’t an option as it would have damaged the relic and further violated the individual who had been embalmed for the afterlife. The CT scan revealed the skull to be in extraordinarily good condition. From there the opportunity to use technology to research the mystery of the head was one that was too good to resist.

“The CT scan opened up a whole lot of questions and avenues of enquiry and we realised it was a great forensic and teaching opportunity in collaborative research,” says Dr Jefferies, a parasitologist. 


CT Scanning of the Mummified Skull at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Picture: Paul Burston, University of Melbourne.


Dr Jefferies also notes that the mummy's eyes sockets had been filled with artificial eyes, a common practice of ancient embalmers to make sure the person looked in death as closely as possible to what he or she looked like in life. One of the next steps of the research will now be to determine even more precisely when the mummy lived — the scientists will soon conduct radiocarbon dating of the bones to find out.

Gavan Mitchell Imagining Technician at the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience Picture: Paul Burston, University of Melbourne.

We talked to Gavan Mitchell B.Sc. Imaging Technician at the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience to find out his involvement in the project.

Gavan was given the DICOM files by Dr. Ryan Jefferies, curator of the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, and used a couple of programs to explore the scans. The model was created using InVesalius. The CT files contain more than just the bone information that was eventually extracted. It also contains soft tissue, cartilage, the false eyes that were inserted when initially mummified, and bandages.

 Digital representation of the CT scan results. Picture: Paul Burston, University of Melbourne.


"You need to select the appropriate density range from the scans to extract the bone."

The 3D file that was made still had bits and pieces of these other materials to remove, and the file was imported into Blender to do this. Blender was used for almost all of the mesh editing to clean up the model and patch up some of the holes and pitting in the top of the skull for the facial reconstruction.

"There was a lot of things to consider including how the mesh was constructed. Is the model watertight or is there any elements that may stop the file from printing. And when you are doing a 140 hour print. You don't want to fail 80 percent of the way through the print."

As this thinning of the skull provides an interesting insight into the life of Meritamun, a second skull was eventually made leaving this pathology un-edited as can be seen on display alongside the final reconstructed face in the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology.

The model was split in half to maximise print quality on both the top and underneath of the skull. Creating a print-ready model was challenging explains Gavan, who used a combination of Blender, Autodesk Meshmixer, and Netfabb to correct double vertices, non-manifold edges, and flipped triangles.

Gavan had recently installed the Olssen Block on the University's Ultimaker, however although much finer nozzles for high details were available, Gavan just used the standard 0.4 nozzle and fairly standard print settings were applied in CURA.

"I didn’t choose a smaller diameter nozzle or particularly high resolution settings for the print as it would exceed the resolution achieved from the CT files anyway, and print times were around 140 hours all up.

Increasing the print resolution was not needed in this case when printing a 1:1 model and would just lengthen the already very lengthy print time. I find the standard resolution of the Ultimaker 2 is already exceptional in quality.

Z axis Layer height was set to 0.08mm at around  50mm/s. Most of the CURA adjustments made were concerning the supports. I created a brim of 5 lines to help with adhesion, but I also like to set a brim as a rule of thumb, it’s easy to remove, and helps to get the material flowing nicely. Support was created ‘Everywhere’. I needed this to help build supports in the eye orbits."


3D Model of Skull in CURA Picture: Gavan Mitchell, University of Melbourne.


Final measurements of the model skull were assessed in CURA, and cross referenced against data of ancient Egyptian skull sizes provided by Dr. Varsha Pilbrow to ensure the model fit within standard deviation, and also had not changed in scale from the initial CT scan.  

The University has so far made 3 full size skulls and printing has been exceptional over those 420 hours.

"It’s actually amazing to think that a consumer desktop printer that everyone can afford is capable of printing such an intricate, detailed model. I have Ultimaker to thank for a very large and significant part of this project"

3D Printing of Skull on the Ultimaker 2 Picture: Gavan Mitchell, University of Melbourne.


 Picture: Paul Burston, University of Melbourne.


Original Article - https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/brought-to-life-2000-years-later

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