Documenting Ancient Sculptures

3D Scanning Gives Ancient Pharaohs New Life

Projects - Ancient Egyptian Sculptures

Sculptures in ancient Egypt were thought to grant eternal life to the kings, queens, and gods that they portrayed. For this and other reasons, people even today are fascinated by the ancient Egyptian culture and the remarkable sculptures they left behind, many of which remain in museum collections around the world. Many museums consider their Egyptian collection among their most popular exhibits. The Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of Pharaohs, for example, is regarded as the most popular traveling exhibit in history.

Considered one of the finest Ancient Egyptian collections in the world, The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has over 42,000 items in their collection. Direct Dimensions was approached recently by the University of Pennsylvania museum, known as The University Museum, with an exciting 3D project: the museum officials wanted to offer replicas of some of the more special pieces for sale in the museum gift shop.

Given the well preserved condition of these original ancient artifacts, and the museums dedication to quality and authenticity, it was important that the replicas be made very precisely to the originals. The officials quickly realized that advanced non-contact 3D imaging technology would be needed to perform this task.

For example, with the age of the sculptures dating back to approximately 1300 B.C., it would not be possible to cast a mold off the pieces as this could damage the originals. Plus it was determined that some of the pieces would need to be reproduced smaller and larger than the originals, so direct casting would not work.

Meanwhile Direct Dimensions has performed many 3D projects in museums including scanning sculptures from Matisse and Degas for the Baltimore Museum of Art, National Galley of Art in DC, and both the MOMA and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, among many others. We have also imaged the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia three different times with increasingly better 3D technology in 2004, 2006, and 2008. Working in museums with priceless works of art has become a regular component of our business and growing broader everyday.

After preparing for the on-site effort at the museum, the DDI technicians scanned four different sculptures: the Amun, the Headless Princess, the Scribe, and a Kneeling King Tut. An articulating arm-based laser line scanner provided high accuracy and real-time feedback to assure complete capture before heading back to Baltimore to process the raw scan data.

For the post-processing, we used Innovmetric’s PolyWorks Modeler software to create highly accurate watertight 3D digital models of each of the ancient pieces. During both the scanning and modeling processes, specific attention was paid to fine cracks and other imperfections in the original pieces – qualities that would make the reproductions that much more accurate and realistic. Some of the models were also scaled to several different heights so that the gift shop could offer the reproductions at different pricing levels.

The final digital models were formatted into STL files and fabricated using rapid prototyping to create high quality patterns. Then the museum arranged for a production fabricator to cast the reproductions in a high quality resin material.

The museum-quality reproduction sculptures are some of the most popular items in their gift shop and visitors are thrilled to bring a little piece of Ancient Egypt home with them.

If you are interested in purchasing a replication, you can call 215-898-4046.

If you would like to make museum-quality reproductions to raise funds for your museum, please contact Direct Dimensions.

Additional Reading

Rosetta Stone Featured Project: Direct Dimensions has also scanned a direct cast of the Rosetta Stone.

Penn Museum: for more on the museum collections and exhibits.