University of Canterbury researchers have started printing exact 3D replicas of rare artefacts stored in their collection to allow classics students to handle the material during lessons.
The 3D printing technology takes antiquities stored in the university’s Logie Collection, which includes Babylonian cuneiform tablets, Roman cups and vases and other treasures, and recreates them in plastic.
Collection co-curator Terri Elder says the work allows their students to take the objects out of the glass and use them in the same way the Romans did hundreds of years ago.
“They just light up when they are getting to handle the objects, even if they are replicas and not the originals,” she says.
“Students that have interacted with the real objects, and the replica objects, tend to recall the information better and they tend to recall it for longer as well.”
It also means universities and museums can take the 3D scans and upload the material online to share with overseas institutions, or simply that everyday users can them print off at home.
“It would open up the possibility for us to share objects with collections overseas, partially where the cost of freighting the original object would have been too much for us to bear,” Ms Elder says.
The printing is being carried out by senior mechanical engineering lecturer Don Clucas. They have already preserved a cuneiform tablet carrying writing, which is likely to deteriorate over time.
“It’s effectively 2D printing and we’re stacking it up. You’re just printing off layer on top of layer on top of layer and eventually you build up a component,” he says.
University of Canterbury classics student Kate Tinkler says it’s “a really good idea”.
“It’s so different to looking at something through the glass. You can feel the size and the weight of it and all those tiny details,” she says.
“There’s never anything you can hold without gloves because half of the stuff is so fragile, you don’t want the oil from your fingertips eroding into the paintwork.”
The hope is to eventually start handing out souvenirs to visiting school groups to allow them to have their own breakable version at home.