Skull 3D-printed skull portion based on data from a CT scan

Amphorae Replica 1:10-scale amphorae for use in ship-lading studies.


NAP student John Littlefield designed these Roman anchor replicas in Rhinoceros, then printed them using the 3D printer and hand painted extra details.

The Analytical Archaeology Lab operates a Z-Corporation 310 three-dimensional printer, which turns data from 3D-modelling files into detailed physical models. With it, models and prototypes can be created within a computer to exacting specifications, and replicated accurately in plaster using the printer.


The ZPrinter 310 reads 3D files and translates them into printable layers. During the printing process, layers of plaster powder 0.005” (0.0125 mm) thick are transfered from the 'feed' chamber to the 'build' chamber. Next, a binding agent is sprayed onto the plaster powder using a regular inkjet printhead. Wherever the binding agent is sprayed, the plaster hardens, leaving the rest as loose powder. The model is then built up layer by layer like sheets of stacked paper. The entire structure is supported by the loose powder, allowing for models with complex geometry. Once the model is finished printing, it is carefully excavated from the excess powder. Z310

The finished plaster models can then be consolidated with various glues to improve their strengths, sanded, painted, or even electroplated. The 3D printer can even be used to creat molds for urethane or silicone casting, or metals casting using a specially formulated powder.

Rapid prototyping - the ability to design an object in the computer and quickly produce an exacting part - has many uses in the field of archaeology. Combined with 3D scanners, 3D printers can create replicas of existing artifacts, or even molds or stands that are exactly form-fitting with delicate pieces.

Combined with medical imaging systems like CT Scanners and MRIs, 3D printers can create accurate models of bones, allowing physical anthropologists to rapidly share data across the globe.

Last Updated: