Art & Sculpture

Interview with ThinkSee3D: behind the British Museum’s Jericho Skull

The Jericho Skull, excavated from the Palestinian Territories of Jerusalem, dates back to the final phase of the Stone Age between 8200 and 7500 BC. It is part of The British Museum’s collection in London, UK, and has been 3D printed to look as it would have done in life, all those thousands of years ago.

One of the 3D printed Jericho skulls shortly after printed. Photo via: Steven Dey, ThinkSee3D on Twitter
One of the 3D printed Jericho skulls shortly after 3D printing. Photo via: Steven Dey, ThinkSee3D on Twitter

ThinkSee3D Ltd. is a 3D cultural heritage service provider, based in Oxford, UK, responsible for the 3D printed Jericho models. Speaking to Steven Dey, the MD and founder of ThinkSee3D, 3D Printing Industry discover the challenges faced in recreating the Jericho Skull, and the nuances of 3D printing that have revealed new scientific theories about the living skull’s conditions.

Created using 3D Systems industrial 3D printers

There are three 3D printed stages of the Jericho on display alongside the original – which has been filled with cement to stop the cranium from caving in. All three models were 3D printed in gypsum using a 3D Systems industrial 3D printer – potentially the ProJet CJP 660Pro that has case studies in the same material for 3D printing dinosaur bones.

The first 3D print of the Jericho skulls shows a partial reconstruction, missing a jaw, and part of the cranial cavity that was left out to get a good microCT scan image.

Jericho Skull stage one. Reconstructed and 3D printed in gypsum by ThinkSee3D.
Jericho Skull stage one. Reconstructed and 3D printed in gypsum by ThinkSee3D.

In this model, historians notice a broad forehead suggesting that the gender of the skull is male.

Dey explains how working with the CT scan files was the first challenge encountered in 3D printing Jericho;

We started the project with a very large digital model (>5Gb file size) which came out of the microCT scan work the museum had commissioned […] being so big, it had a lot of internal geometry and was very high resolution (beyond the resolution of the 3d printer and probably the human eye).

Luckily, ThinkSee3D are used to working with such files throughout their projects, and were able to manipulate the images into a 3D model in just a few days.

A happy accident

The second 3D print shows a cross-section of the Jericho Skull.

“Interestingly due to a power cut one of the skulls only half-printed leaving a model that looked like a medical cross-sectional view,” says Dey.

Ridges on the inside of this model, not caused by FFF layering, suggest new evidence that the skull had been bound during growth.

Binding was a typical custom for the time, with supposed links to reflection of social status. It results in a more conical shape to the head when in adulthood, demonstrated more clearly in the final 3D model.

Face to face with the past

This final reconstruction was created by RN-DS Partnership who specialize in facial reconstruction for archeological evidence of this kind. RN-DS Partnership used some of the data gathered by ThinkSee3D to map a historically-accurate figure of how the Jericho male may have looked. It is finished in Jesmonite – a composite material also based in gypsum, with added resin.

RN-DS Partnership's facial reconstruction of the Stone Age Jericho male.
RN-DS Partnership’s facial reconstruction of the Stone Age Jericho male.

It’s astounding how 3D printed recreations of the Jericho Skull has had the ability to shed light on a thousand-year-old mystery. Dey optimistically explains how this is often a result of their projects;

One of our medical clients discovered some subtle structural differences in the 3D printed brains of 2 babies of identical age where one had gone full term and one had been born prematurely (this had not been noticed from the on-screen 3d models or the MRI data).

Throughout 2017, ThinkSee3D have many other upcoming natural history projects, including 3D imaging of Jurassic reptiles, Egyptian artifacts, and CT scans of Viking skeleton.

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Apart from where cited, all photos featured in this article were taken by Beau Jackson at The British Museum’s ‘Creating an ancestor: the Jericho Skull’ exhibit for 3D Printing Industry.

Featured image shows the first and second 3D printed reconstructions of the Jericho skull. Photo by Beau Jackson for 3D Printing Industry.