Art & Sculpture

Materialise unveils the 3D printed mammoth at the Lier Museum

Materialise, a Belgian software and 3D printer maker, has unveiled its mammoth project in the city of Lier, Belgium.

Earlier this year, the company was hired to 3D print a replica of Lier mammoth. The project is now complete, and the 3D printed mammoth can now be visited at the Stadsmuseum Lier.

Gertjan Brienen, Project Engineer at Materialise said, “I was incredibly proud to be able to call on so much experience and expertise from across our business, gained in the many diverse industrial areas we work in, and bring them together to handle the many complexities this project presented.”

“I think what’s really exciting is that with this project, we’ve helped ancient history live on. Visitors to the Lier museum will be able to enjoy their mammoth for centuries to come. How amazing is that!”

The original Lier mammoth at the Museum of Natural Sciences. Image via Museum of Natural Sciences.
The original Lier mammoth at the Museum of Natural Sciences. Image via Museum of Natural Sciences.

Mammoth 3D printing

The original mammoth skeleton was discovered in 1860 in the city of Lier. As the city had no natural history museum of its own at the time, the skeleton was moved to the Museum of Natural Sciences, a part of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) in Brussels.

For the replica project, 320 bones of the skeleton were 3D scanned. These scans were then sent to Materialise who were hired to 3D print the skeleton for the Lier museum.

Brienen explained that the 3D printed replica is, in fact, more accurate than the original remains at the Museum of Natural Sciences. The original fossil has damaged bones and is missing a tusk.

Materialise gathered a team of nineteen people, which included Dr. Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

Following Dr. Germonpré instructions on the anatomical structure of the mammoth, the tail was shortened, upper jaw was restored, and the left tusk was digitally recreated.

The printing process took just over 52 days, and nine Materialise’s Mammoth Stereolithography printers – the name of the printer bears no relation to the museum project. The skeleton was 3D printed in individual parts using transparent resin.

But printing large-scale parts was not the most difficult task for Materialise. The most difficult job was making the 3D printed skeleton stand on its own without external support.

Materialise designed a carbon fiber support frame, which was concealed within the bones. The support is inside the bone structure and uses laser sintered polyamide fittings to hold the skeleton together.

Finally, all the parts were post-processed with varnish and paint, and all the individual parts assembled. The fully assembled 3D printed skeleton weighs 300 kg. It is 5 meters long and 3.5 meters tall. For shipping and mobility, the entire replica can be dismantled into six parts: four legs, the core, and the head.

The 3D printed replica of the Lier Mammoth. Image via Materialise.
The 3D printed replica of the Lier Mammoth. Image via Materialise.

Resurrecting ancient history

Materialise’s Lier Mammoth project not only shows the potential of large-scale 3D printing but also how 3D printing can keep ancient history alive. To this end, 3D printing has also helped in other ways.

A prime example is the restoration of historical sites.

As previously reported, 3D Systems helped restore a UNESCO world heritage site in London. The company 3D printed 72 dragons for the Great Pagoda, at the Kew Gardens.

In a similar project, the China Yungang Grottoes Research Institute and Zhejiang University (ZJU) partnered to 3D print replicas of ancient Buddhist statues at the Yungang Grottoes, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Another key player in preserving ancient history has been CyArk, an NGO for preserving historical sites. In partnership with Google, CyArk has created a web library of digital scans of 200 ancient sites and buildings.

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Featured image shows front view of the 3D printed replica of the Lier Mammoth. Image via Materialise.