One of the greatest reasons to have a 3D printer in your learning space is to support the curiosity and imagination of your learners. Knowing that they can design and create physical objects often seems almost magical. I’m not a big supporter of simply locating objects in online repositories, downloading and printing them. Except for a few cases, there is almost nothing to be learned in doing that.
Printing out historical artifacts is one of those cases.
I live in a small town, literally hundreds of kilometres from a museum of any kind. (heck, I love hundreds of kilometres from a Starbucks!) But no matter where you live, with a 3D printer in your classroom, you can find places that have uploaded digital scans of objects and print them to have in your classroom.
More and more places are beginning to scan their collections and place at least some of their objects online. Here are a few of the websites that you can download objects from.
The Smithsonian – The Smithsonian gained a lot of press and attention late in 2013 when they first announced that they were going to begin scanning their collection of artifacts and place files online for people to print. Simply browsing through the models that they have available shows a selection of fossils and historical artifacts created by people that can be downloaded and printed.
Art Institute of Chicago – Another well known location that is pushing into scanning artifacts and making them available to the public is the Art Institute of Chicago. The institute has decided not to create their own site for their artifacts, but instead is hosting their models at Thingiverse. The Art Institute has moved into 3D printing in a number of ways, also bringing Tom Burtonwood in as an artist in residence about this topic.
Cuneiform tablets – The Cornell Creative Machines Lab has several scans online of cuneiform tablets from several thousand years ago that you can download as stl files and print.
Fossils – The British Geological Society has placed online an extensive database of fossil files of many different kinds. Ammonites, brachipods, trilobites, fish and plant fossils can all be located and downloaded for printing on their database. While an excellent resource, I found that this site allowed downloads in file types such as .obj and .ply so you need to use another piece of software (I use meshlabs) to convert the downloaded files into stl files which can be used by your printer.
African Fossils– This growing site contains scanned collections from specimens housed in the National Museums of Kenya and the Turkana Basin Institute field stations and seems to be an excellent resource for fossils from early in human history. This site requires free registration, but allows you to download stl files which can be used directly by your printer.
I found this jawbone from an early human and downloaded it with no issues at all.
I imported it into the Repetier – Host software which I use to run my Printrbot Plus:
and then printed it:
The reproduction downloaded, sliced and printed out flawlessly and easily. The only thing I needed to do was resize the file to the size I wanted it.
The online databases of printable objects is going to expand at an increasing rate. More and more objects from cultures around the world are going to find their way online. Having access to a 3D printer allows you to bring history right into your classroom for your students. Schools spend money purchasing supplies for classrooms all of the time. It would take a small portion of your budget to pay for the filament needed to bring these artifacts into your space for your students to hold in their own hands.
Printing historical artifacts is something definitely worthwhile exploring for your learning space.