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VCU Archaeology

Crowdsourcing the 3D Printed Past: Building a Bootherium bombifrons

When people ask me whether they should get a 3D printer, I usually say no, not yet.  3D printing technology is very much in its infancy, and anyone who has a 3D printer knows they are quite temperamental, and require a considerable amount of coddling–each has its own personality quirks.  Yet, 3D printers hold quite a bit of power, and will increasingly become integral to how we present the past–to K-12 and college students; for public outreach; and, as important components of museum exhibits. Right now, the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) is working with the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) on two upcoming exhibits: one related to archaeology; and, the other related to paleontology.  Both exhibits will feature 3D printed elements.  The archaeology exhibit will incorporate artifacts from across the globe, while the paleontology exhibit will include a 3D printed Bootherium bombifrons skeleton and one 3D printed saber-tooth cat canine.  Here, I’ll focus on the Bootherium bombifrons. This extinct Pleistocene animal was very large–something I did not begin to appreciate until I started working with 3D scans sent to VMNH’s Ray Vodden from the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory.  Pay attention to the size of the scale in this animation of the extinct animal’s skull:

bootherium bombifrons cranium

A total of 55 bones are being printed, including the animal’s cranium, mandibles, ribs, humeri, tibia, and vertebra, among other bones.  A single rib alone might take 8 hours to print, and some bones will take much longer. The 3D digital scan files can be readily shared, however, allowing the possibility to crowdsource the printing of the Bootherium. Fortunately, the Virtual Curation Laboratory has been joined in the 3D printing effort by Jeremy Barker of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Jeremy and I have known each other since last summer, when he traveled to the Virtual Curation Laboratory to learn more about or 3D scanning operation, as recounted here. Working together, Jeremy Barker and the Virtual Curation Laboratory will be able to 3D print the entire Bootherium skeleton before the summer is out.  Macon’s The Telegraph covered out crowdsourcing efforts in a recent story which includes this gallery of Jeremy at work.  Jeremy is also filming his 3D printing of Bootherium  skeletal elements, as seen in this video. Even Jeremy’s son has caught Bootherium fever!

Xavier Barker with Bootherium cervical vertebrae.

Xavier Barker with Bootherium cervical vertebrae.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) James Branch Cabell Library’s Innovative Media department has also joined our goal to 3D print the Bootherium skeleton, under the direction of VCL intern Michelle Taylor.



Once the entire skeleton is printed, it will be assembled and installed in a new exhibit at VMNH. More details on that exhibit as it is being installed.


One thought on “Crowdsourcing the 3D Printed Past: Building a Bootherium bombifrons

  1. Posting on behalf of Robert: I would strongly suggest that anyone serious about purchasing a 3d printer also purchase an extended warranty of at least one year in duration. A user must also be careful when purchasing filament to purchase good quality filament. Impurities in filament can clog extruders and these can be difficult to clean. MakerBot sells 3d printers with a type of extruder that can be quickly switched. 3D Systems sells printers that use a cartridge system that contains an extruder and filament.


    Robert Jaquiss
    Email: rjaquiss@earthlink.net

    Posted by bkmeans | June 30, 2015, 7:46 am

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