Archaeologists use Additive Manufacturing to reproduce unique historic artefacts

July 7, 2017

July 7, 2017

Archaeologists use Additive Manufacturing to reproduce unique historic artifacts

The bronze Rider of Unlingen has been replicated by Additive Manufacturing (Courtesy Concept Laser)


A team of archaeologists has additively manufactured an accurate copy of the Rider of Unlingen, a bronze figure of a horse rider dating back to around the 7th Century BCE. Working for the Baden-Württemberg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, Germany, the team produced the replica using an Mlab cusing system from Concept Laser, Lichtenfels, Germany.

The accurate reproduction of a unique archaeological find by Additive Manufacturing has major implications for the field of archaeology, opening up new prospects for the non-destructive evaluation of key historic artefacts. Previously, reproductions have been manufactured using direct moulding, a process which risks damaging the original. To reproduce items using AM, no physical contact with the original is necessary.

To replicate the Rider of Unlingen, the team first digitised the original using X-ray CT. The bronze was scanned three-dimensionally and evaluated using Volume Graphics’ VG Studio Max 3.0 software, allowing the team to collect data which could be translated into a model for the additively produced replica.


Archaeologists use Additive Manufacturing to reproduce unique historic artefacts

The Concept Laser system constructs the geometry of the Rider of Unlingen (Courtesy Concept Laser)


Meanwhile, Concept Laser’s materials engineers worked to identify a bronze alloy similar to the copper-tin alloy used to produce the original almost 2,800 years ago. This was achieved by analysing the density and weight of the original and ascertaining the percentages of copper and tin using x-ray fluorescence analysis. As a result, the new Rider of Unlingen is reported to be visually and tactilely indiscernible from the original, with the difference only evident through in-depth material analysis.

As one of the oldest surviving depictions of a mounted figure north of the Alps and an example of early Hallstatt culture, the Rider of Unligen is of great archaeological significance. Speaking on the reproduction, Nicole Ebinger-Rist, Head Conservator of the Baden-Württemberg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, stated, “I was very surprised by the level of detail. All of a sudden, you’re holding an object from the 7th Century BCE in your hands, except that it’s made out of powder from the 21st Century AD.”

“You’ve got a cultural-historically relevant copy in your hands and are looking at twenty-eight centuries gone by. It’s simply overwhelming. Whole new possibilities are being opened up to curators, conservators and scientists,” she concluded. As well as allowing non-destructive hands-on examination of historic objects, the production of replicas can be of benefit to many museums and cultural institutions by enabling multiple copies of the same object to be shown in different locations globally.

Replicas of this bronze are now being shown as part of an exhibition titled ‘The Rider of Unlingen – Celts, horses and charioteers’ at two different museums, alongside comparable Celtic objects.

July 7, 2017

In the latest issue of Metal AM magazine

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