Jump to content
Terrie S

3D Printed Bones for Anthropology

Recommended Posts

I thought I'd do a quick post on why anthropologists need 3D printed bones in case anybody's interested.


Real bones are expensive! Although we have real skeletons for teaching osteology, we are often limited to teaching the identification and examination of whole bones. For both forensic and archaeological contexts, osteologists need to be able to identify bones that are incomplete, scavenged, weathered, burned, or damaged in some other way. In such situations, the first question is whether or not the bone is human. In order to teach this advanced level of identification, we need bone fragments. We can't go around smashing bones to create the fragments, and if you're at an institution without a large archaeological collection of bones, 3D printing, especially of CT scans, can provide some fragments. Because CT scans contain internal structures (as opposed to laser scans of bones), we can digitally slice long bones to create cross-sections or cut models in ways that bone frequently fragments. We can potentially simulate trauma as well, although scans of bones with trauma or pathology would be even better.


I've recently started working with the Virtual Curation Laboratory (https://vcuarchaeology3d.wordpress.com/) to 3D print bone fragments, whole bones, and bones with pathology or trauma. All of these things can be used to create "case studies" of single individuals or commingled individuals as well, and since they're plastic, we would have no problem using them outside for field exercises and excavations. Having age and/or sex is also important since higher quality 3D printed bones could be analyzed for those traits as well.


I've added some pictures from a recent conference at VCU where we presented our preliminary work and displayed a few printed bones. Some of them still have some support structures, but you can see what we're going for. 


Thanks for reading!






Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


Thanks so much for this insightful post! 3D printing has incredible potential in anthropology and we need more discussion on applications in anthropology in this community. My first encounter with 3D printing in medicine was actually more related to anthropology. At the Joint POW/MIA Acocunting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii, they repatriate remains of fallen service members from overseas conflicts. Repatriated remains need to be studied, but they also need to be buried quickly with full military honors. JPACs solution was to CT scan and 3D print the bones for study and quickly bury the originals to provide closure for families and loved ones. It was an incredible solution, providing a valuable resource for future scientific study while maintaining the highest level of compassion and honor for the fallen service members and their families.


I'd definitely love to hear more about what you and others are doing in the anthropology field. If anybody reading this forum would like to share 3D printable anthropology files, there is a dedicated anthropology section in the File Vault, which is unfortunately sparsely populated as of this writing. Hopefully that will change in the future!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...