The world of 3D printing seems to be opening a whole world of possibilities. Printing something from your computer on plastic is a cheap and easy way to see your ideas come to life. Is there a part of a machine you need to test? Why bother building it of metal when a plastic resin will do. Need to use an artifact from the past, but it’s too fragile for handling? 3D print it! Need to make a full size mummy? 3D-WWWWWHAT?
Indeed the world of 3D printing has become strange. No longer are people’s imagination restricted to 3D printing an intimate object, but people are considering printing copies of body parts. It reminds me of the scene in Big Bang Theory where Howard buys a 3D printer and his wife get’s so mad she threatens that he’ll need to print a woman’s body because that’s the only one he’d be touching. And while I found that scene extremely comical, I didn’t think people would be serious, I mean who wants to 3D print a body?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2fZdlh1OMk” title=”Big Bang Theory 3D Printer” target=”_blank”>
And then I saw National Geographic’s article about the 3D print of King Tut, and I thought, “Huh. I don’t know how to feel about this.” For me I suppose 3D printing demonstrates amazing potential for the future. We can build things that don’t exist anymore, or duplicate artifacts that are too fragile to handle. We can build prototypes without wasting expensive materials and resources. But 3D printing mummies has cause me to think, where do we draw the line?
Yes it’s fun to jest about printing another person, but it’s different to actually do it. It reminds me of a debate we had in my public history class about how to respect the dead. Is it right for us to 3D print the body of a young boy when he can’t consent to it? In the case of some cultures the dead body is sacred, and it makes me wonder if these cultures would consider making a plastic copy of themselves disrespectful. In Egyptian culture specifically, the body was sacred. The physical body needed to be intact to proceed to the afterlife with their belongings. By copying the body are we making the process of going into the afterlife ‘less sacred’? Would we need to 3D print all the artifacts to rectify this? There may be something wrong with taking someone who wasn’t aware of this technology and creating a new plastic version of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the ingenuity of this process. King Tut is one of the world’s most famous mummies, and with a 3D copy or two we can examine different parts of his body without having to touch him, or we can send the copy as part of a travelling exhibit. Surely that would be beneficial as travel also takes a toll on these artifacts. If it works for him that opens up the possibility of doing it with other mummies. And because these bodies are made of plastic, it would mean less care by the institutions that have the copies. In a way it could save a museum money to have a copy because it would still be an attraction, but all the special equipment for temperature control and extra security wouldn’t be needed. Having a 3D copy could even make money. But it doesn’t negate the issue. Just because we have that technology, does it mean we should use it?
I am forever the skeptic of technology. While I think 3D printing has amazing capabilities, I’m not sure it’s right for everything, like printing a body. However, for anyone interested check out the link below that shows the process of 3D printing King Tut’s body: