If you’ve ever fancied having Nefertiti’s likeness on your shelf at home, it’s now eminently achievable. A pair of artists have covertly 3D-scanned the famous bust in its museum setting, making the data publicly available—and they even plan to exhibit a printed version back in Egypt.
While archaeologists still search for Nefertiti’s tomb, her bust—discovered in an ancient Egyptian workshop in 1912—is known the world over. But the sculpture itself resides in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany, where it’s strictly guarded. Even 3D scans of the piece remain under their control.
Artists Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, however, believe in making “cultural objects publicly accessible.” So they set off to the Neues Museum with Microsoft Kinects hidden beneath their scarves and 3D scanned the thing. You can watch them do it in this video.
Now, they’ve released the 3D scans as an STL file that anyone can download to use as they see fit.
The bust is emblematic of modern tensions about ancients artifacts. While it was once the case that such pieces were automatically shipped to a European museum and swallowed up into huge collections, there’s now a growing school of thought which believes they should be held closer to home, in their country of origin. Al-Badria and Nelles certainly think so. They’re putting a 3D-printed version on display in Cario, and explain on their website that:
For the first time since the sculpture was excavated and stolen over 100 years ago, the iconic artefact will be shown in Cairo... With the data leak as a part of this counter narrative we want to activate the artefact, to inspire a critical re-assessment of today’s conditions and to overcome the colonial notion of possession in Germany.
Whether or not the original Nefertiti bust ever returns home, though, remains to be seen.