The Wall Street Journal yesterday had an article about 3D printers turning web creations into physical models (the link may or may not work for you). Here’s the paragraph that got my attention:
In Redmond, Wash., a start-up called 3D Outlook Corp. this month will begin using software from NASA to sell 3-D models of mountains and other terrain priced at under $100, says Tom Gaskins, the company’s chief executive officer. Mr. Gaskins says hikers, resorts and real-estate firms are likely customers for 3-D maps and models that show the topographic contours of ski slopes, golf courses and other landscapes.
So you could, in theory, take Google Earth satellite and elevation data, combine it with the Bible geocoding data, and produce a custom 3D physical model of the Holy Land with key places labeled—or you could focus on one area, like Jerusalem, and show how it changed over time.
Or you could take a 3D model of Herod’s Temple and turn it into a 3D “printout.”
Anything you can represent in three dimensions—for example, the Ark of the Covenant or an ancient synagogue—can become a 3D model. In the future, I imagine technically minded Bible students producing a 3D model of something in the Bible, backed by research, as a final project in a class.
Imagine a 3D recreation of Nineveh in the time of Jonah. Or a complete reconstruction of a partially uncovered artifact uncovered on an archaeological dig. Or a way to recreate a variety of pottery vessels based on location and period (to help archaeology students familiarize themselves with identifying pottery from sherds—maybe you could “print” several vessels, then break them, mix up the remains, and have to identify the location and period of several sherds; it sounds like an interesting exam to me). Or a way for museums to share exact replicas of items in their collections with universities, so students can examine the items more closely than they can the originals. And if you break one? Just print another copy.
Obviously the possibilities extend beyond the realm of biblical studies, but affordable 3D printing opens a lot of intriguing doors. Hopefully it’ll get cheaper and more widespread soon.