10 Priceless Smithsonian Artifacts You Can Print Out At Home

Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution / Smithsonian Institution

If you have a 3D printer, the Smithsonian has a surprise for you. The institution has scanned more than 20 artifacts (with more to come), creating 3D models that you can download and print at home. Calling it the end of "do not touch," the Smithsonian says the prints are exact replicas of the objects, and are ready for you to handle and manipulate however you want. Heck, they even encourage it.

1. Wooly Mammoth Skeleton

The Wooly Mammoth went extinct 10,000 years ago. This 3D model was taken from a composite skeleton of several animals that were recovered from Alaska in 1952. This hairy relative of the African elephant stood as high as 11 feet in real life, and now you can print its skeleton out in any size your printer will allow.

2. Abraham Lincoln’s Life Masks

It’s a myth that a death mask was made of Abraham Lincoln’s face after he was killed. In fact, Lincoln had two life masks made: one in 1860 when he was 51 years old and one in 1865 when he was almost 56. Both models are near duplicates of Lincoln’s face, including lines and pockmarks. The second life mask, made only two months before Lincoln was assassinated, shows how much the Civil War aged him.

3. Vairochana, the Cosmic Buddha

In person, this Buddha from 6th century China is a life-sized statue of a monk’s body minus the head and hands, which were lost years ago. The monk is wearing a robe covered with intricate carvings of the Realms of Existence, a symbolic representation of the Buddhist universe. The laser scanner revealed details of the carvings thought worn away centuries ago, demonstrating one of the advantages of 3D modeling for researchers: It allows for deeper study of an object with no risk of harming it.

4. Cassiopeia A Supernova Remnant

You can print out a supernova remnant? Apparently so. This is a 3D model of the youngest supernova in our galaxy, which exploded 330 years ago. It’s located 10,000 light years away in the constellation Cassiopeia.

5. Dr. Livingstone’s Gun

The Scottish explorer David Livingstone wasn’t a very good shot. Once, in Africa, he tried to shoot a lion. He missed, and the lion proceeded to maul Livingstone’s left arm. Luckily for him, his assistant shot the lion down. This isn’t the same gun, but this 10-gauge shotgun was placed in Livingstone’s coffin when he died from dysentery in 1873.

6. Amelia Earhart’s Flight Suit

Amelia Earhart wore this flight suit in 1932 when she flew from Newfoundland to Ireland, setting the record as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The wool-lined leather suit provided essential protection from the icy air she encountered 20,000 feet up.

7. Pergolesi chair

Italian silversmith and engraver Michelangelo Pergolesi designed this side chair circa 1785. The back is elaborately carved with flowers and griffins and made out of polychromed and gilded wood. The ornamental design is meant to hearken back to classical antiquity and Renaissance decoration by the artist Raphael. Print one out for your dollhouse today.

8. Embreea Herrenhauser Orchid

This large orchid from Ecuador puts out a fragrance that the male euglossine bee uses to make itself sexier to the female euglossine bee, much like cologne is used to attract some human women. The company Sugar Lab printed out sugar versions of the orchid, which Todd Blatt at Make said “tasted a bit chalky, but much better than eating an orchid.”

9. Blue Crab

Although known as part of the Chesapeake Bay region, the blue crab’s habitat extends from as far north as Nova Scotia to as far south as Uruguay. A relative of the lobster and shrimp, they can get up to 9 inches long and are proficient swimmers. They are also quite tasty to many people. This 3D model wasn’t taken off a priceless artifact—it was taken off crabs purchased from the nearby seafood market.

10. Wright Flyer

The Wright Flyer was the first plane to take flight. The Wright brothers flew it four times on December 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This iconic vehicle is now located in the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian hasn't provided a print-ready model of the Wright Brother’s plane yet, but it’s too cool not to mention here. Technically, you could open the existing 3D model in CAD software, export it to a print-ready model, and print out your own copy. But would it fly?

All images courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.