3D Printing Helps Connect Student to Her Native American Ancestors

For years, delicate artifacts have sat in museum collections, unable to be handled.

Now, with the help of 3D printing, some are finding a new way to connect with these objects and learn more about the past.

Tania Larssen is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts at Santa Fe. She also wanted to learn more about the tools that her Native American ancestors used for tanning.

However, she also knew that she couldn’t exactly go out and simply handle a prized museum piece.

“My mom didn’t have tanning tools, so I don’t have tanning tools. So I thought, I might as well go find the oldest tools I could find and replicate them,” Larssen said. “I knew there were some tools in the [Smithsonian] collection and I really wanted to see them, maybe for a sense of authenticity, and to just be able to have that connection with my ancestors through these tools that are in the museum.”

Larssen was able to work with the Smithsonian to scan an 18th century tanning tool and print a copy using 3D printing.

The first time she held it, she noticed the tool fit perfectly in her hand.

Now, she is hoping to print more tools and use 3D printing technology to bring the past back alive.

“The biggest thing about Native Americans and First Nations is that we always adapted to the technologies we came across, so it’s a totally normal step to use 3D scanning and 3D printing, because the new tool is in front of us,” she said. “It’s very exciting because we’re talking about hundreds of years old techniques and traditions and this brand new technology that we can use to recreate it and continue our culture, our traditions.”

Photo Credit: 3D Printed Tanning Tool via Vice