Lancaster Museum Roman Head

Lancaster, in northwestern England, has a long and fascinating history. And it saw its’ fair share of activity in roman times, with a fort being built there as early as the 1st Century AD (see Wikipedia for more information), not too long after the roman invasion of Britain only half a century before. In fact, according to Historic UK, the name Lancaster means ‘Roman fort on the River Lune’. So it’s unsurprising that the museums there have some very nice roman artefacts on display, including this 3rd Century AD roman stone head in Lancaster City Museum. Although not described as such, it apears to be a funerary carving based on the Cult of Attis, as it looks very similar to other Attis carvings (e.g. click here to see the Attis head in the Caerleon Legionary Museum). Having my smartphone with Sony 3DCreator installed when I visited, it was obviously too good an opportunity to miss, so I made a basic 3D scan of it for 3D printing as a small model to display with my other historic prints.

Roman carved stone head in Lancaster Museum
Roman carved stone head in Lancaster Museum

Quick summary of this 3D creation
Overview: A basic scan of a roman head (possibly a representation of Attis) in Lancaster Museum.
Location: Lancaster Museum, Lancaster, northwestern England, United Kingdom [map].
Date/era: Roman, 3rd Century AD.
Software used: Sony 3DCreator Android app, Meshmixer.
Intended use: 3D printing, either in resin or fused filament, the latter being possible without any support material.

The Cult of Attis was apparently very common, especially in terms of funerary rites, in Roman times (for example, click here to see a similar carving in Caerleons’ National Roman Legionary Museum in South Wales). According to Wikipedia, the Attis cult started as long ago as 1250 BC in what is now Turkey. He is said to have been sent to Pessinos to marry the daughter of the king. But, as Wikipedia tells us (Agdistis being an ancient Greek deity) ‘Just as the marriage-song was being sung, Agdistis / Cybele appeared in her transcendent power, and Attis went mad and cut off his genitals. Attis father-in-law-to-be, the king who was giving his daughter in marriage, followed suit, prefiguring the self-castrating corybantes who devoted themselves to Cybele. But Agdistis repented and saw to it that the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay‘. So overall, it seems a rather gory story.

The scan was made with the Sony 3D Creator app on an Xperia XZ1 Compact smartphone. Fortunately, the exhibit was set on a pedestal at chest height with good lighting, so it was easy to get to, and move the camera around, to get a complete scan. Using 3DCreator obviously means the scan doesn’t contain small details, largely because the object has limited surface features for use with photogrammetry scanning methods. But overall 3DCreator did do a very good job of representing the shape and form as a record for posterity. And, given that 3DCreator is provided free by Sony, and is easy and quick to use, I don’t really think I can complain, especially as the result was definitely good enough for me to make a nice 3D print to display.

The scan was then post-processed using Meshmixer to remove extraneous areas and to remesh to a sensible file size for speed of use in the Sketchfab viewer, as well as to allow speedy downloads. The solidify tool was used for that, with the sharp edge preserving setting allowing a sensible file size with minimal loss of the limited detail contained in the original scan. If I’d done the scanning more recently, I think I would also have used Nomad Sculpt, before Meshmixer, as the pressure-sensitive tools (when used with a tablet computer with a pen/stylus) would allow for much better sharpening around the edges of features (using the crease tool with a small radius). You can see the finished model on Sketchfab below (click the play button to load the model and view it in 3D).

The 3D model on Sketchfab

A test 3D print of the finished version in the photo below was printed in PLA using an XYZPrinting DaVinci Jr printer. As you can see, fused filament printing at a small size resulted in a quite rough finish, so printing in resin, or at a larger size, could have been a better option. However, the roughness could have been reduced if I’d used the fine settings on the printer, and I have to admit I later had to clear the nozzle of baked-on filament (using nozzle cleaning wires) so this wasn’t the best example of the results I usually achieved with the DaVinci Jr. And, the lack of overhangs in the model mean that it’s possible to fused-filament 3D print it with minimal support material, or even flat on the build plate with none. If you want to try 3D printing it yourself, click here to go to the MyMiniFactory page, or here for the Thingiverse page, to download it.

3D print of Lancaster Roman carved stone head
3D print of Lancaster Roman carved stone head

The 3D printed PLA model was painted using Pebeo craft acrylics, with washes added at increasing dilutions. Hopefully that gave a fairly basic stone effect, although I wasn’t trying to replicate the look of the original, but rather just give an old and worn look: so I was happy with the result even if it looks a little odd in the photo. It was then given a protective coat of Pebeo matt craft varnish that had the added advantage of controlling shininess.

So finally, in case you’d like to use the methods in this project for your own work, let’s recap on what was involved:

  • The Sony 3DCreator Android app was used to create a basic 3D scan on a smartphone, which provided a good representation albeit with loss of sharp edge details.
  • On a PC Meshmixer was used to cut away unwanted material and solidify/remesh the model to achieve a much smaller file size.
  • The finished 3D model was then test printed in PLA and found to print to an acceptable quality.
  • As there isn’t an enormous amount of detail in the model, resin printing wasn’t considered necessary but could be useful for small prints.

Please note that this scan is provided without any license for commercial use. It is intended simply as a historical model you can have the fun of printing yourself that advertises this ancient carving. And of course it is intended to be a motivation for you to visit Lancaster Museum yourself and, while there, view this wonderful old roman piece of art: click here to see the location in Google Maps.