Ancient musical instruments recreated by 3D printing hold a tune

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The replica panpipes

A research project at the University has produced working 3D replicas of ancient Roman musical instruments from Egypt that are so accurate they played a recognisable scale – though higher notes than expected.

A set of reed panpipes, three different ceramic rattles, a pair of wooden clappers and two sets of double-flutes were scanned by Classical and Archaeological Studies technician Lloyd Bosworth in the School of European Culture and Languages (SECL) and virtual 3D models were then created from the scans.

The size of reeds used to make the original panpipes are practically impossible to acquire today. Using a biodegradable thermoplastic for the 3D print proved a good substitute as the materials have similar physical qualities. A replica of the panpipes has also been made in bamboo.

Original panpipes

From the project team, Dr Ellen Swift, Reader in Archaeology at the University of Kent, said it was a ‘real eureka moment’ to find out that the panpipes played a musical scale known from written documents to have existed in the Roman period.  The notes on the pan pipes were surprisingly high compared to examples from written musical notation.

The two-year collaboration between Classical & Archaeological Studies in SECL and the School of Music and Fine Art (SMFA), Manchester Metropolitan University, and the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Bloomsbury, London was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Fund (AHRC).

The replica artefacts are a key part of the project and will be used for research and also for an exhibition at the UCL Petrie Museum at the end of the project in 2019. Further metal musical instruments such as bells and cymbals are being produced by Canterbury jeweller Justin Richardson, also from 3D scans made by Lloyd. When all the instruments are ready, sound recordings will be made at SMFA to be used at the subsequent exhibition at the UCL Petrie Museum.

To hear the pipes: