3D Scan of Nefertiti Bust Now Available Online
November 14, 2019 8:58 AM   Subscribe

After a three-year freedom of information campaign, everyone can finally see the Egyptian Museum of Berlin’s official 3D scan of the Bust of Nefertiti. A German museum tried to hide this stunning 3D scan of an iconic Egyptian artifact. Today you can see it for the first time, courtesy of Cosmo Wenman. Scan files available here.
posted by gudrun (32 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Amazing. I grew up with a copy of that bust in my house. I'm surprised it's taken so long for a scan to come out, but I suppose that's the point of the article.
posted by Gorgik at 9:16 AM on November 14, 2019

In the 1930s they allowed 3 replicas of the bust to be made, one of which is in San Jose's Rosicrucian museum.

Here's a 3D model of the replica that you can move around. (Warning--voice narration starts automatically).
posted by eye of newt at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I haven't much to say about the weirdness in this case. I did see the Bust earlier this year in Berlin tough and it was a stunning experience.

I made it a sort of mission this year to go to the best/most famous Egyptian art museums in Europe and the Berlin museum for me was the best. The whole floor where Nefertiti is on is filled with absolutely wonderful statues/busts. An unforgettable experience and I can't recommend a visit enough.
posted by Kosmob0t at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

That museum is also very, very aggressive about preventing photographs of the bust. Many museums in Berlin have a no photographs policy but really it's mostly to stop people from being obnoxious lining up camera shots. If you take a discrete photo no one cares, even if a guard notices. Not so with Nefertiti. I tried, the most casual silent cellphone snap, and was immediately and loudly accosted and required to delete the photo. It's a bizarre attitude and very against the mission of a publicly funded museum.

It seems particularly stupid now that there's a worldwide effort to re-examine imperialist's museum collections and investigate which works should be repatriated. The Nefertiti's provenance is as muddled as you'd expect an Egyptian artifact found and taken out of the country in 1912 would be. The German museum should be bending over backwards now to show they are a good steward of the object, not jealously holding on to details of its geometry.
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on November 14, 2019 [20 favorites]

Yes Nelson, that no photography thing felt a bit weird. Especially as you could take pictures at will from any other object there (lots of them just as stunning as Nefertiti).
posted by Kosmob0t at 9:28 AM on November 14, 2019

How would it work if someone used those scans to make an artwork? Could they sell it?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:29 AM on November 14, 2019

There was a pirate scan of Nefertiti a few years ago.
posted by jeather at 9:35 AM on November 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think having a bust of Nefertiti as a symbol of German identity is Very Odd.
posted by jeather at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

A 3D scan of a 3000 year old Egyptian bust in a Berlin museum that prohibits photography reported on by an American libertarian magazine. What a time to be alive.

I was lucky enough to see it in person a few years ago and it is indeed stunning. Yet for some reason I'm more moved by Fragment of a Queen's Face from around the same time period.
posted by gwint at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think doctors recommend all women over 3000 get their busts scanned.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:03 AM on November 14, 2019 [24 favorites]

There was a guerrilla scan made of this by Egyptian students a few years ago. They made a 3D print for an Egyptian museum, and encouraged folks to torrent the file as an anticolonialost protest.
posted by Hypatia at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is a small thing, but it bothers me greatly that they keep referring to the museum as proper-noun style as "The Egyptian Museum," when it has a different name: the Neues Museum. The discrepancy doesn't make me feel great that we're getting a straight, carefully-reported story being reported in good faith.
posted by COBRA! at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Pirate Nefertiti - Bruce Sterling for Wired, 22 Feb 2016

The website for the guerrilla project is nefertitihack.alloversky.com. The object file is only about 20MB, the full STL is around 100MB. Unfortunately I can't find the raw scans or point cloud data anywhere.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Original Metafilter post about the "Pirate Nefertit" scan-- turns out it was kinda a hoax?

aaaand I seem to have forgotten that I actually 3D printed a copy. Where is my mind?
posted by gwint at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

The main article here made me feel really iffy about this story. I couldn't quite tell if that's coming from the smugness of the author or the highly questionable publishing source.

Here's a three your old article arguing that the pirate scan by Egyptian students was maybe not what it claimed to be:

And from that article, here is scan info from 2008 by the company hired by the museum:

The impression I'm getting is that some libertarian idiot in California with too much money and too much time decided that they would screw with an established cultural institution in Germany to prove how terrible it is to have publicly funded art and culture.

(All of this, of course, ignoring the theft of culture and colonialism issues here, which are a very valid thing to be critical of.)

[On preview, as above^.]
posted by booksarelame at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

it bothers me greatly that they keep referring to the museum as proper-noun style as "The Egyptian Museum," when it has a different name: the Neues Museum

That confused me at first but I think it's correct. The bust is in the collection of the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, which is exhibited in the Neues Museum building. It used to be exhibited at the Altes Museum and before then at Schloss Charlottenburg. It gets even more complicated because the East Germans also had a claim on the collection.
posted by Nelson at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

my next museum trip is to see Nefertiti. i’m not sure if i’ll be able to go before i go to egypt in june but man, that bust is so amazing even in photos i can’t imagine it in person.

i also don’t get the no photos things. i figure it would be like the mona lisa where they line people up and every small group gets their 60 seconds of camera snapping gawking. at least i think they let people take pics. i saw it once about 15 years ago and it wasn’t quite as mayhem as it was earlier this year.

there’s also some special exhibit with King Tut’s stuff in London a colleague told me about. i saw some of it including his sarcophagus when it came to (i think) new york in the 80s as a kid. i think it might be being repatriated now.
posted by affectionateborg at 12:01 PM on November 14, 2019

Is it much of a FOIA if the Bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum, Berlin has been available for five years as part of the Scan the World initiative?
posted by scruss at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, so reading the article more closely, he got the colour scan, not the mono one. I think I need a shower now after reading a Reason article.

But his statement that “The original artifact is clearly in the public domain” is quite wrong. There is only one of the original article. The museum has it. It's also a cultural artifact, belonging to Egypt and/or Germany. While sweat of the brow is not a thing where the writer lives, database and auxiliary copyrights are very much a thing in Germany. So if they want to CC-BY their scan, good on them.

I'm kind of surprised they even entertained a FOIA from a foreign national.
posted by scruss at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

One thing this article points out is that the recent EU copyright directive (yes, the same one with the highly controversial link tax and content filter provisions) will probably remove any remaining copyright claim by the museum:

While the copyright status of 3D scans is currently more complex in the EU, Article 14 of the recently passed Copyright Directive is explicitly designed to clarify that digital versions of public domain works cannot be protected by copyright. Once implemented that rule would mean that the Neues Museum does not have the ability to use a copyright license to prevent commercial uses of the scan in the EU.
posted by Pyry at 2:54 PM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

Spectacular. I saw the original a few years ago and marveled at how little standards of beauty have changed. The 3D model is a beautiful addition to the experience because the lighting is so much better - dim lights in the museum to prevent damage I guess.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:25 PM on November 14, 2019

Ya know, when the robots come to take our jobs, I am heartened by the fact that there is still so much work to do training people not to be buttheads. Why wouldn't you want this scan out in the public? Why? And why wouldn't you want to repatriate the piece to Egypt if Egypt will take proper care of it? And if they won't, why wouldn't you want to advocate for that so we can upgrade Egyptian museum standards AND not be colonialists?

Whoever did that 3 years of work, to all of you, thank you. You are proof that robots will never take our jerbs as long as some people continue to be blatantly and stubbornly wrong.
posted by saysthis at 9:35 PM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

But his statement that “The original artifact is clearly in the public domain” is quite wrong. There is only one of the original article.

A limited print run doesn't change copyright. Plenty of unique paintings are copyrighted - which means that other people can't make unauthorized copies of them outside of a limited range of uses. The bust here, being an artwork, is copyrightable, but since it predates copyright law by many centuries, it's in the public domain.

Several countries have ruled that digital copies of public-domain artwork can't be copyrighted: a photo of the Mona Lisa is in the public domain. (A photo of the Mona Lisa, its frame, and the nearby wall is not.) Scans and reproductions based on those scans (1) can be distributed without getting anyone's permission and (2) can be sold for whatever the market will offer.

The idea that the current owner of a public-domain work somehow can restrict all uses of copies of that work is ridiculous. By that logic, a museum holding one of the original King James Bibles would be able to demand royalties for every bible sold.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:07 PM on November 14, 2019

a photo of the Mona Lisa is in the public domain. (A photo of the Mona Lisa, its frame, and the nearby wall is not.

A photo of the Eiffel Tower is in the public domain, but the pattern of lights fitted to it is copyrighted, and renders the photo a derived work, requiring licensing.
posted by acb at 5:24 AM on November 15, 2019

The best defense against public domain arguments is to prevent the copy from being made in the first place. That's why the Berlin museum resisted giving out any digital copies of the scan for so long, once one goes out the information is freed. Also why museums often have rules like "no tripods"; many of them don't want some photographer setting up for 30 minutes to capture a perfect high resolution image of a painting. These barriers are falling now though as technology makes it possible to make high resolution images of things with crappy source photos. I feel certain it's possible now to combine 1000 shitty tourist snaps of the Mona Lisa to make one really great digital reproduction. Something like that is what was claimed to have been done with the pirate Nefertiti Bust scan, although that does seem to be a hoax. I suspect it's either possible now or will be soon.

why wouldn't you want to repatriate the piece to Egypt

Because it's valuable property that belongs to a Berlin museum. It's a huge tourist draw, encouraging people to buy tickets. It brings prestige to Berlin and Germany. Why would they want to give it away? Note that all of what I'm describing here is imperialist thinking; "we took this, it is ours now". That's been challenged ever since the early 1900s and lately has picked up some momentum.

Most people know the story of the Elgin Marbles. Another tragic example of wholesale cultural theft is the Benin Bronzes. They were literally looted by the British army as part of a military campaign of imperialist conquest under the guise of "punishing them for killing some of our men". There's been some movement on repatriating them to Nigeria now, the British Museum has agreed to loan some of the works back which is understood to be the first step in a process that might result eventually in them being given back permanently. There's some concern about whether Nigerian corruption makes that risky.

I'm heartened a bit by the de Young's stance working with the Mexico Museum of Archaeology to start returning some objects and collaborating on future archaeology. Among other things it led to the excellent Teotihuacan exhibit. The Wagner murals were a key point of contention; they were stolen out of Mexico in the 1960s, then given to the museum on Wagner's death. The de Young and the Mexican government finally came to an agreement that results in a lot of restoration and scholarship work and the return of the works eventually to Mexico, while the de Young also gets some of the prestige and accomplishment of helping preserve the works.

Back to the original topic, these replication technologies also offer a partial solution to the question of repatriation. Everyone wants the original, sure, but if it's possible to make an excellent replica of such a fine object as the Nefertiti Bust then it becomes a little less important whether Berlin keeps the original or returns it and replaces it with an indistinguishable copy.
posted by Nelson at 6:42 AM on November 15, 2019

Exactly. When a high-resolution CNC-milled replica of the Parthenon Marbles is, from a permissible visitor's distance, indistinguishable from the original, the argument for keeping them drifts from “the British Museum is a renowned museum in a global centre and ideal for presenting our common human patrimony to all” to one based on brute dominance and national exceptionalism: “we are the Mighty Lion-Race of Albion, the Almighty gave us dominion over all the silly foreigners who didn't have the good sense to have been born British, therefore it's ours”, followed by whatever the Latin for “suck it up” is.
posted by acb at 7:10 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hmm, that isn't often how people tend to apprehend the issue, with much of the point being tied to the objects singular history rather than simply its appearance alone. I'm trying hard not to bust out the Walter Benjamin "aura" thing, but maybe an analogy to part of the Smithsonian collection might help. Think of all the objects the Smithsonian has that are connected to some famous person or event from popular culture. Something like the chairs from All in the Family are easy enough to replicate or even just find outside the museum, but they aren't the exact same chairs used, so people don't or wouldn't care about them. The exact object is believed to carry the weight of its history in ways duplicates just don't.

Or, to put it another way, if one could make nearly exact replicas of art and people would view them as identical, then the original item itself has no significant value once it has been duplicated, but we don't see things that way, we want the original, not the copy.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the original has a mystique about it.

Also part of why people visit the British Museum is exactly to revel in the demonstrated power of the Mighty Lion-Race. "Look at us, we own the actual original object that our mighty army stole (Benin Bronzes) or our wealthy diplomats claimed to have bought (Elgin Marbles)."

I should add the actual original has significant scientific value. Replicas are made from modern materials, with totally different methods, etc. If you want to study exactly where the marble for the Parthenon sculptures came from or exactly how the Benin Bronzes were cast, you really have to study the actual original. So then there's an argument about where these unique objects should be hold to best facilitate study. And there is a pretty strong argument for the British Museum (for example) here. They have taken excellent care of the objects they hold and have funding and support for a lot of research.

OTOH if you're Nigerian and believe the Benin Bronzes were stolen from you in a humiliating act of imperialist conquest, you may not really give a shit about making things more convenient for some random grad student.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 AM on November 15, 2019

Also part of why people visit the British Museum is exactly to revel in the demonstrated power of the Mighty Lion-Race.

Yes, exactly so. And that is why they should be returned, because the originals do matter to people which is what makes their return so important.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:11 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

a museum holding one of the original King James Bibles would be able to demand royalties for every bible sold

Funny you should mention the KJV: there's a thing called The Queen's Printer's Patent:
In the United Kingdom, rights in the Authorized Version of the Bible (AV), also known as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV), are Crown copyright. Only a small number of publishers have entitlement to reproduce the KJV.
So the concept of copyright expiring doesn't apply to every work.
posted by scruss at 4:56 PM on November 15, 2019

A story on Slate about this.
posted by gudrun at 10:53 AM on November 16, 2019

Just for the record, many argue that the thing's a modern forgery. A bust, if you will.
posted by BWA at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2019

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