3D printing used to show ancient Irish spear butt actually part of musical instrument

3D printing used to show ancient Irish spear butt actually part of musical instrument

3D printing used to show ancient Irish spear butt actually part of musical instrument

Updated 1 September 2015, 14:00 AEST

3D printing technology is used to show a Bronze Age artefact, thought to be a spear butt, is actually part of a musical instrument.

3D printing technology has been used to show a Bronze Age artefact, thought to be a spear butt, is actually part of a musical instrument.

The artefact, known as the Conical Spear Butt of Navan — found in Ireland in the early 1900s — was likely to have been crafted between 100BC and 200AD.

But it has now been shown the spear butt was probably used as the mouthpiece for a horn.

The revelation sheds new light on ancient Irish culture, as it was made in what was thought to be a musical dark age.

It was demonstrated by Canberra archaeologist Billy Ó Foghlú, who was looking to show that sophisticated instrument making technology existed in Bronze Age Ireland.

He made a 3D printed replica of the spear butt, and found it enhanced the timbre of a replica horn when used as a mouthpiece.

"I had made this big replica of a horn, over two metres long, and I had mimicked the thickness of the metal ... and basically just stuck it in and tried to play," Mr Ó Foghlú said.

"Suddenly the instrument just came to life."

Mr Ó Foghlú said it was likely the artefact was misclassified as a spear butt because it would not have been excavated at the same time as horns.

"None of these [horns] were excavated ... in such a way that you could find these things," he said.

"Basically you come across lots of artefacts to which people don't know the exact function of them.

"A lot of them were found during farming during the 1800s where you don't have any archaeologists at the time, so they don't record things quite accurately and their functions are lost."

Bronze mouthpiece cast from 3D printed mould

The replica mouthpiece tested by Mr Ó Foghlú was crafted using a 3D printed mould.

The mould was then cast in bronze, much like the original would have been.

"I had seen pictures of these artefacts, which obviously is very little to make a scientific theory on," Mr Ó Foghlú said.

"So I actually found a website for a 3D printing studio in Sydney.

"The resulting piece that I got back, and this only took about a week, was actually made in a manner almost identical to the original way — being cast in a mould."

Mr Ó Foghlú said the fact that mouthpieces were used in horns from Bronze Age Ireland demonstrated the culture was more focused on music than most people had realised.

"These horns were not just hunting horns or noisemakers. They were very carefully constructed and repaired, they were played for hours. Music clearly had a very significant role in the culture," he said.