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Head In Your Hands

Monday, May 19, 2014 - 01:06 PM

(Taung skull scanned and printed by shootdigital)

Maybe you’re like me and you’re not exactly sure what to make of 3D printers. Sometimes they feel straight out of sci-fi (home print yourself a gun!), at other times they seem like a frivolous way to procure something you could buy at the dollar store. Only time will tell if they’ll be a game-changer like the phone or a 2014 version of Crystal Pepsi.

But one thing brought their worth home for us: the ability to take a one-of-a-kind, totally locked-up-in-a-South African-steel-vault object like the skull of the Taung Child, and put it in our hands while listening to the story. OK, sure, it’s not the actual skull, but when you’re running your hands over the eye sockets and feeling the weight of a 2 million year old cranium, it feels close enough.

This is exactly what happened for us over at Radiolab when MakerBot first sent us a skull to have and to hold while we produced ‘The Skull’.

Picture by Henry Reich of Minute Physics

Photo by Henry Reich of Minute Physics

And then shootdigital took it one step further when they revised the scan to make it as close to lifelike as a plastic object could be.

Here are Jad & Soren holding the shootdigital skull:


Even though we’d had this story around for weeks, there was something about hearing the story while holding the skull in our hands. It closed the distance, in some strange way that made us shiver for a moment. If you’ve got the means, we urge you to visit our Thingiverse page, download the STL file, and let the printer work its magic. 

Shootdigital made a short video of their process—they use a high-end 3D printer that works like this:

If you don't have a 3D printer but you DO happen to be in New York City, you can visit the 3D printed skull at a nifty little place called Mmuseumm.


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Comments [12]

Tom from Seattle

A friend 3D printed this for me and said that the 3D print file wasn't designed particularly well and required some tweaking.

And, has anyone been able to detect the talon markings in the eye sockets? We sure can't.

Aug. 09 2016 05:39 PM
Art In The Age Of from New York, NY

You can now own a Taung Child of your very own:

Oct. 13 2014 04:48 PM
Mark from Baltimore

I just printed one of these in a translucent clear abs material and the result is stunning. Thank you Radiolab for releasing the file its amazing being able to download and own a piece of history, even if it isn't real!

Jul. 27 2014 11:23 AM
Jonathan from Maine

It was very generous of you to offer the file for us to download and print. Why not also make printed versions available as a fundraiser?

Jun. 12 2014 08:43 AM
marc h from MA

i am a big fan of RadioLab, but the Skull show had a few major problems. First, the background sound for the segment on vervet monkeys was actually the sounds of chimpanzees. this was unfortunate in two ways: first, vervets are monkeys whereas chimps are apes; second, vervet monkeys actually have unique alarm calls, with one sounds specifically aimed at eagles (relevant to the segment!), one to big cats, and one to snakes. Second, in discussing 2001 space odyssey, they refer to the primates attacking the obelisk as monkeys, whereas in fact, they were surely created to represent apes, most likely chimps, as in our last common ancestor (not monkeys

Jun. 10 2014 11:47 AM

i just downloaded the 3d file and will print it in 8 days. Then i will listen to this podcast again and share in the experience of getting gooseflesh!

such a cool idea this!
thank you!

May. 28 2014 02:54 PM

Hi James — the dimensions in inches should be approximately 6"D x 4"H x 3-1/8"W. If you'd like to buy the most accurate and highest-quality 3d print, please email me: — we're the company that refined the 3d scan for Radiolab to include all of the important texture and details related to the Taung Child story.

May. 27 2014 06:38 PM
James Dilger

I was looking into having this printed commercially. The website asks if the dimensions are in inches or mm. As a scientist, I'm hoping the answer is mm. Am I right?

May. 27 2014 09:45 AM
Jacob LaRocca

(Shoot me an email @

May. 22 2014 09:58 AM
Jacob LaRocca from Boston

I can get this printed for 90$. That is including time and materials. This would be printed in a UV cured resin. (Form1)

May. 22 2014 09:37 AM
justin from philadelphia

Any kind individuals that can print one of these up for me i'll reimburse you for your time and materials! Sure I could go to the museum but thats not my bookshelf.

May. 21 2014 04:33 PM
Lynn from New Orleans

As this amazing piece closed with the comment about looking up in time, I flashed to how humans are now the drone predators of our species--and I did feel that cold chill in a whole new way.

May. 20 2014 10:30 AM

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