That Secret 3D Scan of Nefertiti's Bust Was a Hoax 

By Kate Knibbs on at

Last month, Gizmodo and other outlets reported on artists who had secretly 3D scanned Nefertiti’s Bust, making it available for anyone to 3D print. Well, we were fooled—it appears it was a hoax, and the scan is not new.

Multimedia artist and 3D printing consultant Cosmo Wenman investigated the claims made by Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, the artists who used the Nefertiti scan to make a point about free information:

I read about this story when it was first reported on February 19th in Hyperallergic, and I too was immediately sceptical. The model that the artists published is of such high quality that I initially thought the scan had to be either the museum’s own unpublished scan, or that the artists had scanned a high-quality replica and were passing it off as a scan of the original.

I soon realised that these two theories dovetailed with each other when I began looking for the highest quality Nefertiti replica I could find. My search led me to the museum’s own replicas, and the museum’s own 3D scan: I found TrigonArt, the German scanning company who, in 2008, produced a high-quality scan of Nefertiti for the Neues Museum.

TrigonArt is rightfully proud of their work, and their website includes a page showing a 360-degree orientable and zoomable preview of the scan they made of Nefertiti for Neues. I encourage you to take a look for yourself and compare it to the artists’ own scan. Even in this limited preview viewer, opening it up full screen and zooming in, you can see that every feature—including super-fine submillimetre details—appear to exactly match the model that the artists released.

In addition to the suspiciously identical scans, Wenman noted that the artists admitted that they did not know exactly what happened with the scan.

The most damning technical takedown of Al-badri and Nelles’ scanning methods comes from All Things 3D’s Mike Balzer and Chris Kopack who managed to get an interview with Nelles on February 26th, 2016, four days before the Times story was published. In addition to Balzer’s thorough demonstration of the scanning equipment’s limitations, he also elicited repeated assertions from Nelles that he simply cannot vouch for his own scan.

Nelles appears to be a completely nontechnical person and describes how an unnamed partner gave him the equipment and told him how to use it. He explains that after the surreptitious scan in the museum, Nelles delivered the device back to this unnamed partner who did all of the processing. Nelles expresses his own surprise at the quality of the model his anonymous partner provided him. By Nelles’ own account, he has absolutely no idea what—if anything—was done with the data and is in effect simply passing along the model he was given by his anonymous partner, who has since left Europe.

So, a few things could’ve happened here: The artists could’ve been fooled by their anonymous assistant, or they could’ve been in on it. Either way, Wenman makes a compelling case for why this Nefertiti scan is not what it appears to be.