Social Sciences Cuba , Cuba, Wednesday, July 22 of 2020, 13:30

Unprecedented 3D reconstruction of pre-Columbian crania from the Caribbean and South America

Exceptional collection from the Anthropological Museum Montané in Cuba has been used to promote cultural heritage research and socialization

IPHES/DICYT During the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous museums, scientific societies, and royal academies were founded in Europe and America. It was in this scenario that the Anthropological Museum Montané was founded in Havana, Cuba. The institution has seen its collection grow over the years, thanks to scientists, antiquarians, and amateurs, becoming an essential museum for anthropological and archaeological research in the region. It has exceptional pieces from the pre-Hispanic cultures that populated this country, the Caribbean, and the Americas.


Nowadays, the Museum Montané, like other cultural institutions in developing countries, faces a challenge: introducing state-of-the-art technologies to digitizing exhibits and the creation of innovative projects to attract visitors, which has been delayed by a lack of resources. As far as we know, there are no published studies based on the digitization of anthropological collections in Caribbean museums.

In this context, an international team integrated by members of the Natural History Museum in London, the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution), the University of Valladolid (UVa), the CENIEH (National Research Centre for Human Evolution) and the Anthropological Museum Montané have carried out 3D reconstructions of a representative selection of 13 pre-Columbian human crania specifically from Cuba and Peru, which are part of the osteological collection of the aforementioned museum. The sample studied comprised crania with tabular oblique artificial deformation, annular deformation, and undeformed specimens. The 3D models generated were used to produce prints and 3D animated videos.

The work carried out provides unprecedented evidence of 3D reconstructions of pre-Columbian crania in the Caribbean area and new reconstructions of artificially deformed crania in South America. The experience is reported in a scientific article published in the Virtual Archaeology Review, with Gizéh Rangel-de Lázaro as the first author (Natural History Museum in London and IPHES-URV research associate). It should be noted that this is the first time that systematic and reliable results based on the use of digital techniques to reconstruct a part of the valuable collection of pre-Hispanic crania from the Anthropological Museum Montané have been published.


“In the future, we are looking to upload the 3D models to a digital platform such as Google Arts & Culture, Sketchfab, or Morphosource to increase the visibility of the collection from the Museum Montané. To this end, we will include valuable historical and intangible information associated with them”, says Gizéh Rangel-de Lázaro.


The deformed and undeformed skulls were digitized with the Artec Space Spider structured blue light scanner, which created three-dimensional models based on the real samples. The resulting 3D models were used to produce 3D printed replicas and animated videos.

The aim is to encourage new knowledge through research and socialization of the exhibits. The promoters of this initiative are clear that the virtualization of cultural heritage through digital technologies has a positive impact on the conservation, access, and management of museum collections. The use of 3D models will foster visitor engagement, stimulate new forms of learning, and enhance the value of the exhibitions. Furthermore, digitization protects these fragile and valuable collections for future generations.




Rangel-de Lázaro G, Martínez-Fernández A, Rangel-Rivero A, Benito-Calvo A. 2021. Shedding light on pre-Columbian crania collections through state-of-the-art 3D scanning techniques. Virtual Archaeology Review 12: 1–10.