Kinect Involved In Ancient Egypt Kerfuffle

Photo: Jean-Pierre Lescourret | Getty
Photo: Jean-Pierre Lescourret | Getty

Last year, a pair of German artists claimed to have “stolen” scans of a priceless bust of Queen Nefertiti—housed in Berlin’s Neues Museum—using nothing but a Kinect. Now, experts are lining up to call bullshit.


The artists, Nora al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles, say they used “a modified version” of the Kinect to take the unauthorised scans, which they released for free as a protest against what they believe is the museum’s illegal possession of an artefact that should be returned to Egypt. They hoped, with the quality of the images they produced, that they could suggest that that the original be sent home while the Neues could display 3D models.

The thing is...their scans are good. Really good. So good, in fact, that experts in the field of 3D scanning think they’re too good.

As 3D printer Cosmo Wenman recaps on his blog, a number of experts have pointed out that “the Kinect scanner has fundamentally low resolution and accuracy”, and “that even under ideal conditions, it simply cannot acquire data as detailed as what the artists have made available.”

There’s also an especially damning interview Nelles had with Mike Balzer and Chris Kopack from All Things 3D last month, where the limitations of the Kinect’s abilities are made very clear.

Here’s a comparison Wenman put together of the Neues’ Museum’s own hi-res 3D scan and the images released by al-Badri and Nelles:

Image by Cosmo Wenman
Image by Cosmo Wenman

“In my opinion, it’s highly unlikely that two independent scans of the bust would match so closely”, he writes. “It seems even less likely that a scan of a replica would be such a close match. I believe the model that the artists released was in fact derived from the Neues Museum’s own scan.”

It’s a mess of a story, in which a mysterious third partner is then blamed for building the scanner and processing the images.


On the bright side, if this has got you in the mood to check out some super detailed 3D scans of priceless relics, Wenman’s post also has a nice roundup of other legit images, from 3D scans of the Parthenon friezes to scans of Richard III’s remains.



“what they believe is the museum’s illegal possession of an artifact that should be returned to Egypt”

Which it is right? Or have the Egyptians said “sure keep that we did not even want it?”

Can someone explain the difference between a grave robber and an archaeologist who digs up a historic site?

How long do we have to wait until it is “ok” to dig up peoples graves? Or does digging up famous peoples graves for “science” = a free pass to desecrate the dead?