From the University of Michigan:
More than two decades ago, University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher and some of his students began the laborious task of digitally scanning the bones of mastodons, mammoths and other prehistoric creatures so the images could be displayed on computers.
Fisher hoped to someday create a digital showcase where 3-D images of specimens from the U-M Museum of Paleontology’s vast collection could be shared with other researchers and with the general public. Sadly, the technology needed to make that dream a reality just didn’t exist at the time.
But several recent technical advances have enabled the museum to place hundreds of the scanned images on a new website called the University of Michigan Online Repository of Fossils.
Initially intended as a tool to help field paleontologists identify fossils, the powerful new resource is expected to have wide appeal to students and the general public, as well, said Fisher, the museum’s director.
The number of 3-D bone models on the new website is expected to grow into the thousands as additional specimens are added. All of the Museum of Paleontology’s scientists and staff members contributed to the project.
“On this website we’ll be providing 3-D models that allow you to manipulate these objects onscreen and to do very much what we would do if we had the real specimen in our own hands—zoom in on it, rotate it this way and that, and even make measurements of it,” Fisher said.
The new U-M website is not the first online paleontology collection, but it has features unmatched by any previous effort. The resolution of the images is higher, and viewers have the ability to use a “BonePicker” tool to pull individual bones from a skeleton and examine photorealistic 3-D versions of those bones up close.
The just-launched website includes a mastodon skeleton assembled from 245 bones painstakingly scanned into the computer by Fisher and his students. To help them properly align all the pieces, the researchers—with help from Brandon Walker of Midwestern Consulting—digitally scanned the mounted Buesching mastodon skeleton on display at the U-M Museum of Natural History, then used it as a guide.
Visitors to the website can double-click on any bone in the mastodon skeleton to get a separate close-up image that can be rotated, zoomed, panned and even measured.
The site can also be viewed on cell phones, so a field researcher with Internet access can consult the U-M’s 3-D library without leaving the excavation site.
Direct to U-M Online Repository of Fossils
See Also: Another New 3D Collection: Petrie Museum at University College London Releases Interactive Online 3D Object Library of Ancient Egyptian Artifacts (April 30, 2014)