From Duke University:
Duke assistant professor Doug Boyer’s office is more than 8,000 miles away from the vault at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the fossil remains of a newly discovered human ancestor, Homo naledi, rest under lock and key.
But with a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, he can have models of any one of hundreds of naledi bone fragments delivered to his desk in a matter of minutes.
Paleontologists like Boyer frequently travel halfway around the world to examine such unique and fragile specimens. That is, assuming their curators will even allow such access.
But the Homo naledi specimens are a different story. They, and hundreds of other species, are now available in a free online database of digital scans that anyone can download and print in 3-D.
“We’re essentially taking bones out of museum catacombs and putting them online,” Boyer said.
In the three years since the archive was created, researchers and educators from more than 70 institutions across the globe have uploaded close to 9,000 image files. To date, the collection represents more than 500 species, including a 40-thousand-year-old Neanderthal skull from Israel, delicate water beetles from New Guinea, and bits of a swamp-dwelling dinosaur called Telmatosaurus.
Visitors will also find nearly two dozen teeth from a 60-foot prehistoric shark named Megalodon, vertebrae from a massive 40-foot, 2500-pound snake called Titanoboa, and the bizarre bones of a 16-inch devil frog from Madagascar that resembled a squashed beach ball.
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