Scientists study fossils without having to remove them from rock

Here you can see a lump of rock with embedded fossils of bird bones trapped in the matrix. Below the rock are 3D printed models of those same fossils, created by paleontologist Brett Nachman. Other scientists captured the fossils inside the rock using CT scans that can see through the stone with the help of x-rays.

Last year, journalist Charles Choi wrote about the massive backlog of fossils in storage at most museums and suggested the possibility of using this kind of technology to study fossils that might not otherwise ever be removed from the hard matrix. Now, Charles is writing about people like Nachman who are doing just that — using technology to get at fossils that are too labor intensive to study.

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  1. Eksrae says:

    That's neat; I can't wait until there's a time when they'll be able to make preliminary maps of entire archaeological sites so that they can zero in on the more interesting parts first.

  2. I love it, not least because it minimizes the risk of damage to the original specimen. You might still need to chip the bones free to see fine details, but this provides a way to at least find out what you've got and decide where to focus your effort.

    And yeah, being able to do that large-scale on archeology sites would be wonderful for the same reason -- the more you can leave in situ, the more associated evidence there will be for future techniques to investigate.

  3. Agreed...I just recently returned from the Yucatan; was lucky enough to visit Chichen Itza...my informative guide mentioned that the local topography is generally flat: so any hill, steppe, or geologic protrusion...has something man-made underneath. Cool if true.

    Also the Tomb of the Chinese Emperor Qin has been left unsullied till now...And I support that choice: but I for one would be very interested to know what treasures lie beneath...

    Improve this important tech! (otherwise keep chipping tar out of the 678th dire wolf skull...because that's important too!)

  4. It is! As a display it's somewhat mind-boggling, but having enough skulls that you can actually do serious developmental and epidemiological studies of an extinct population is also somewhat mind-boggling.

    (Though the skulls that blew me away were the sequence showing replacement of infant teeth with adult teeth in Smilodons. To avoid leaving the maturing kitten without functioning fangs, the new saber started growing in before the old one was lost. There was a LOT of skull erosion in the process. A teething sabertooth much have been a really mean kitty!)

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