Computer models and 3D printers help in the precise reconstruction of primitive life
Prehistoric animals were often only a few fragments of bones, teeth or pieces of skull. Digital models and 3D printers are increasingly used to reconstruct a dinosaur or mammoth from these insignificant remains. Will old technologies become obsolete in the future? We asked the experts.
Due to the move of the Science Center to Delft, it is now in storage and will soon be spending a few months with Naturalis. But then it will get a nice spot again in the new TU Delft Science Center: Skull 21, the skull of Triceratops prorsus.
66-68 million years ago, it was a stocky, herbivorous dinosaur head (the size of a large wagon) from Wyoming in the United States. At least part of the head. The Skull 21 was built not only from bone material millions of years ago, but also from layers of plastic that came out of a 3D printer this century.
Digital designer Javid Josch from Rotterdam and scientists from the Natural History Museum and the Naturalis Research Institute in Leiden reconstructed the dinosaur skull as faithfully as possible by first creating a 3D digital model in which the bony parts of original fit perfectly, then printing the missing parts.
“This is really the third reenactment of the animal,” says Joshish. Skull 21 was excavated in Wyoming in 1891, then rebuilt there and shipped to the Netherlands in the late 1950s. However, something went wrong with the transfer, so the skull eventually came out. from the package in the form of a hundred fragments.
Paleontologist Peter Kruzinga, curator of minerals at Delft University of Technology, reformulated the puzzle in 1957. With current knowledge, its reconstruction could be improved.
Then the researchers got to work. They demolished Cruzinga’s work, searched their dinosaur catalogs, examined the skulls of other Triceratops, received 3D scans, and began digital modeling so they could create a suitable model.
“We used two other more complete Triceratops skulls as an example,” says Joshish. “We picked the anchor points on that, like the tip of the horns, the top of the neck shell and the TMJs, and then I started to calculate the proportions.”
They turned out to be very different from Skull 21, after which the team made some significant design changes. Then it was about adjusting, measuring and digitally sculpting until the puzzle was solved again. Then print, mill, drill, glue and solder to reassemble.
The bone surface structure was distilled from 1,500 images of real bones. In collaboration with restaurateur Aart Walen of Naturalis, Jooshesh built a new version of the Skull 21 with a longer nose than its predecessor, a larger neck protector and more outwardly pointed lugs.
A new generation of dinosaur structures
With this upgrade, Skull 21 joins a new generation of dinosaur building, replacing traditional craftsmanship with computer models and 3D printing.
One of Naturalis’s masterpieces, Triceratops horridus Dirk, is also partly made of plastic bones. Some of them are mirrors of Dirk himself, as the bone or skull fragment was only on one side of the beast.
It also concerns other bones of Triceratopsen which have been scanned and digitized. “Often the bones are quite deformed due to the pressure on the ground,” says mathematician and dinosaur specialist Pasha van Pelert, who has done much of this work. “We corrected this with a computer model. “
Want to know more about printed dinosaurs?
The full story can be read in the September issue of De Ingenieur. Buy the digital edition for € 7.50, or get – with a whopping 25% discount – a 12-issue annual digital subscription for € 69.
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Text: Marlis Terre Fordy
Opening image: Reconstruction of a Triceratops in the traditional way in Remy Bakker’s workshop. Rémy Bakker’s photo.
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