Feb 8, 2018 | By Benedict

With the help of 3D scanning technology, Stanford University Libraries have turned almost 100 animal bones and bone fragments into digital 3D models. The 3D models can be used by zoologists and natural historians for teaching and research.

If you’ve ever been to a natural history museum—or any museum, for that matter—you’ll know about the most strictly enforced rule in the museum environment: don’t touch.

You can hardly blame the curators. Bones and fossils of rare or extinct animals are precious commodities, and can be easily damaged by overzealous hands. It’s therefore best to keep them behind glass, safe from intentional or accidental touching.

The problem with that approach is that you can’t get up close and personal with an animal bone—can’t turn it over in the palm of your hand and examine its crevices and contours.

A neat compromise, and something you’ll be seeing much more of in the near future, can be reached using 3D scanning technology. By 3D scanning something like an animal bone, you can create a digital 3D model, which allows curious observers to get a closer look at the artifact on a computer screen.

That’s what Stanford University Libraries have been doing as part of a recent pilot project. So far, the organization has 3D scanned around 100 animal bones and bone fragments, though their reasons for doing so aren’t just to stop those bones being broken.

In actual fact, the Stanford group wants to digitize a large number the university’s store of artifacts, which also includes artworks and other interesting historical objects, in order to improve teaching in the classroom.

Their thinking is that, if these 3D models are available to access immediately online, Stanford lecturers and tutors can show them to a large group of students without having to borrow the actual artifacts. It’s not quite as good as having the real thing, but it makes life a great deal easier for all involved.

Krish Seetah, an assistant professor of anthropology at Stanford, used a selection of these scanned 3D models during his course Zooarchaeology: An Introduction to Faunal Remains in the 2017 winter quarter, and thinks they are a great deal more useful than photographs.

“The ideal situation would be for each one of my students to take an entire skeleton home and study it, but that’s just not realistic because of the fragility and limitations of the collection,” Seetah said. “Before, I used photographs, and two dimensions versus three is a completely different situation.”

During Seetah’s class, students were taught to memorize bones of different animals so they could identify a bone just from its fragment, also learning to recognize signs of trauma on bones.

That, however, is just one very specific application that these digital 3D models can be used for. The 3D scanning project could be scaled up in the future, bringing more classes and students into the world of 3D models.

“The 3D model doesn’t replace the original, but it gives you a digital surrogate to make analysis, evaluation, [and] instruction on those objects easier, both in the classroom and at home,” said Stuart Snydman, associate director for digital strategy at Stanford Libraries and head of the 3D scanning project. “Digitization is one way we can not just preserve our heritage and our history but also make these really important objects or works of art available to our students and faculty and researchers in the world at large.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Scanning

 

 

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