Jan 14, 2016 | By Benedict

Be careful, scientists: If the craze for 3D scanning and 3D printing extinct animals continues at its current rate, we might soon be overrun by herds of digitally resurrected prehistoric beasts. A team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London, has become the latest party to join the 3D scanning bandwagon, having recently brought the million-year-old Sivatherium giganteum back to life in digital form.

After 3D scanning 26 fossilized bones from the Natural History Museum in London, as well as collecting around 1,000 photographs of other fossils from around the world, the RVC scientists were able to create a realistic digital recreation of the long-extinct animal using Autodesk’s Maya software package.

Looking like a confused combination of a moose, a giraffe and an elephant, the “morphologically bizarre” Sivatherium roamed the Earth a million years ago, in the area of the planet now known as India. The prehistoric creature, an ancient relative of modern giraffes, possessed massive horns, a flat face, stubby legs and a short—yes, short!—neck. Just like modern-day giraffes, the Sivatherium was a “ruminant”—an animal that chews the cud.

As well as providing the first complete, digital recreation of the creature’s skeleton, the 3D scanning and research undertaken by the RVC team uncovered some fresh information about the unusual four-legged creature. The findings give a solid estimate of the body mass of the Sivatherium, with the creature weighing in at 1246 kg without its horns, making it potentially the largest giraffid ever to have existed.

The findings of the study have been published in Biology Letters, in a paper titled “The extinct, giant giraffid Sivatherium giganteum: skeletal reconstruction and body mass estimation.” Its lead author, PhD student Chris Basu, considers the project a great success: “When the first fossil remains of Sivatherium were found in the early 1800’s, paleontologists had never seen anything like it, and struggled to classify what kind of animal it was,” he explained. “Due to the large size of its skull, and its elaborate horns, they assumed that Sivatherium was a link between elephants, rhinos and antelope. Now we are finding out more about the animal through studies like this.”

“Extinct animals like Tyrannosaurus rex get a lot of attention but there are plenty of other bizarre fossil creatures that are surprisingly neglected in scientific research,” added Prof. John R. Hutchinson, Professor of Evolutionary Biomechanics at RVC and co-author of the research paper. “It’s very satisfying to have been part of this collaboration to reconstruct the very strange Sivatherium and bring it the attention and scientific rigor it deserves.”

It remains to be seen whether Basu and co. will use their 3D model to 3D print a scale replica of the prehistoric creature. Naturally, we hope they do.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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