3D Scanners

Jurassic dinosaur skull reconstructed with CT scans and 3D modeling

Researchers from South Africa are walking with dinosaurs after recreating the facial skeleton of the Massospondylus carinatus (M. carinatus) dinosaur with CT scans and digital 3D modeling.

Kimberley E.J. Chapelle and Jonah N. Choiniere from the Evolutionary Studies Institute and School of Geosciences at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, have produced a 3D representation of the M. carinatus’ skull and brain-case.

This is to better understand the growth patterns and appearance of the dinosaur by comparing the scan data to other dinosaur models.

Massospondylus Carinatus on two feet. Photo via Wikimedia.
Massospondylus Carinatus on two feet. Image via Wikimedia.

3D modeling in reconstruction

The relationship between 3D technologies and reconstruction is a strong one. 3D printing was used to reconstruct some of the bones of the famous blue whale at the Natural History Museum in London.

Additionally, a combination of genome data and 3D scanning/modeling technology was also used recently to reconstruct the Cheddar Man, the oldest complete skeleton ever to be found in Britain.

The M. carinatus was a dinosaur from the Early Jurassic Period (over 200 million years ago) that lived on the land that now forms part of South Africa and Lesotho and was either herbivorous or omnivorous.

Despite its abundance, not as much is known about the appearance of the M. carinatus as is known about the better-known Plateosaurus or the Diplodocus, both of which are from the same sub-order.

According to the researchers, digital reconstructions of the scans enable the shape of the floor of the braincase to be explored in greater detail. Even though it is tentatively known that the M. carinatus’ brain case differs from other species, 3D models would make this more accessible.


A far cry from Jurassic Park, 3D modelling the M. carinatus

To reconstruct the facial bones of the M. carinatus, a CT scan of the skull was first taken using a Nikon Metrology XTH 225/320 LC dual source industrial CT system. While several fossilized skulls exist of the M. carinatus, the specimen “BP/1/5241” was ultimately used because there was a good contrast between rock and bone matrix, improving the scan data.

The specimen was scanned at approximately 107-micrometer resolution under a 100kV x-ray with an Amperage of 680 microamps through a 1.8 mm thick copper filter.

The resulting scan image yielded data dimensions of 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 with a voxel size of 0.1068mm, a resolution adequate for the researchers’ analysis.

The scans of each cranial bone were then individually digitally segmented using VG Studio Max v.2.1. The resulting digital 3D models were then compared to Plateosaurus erlenbergiensis, Lufengosaurus huenei, and Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis dinosaur species as comparanda.

The researchers were able to ascertain certain details about the dinosaur’s soft tissues, and they concluded that it was, in fact, the angle of the sphenoid bone (behind the eyes) that was a defining characteristic of the M. carinatus.

3D reconstruction with colored bones for analysis. Image via Wits University.
3D reconstruction with colored bones for analysis. Image via Wits University.

The benefits of 3D modelling dinosaurs

Analysis was carried out on all the digital 3D models of the constituent bones. 3D modelling made comparing the the bones to other species and characterising their physical features much more accessible and efficient.

Furthermore, digital DICOM data and STL files of the 3D models were made freely available by the authors through MorphoSource, a 3D platform hosted by Duke University that also hosts 3D scans of museum specimen 3D scanned by the oVert project. This makes it possible to 3D print the dinosaur cranium.

The full paper, “A revised cranial description of Massospondylus carinatus Owen (Dinosauria: Sauropodomorpha) based on computed tomographic scans and a review of cranial characters for basal Sauropodomorpha” by Kimberley E.J. Chapelle and Jonah N. Choiniere is available to read online via PeerJ.

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