3D Printers

3D-Printable Fossil Collection Adds 400 Monkey Skulls

MorphoSource, a database of downloadable files for printing 3D copies of fossils, has added scans of 400 skulls, along with other bones, from 59 different species of monkey.

Launched by Doug Boyer, an assistant professor at Duke University, in 2013, MorphoSource features nearly 9,000 image files from more than 500 species uploaded by more than 70 institutions from around the world. Users can view the files online, zoom in and out or rotate the images and download them to print physical copies. Many of the files feature lesson plans through PaleoTeach.

"Paleoanthropology is traditionally a closed good ol' boy network where fieldwork is done in secret and findings are kept secret," said Steven Churchill, a Duke evolutionary anthropology professor and member of the team that discovered and described Homo naledi, a human ancestor.

"Researchers often sit on fossils for years and years before publishing, and then even after publication it can be hard to see the fossils or even see casts of them," Churchill added in a prepared statement.

The naledi team chose to do things differently, releasing high-resolution scans of more than 80 key specimens to MorphoSource as they announced their discovery.

"Less than 12 hours after the Homo naledi discovery was announced, students in anthropologist Kristina Killgrove's class at the University of West Florida were already poring over 3D printed pieces of the creature's jaw, legs, hands and skull that Killgrove had downloaded and printed on her lab's desktop 3D printer," according to a Duke News release.

Three months after the announcement, the naledi scans had been viewed 43,000 times and downloaded 7,600 times. "We're really proud of that," Churchill said in a news release.

"Paleoanthropology has been relying on digital data more and more," Boyer said in a prepared statement. "Before we released this dataset, only a dozen labs around the world had digital samples that large at their fingertips. Overnight we leveled the playing field in a significant way."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].