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University of Michigan Tool Provides Free 3D Views of Prehistoric Skeletons

university of michigan 3d modeling tool

A new online repository from the University of Michigan will make hundreds of 3D images of prehistoric bones available to students and the general public, with thousands more expected to be added.

The new website, the University of Michigan Online Repository of Fossils, is one of the most comprehensive paleontology collections online. Users have access to high resolution images, and can use a “BonePicker” tool to pull individual bones from a skeleton and examine photorealistic 3D versions of those bones up close. The tool already features 3D bones from mastodons and mammoths, as well as photo galleries of early whales and other vertebrates.

Fisher and his students painstakingly scanned hundreds of bones into the computer, then aligned them with a digitally scanned version of the mounted Buesching mastodon skeleton on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

“On this website we’ll be providing 3D models that allow you to manipulate these objects onscreen and to do very much what we would do if we had the real specimen in our own hands—zoom in on it, rotate it this way and that, and even make measurements of it,” said Daniel Fisher, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology.

The project was helped along by recent advances in handheld digital scanners, browser support for 3D materials, and 3D modeling software. In addition to web version, users can also view the collection on their mobile devices.

“Simply being able to zoom in and explore all of this anatomy is an opportunity that could easily arouse interest in young scientists-to-be,” Fisher said.

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.

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