Seeing prehistoric life in 3D

3d trilobite

On 22nd August, Eliza Howlett and I joined in the London press launch of ‘GB3D Type Fossils’, an exciting project to make images and information about some of our most important fossils freely available online. It is a major collaboration between the Museum of Natural History at Oxford, the National Museum of Wales, the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge, and the British Geological Survey, and is funded by Jisc, a charity that champions the use of digital technologies in UK education and research.

Type fossils are the specimens used to define each species of plant or animal. They are the ‘heritage specimens’ of the geological world, and need to be preserved carefully for future generations of scientists. The GB3D Type Fossil project is a rather clever way to let researchers, collectors and enthusiasts see our type specimens up close, wherever they are in the world, without any risk of damage to the specimens.

Some of the fossils have been scanned using a 3D laser-scanner. Their images can be enlarged up, rotated and viewed online using free software such as Meshlab. They can also be printed out on a 3D printer, and the one running at the press launch generated a lot of interest! Other fossils were photographed as ‘3D anaglyphs’ so that if you wear cyan-red 3D specs, the fossils appear in three dimensions. The remainder can be seen in really good conventional photographs that show lots of detail. There’s plenty of information about the fossils too, for example how old they are and where they are from.

3D ElizaAbove you can see a 3D anaglyph (stereoscopic) photo of the type specimen of Barrandia bianularis, a trilobite that lived around 464 to 467 million years ago. It appears on the website in 3D when viewed using cyan-red viewing glasses. Have a look here.

Eliza is our Manager of Earth Collections, and has been managing the project to scan and document around 2,000 British type fossils in the Oxford collection. Her work is nearly complete, and the Oxford fossils will ‘go live’ on the website over the next couple of months.  Have fun exploring it!

Monica Price, Head of Earth Collections

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