3D Printing of Passenger Pigeon “Artifictions”

Just published and open access is a new article that demonstrates the value and potential of 3D scanning and printing for osteological identification of passenger pigeons and other extinct or rare animals.

Some zooarchaeologists have been producing 3D images of animal bones for a while now. This article describes the next step, the creation of actual physical replicas (which they dub “artifictions”, as opposed to artifacts) using 3D printers. The practical goal is to increase the reliable identification of animal species (especially rare or difficult to distinguish ones)  in archaeological faunal assemblages, which now is dependent on the zooarchaeologist having ready access to a large and varied collection of actual animal skeletons.   Why aren’t digital representations of bones enough?

because the scale of digital models is based on the size of the screen upon which they are viewed, making identifications by direct comparison difficult. Artifictions, however, can be scaled accurately and physically placed alongside actual skeletal elements to enable more direct visual comparison and identifica-tion of specimens, comparable to the use of a reference specimen from a comparative skeletal collection. Additionally, the 3D scanned models can be used for species identification based on selected point-to-point morphometric measurements. (p. 16)

For examples, the authors use the passenger pigeon and the harelip sucker, a freshwater fish that, like the passenger pigeon, went extinct near the beginning of the twentieth century.

While there are still some technical (and budgetary) limitations with the 3D printing process, they argue convincingly that “this is the only non-commercial approach that will make available physical representations of skeletal elements from extinct species for quick distribution to a large number of researchers.” (p. 19) Efforts are underway to make these models available for download. Next, somebody needs to buy me a 3D printer.

Reference:

Manzano, Bruce L., Bernard K. Means, Christopher T. Begley, and Mariana Zechini

2015    Using Digital 3D Scanning to Create “Artifictions” of the Passenger Pigeon and Harelip Sucker, Two Extinct Species in Eastern North America: The Future Examines the Past. Ethnobiology Letters 6(2):15-24.

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