3D Scanning and 3D Printing Help Bring 122-Foot Titanosaur Fossil Replica to Life
Back in 2014 a farmer in Argentina found what looked like fossilized dinosaur bones, so he contacted the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio. They sent out researchers to examine the find, but it wasn’t until paleontologist Diego Pol and the rest of the team started digging that they knew exactly what they had found. The team ended up uncovering 223 individual fossilized bones from six different never before seen dinosaurs so new that their official scientific names can’t be announced until later in the year. So for now researchers are just calling it the Titanosaur, and it is one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered. The remains, estimated to have lived 100 million years ago, were excavated in an area near La Flecha in Argentina, which would have been large forests at the time.
The massive herbivore is such an exciting discovery that the world famous American Museum of Natural History installed a reproduction of the skeleton that is more than 122 feet long and couldn’t even fit into one room of the museum. The Titanosaur is so long that its enormous 39-foot neck actually stretches out into the museum’s lobby. When the Titanosaur was alive, it would have weighed more than 70 tons, and its long neck would have swung side to side, mowing up long grasses and vegetation as it moved. It took the team of excavators almost two years to uncover all of the remains, and they even had to construct a special road to the dig site in order to remove the larger fossilized bones.
If you have ever been to a museum that showcases large dinosaur skeletons, what they kind of don’t want you to know is that they’re not real skeletons on display. They are typically reproductions of actual fossils that have been painted to look like the real thing, and often the bones come from different creatures altogether. So when the museum decided to feature the Titanosaur in a new exhibit, they contracted fossil restoration and fabrication specialists Research Casting International to construct their huge replica, which happens to be the largest that the company has ever made.
Here is a brief video about the Titanosaur:
In order to construct the Titanosaur, Research Casting International founder Peter May and his team took several trips to the dig site in Argentina in order to use 3D scanners to capture fossil bones, some of them even while they were still being dug up. Once they had the scan data back in Ontario, Canada, they used 3D printing and 3D milling technology to create duplicates of the bones. They used a 3D milling machine to carve out some of the larger bones, which they then cast and created lightweight fiberglass molds, as well as 3D printing some of the other bones.
In total the paleontologists in Argentina had found about 84 individual fossilized bones from the huge Titanosaur. When there were gaps in the complete skeleton, the team filled them in by studying the bones of similar creatures. When it came to the dinosaur’s head, there had only been a handful of small fragments found at the dig site, certainly not enough to get detailed 3D scans of it. Sauropod dinosaur skulls are quite fragile and thin, so the skulls for these fossils completely deteriorated. Instead they used the well-preserved skull of a smaller, similar creature by 3D scanning it and scaling it up to the size that would have been on the Titanosaur.
The new exhibit replaces a Barosaurus, a much smaller but quite similar sauropod. In the wild, the Titanosaur would have stood more than 20 feet tall at the shoulder, or a whopping 46 feet tall with his neck fully extended at a 45-degree angle. Unfortunately the 19-foot ceilings at the museum prevent the fossil replica from standing at a more natural height. The Titanosaur exhibit opens to the public on Friday, January 15, where they will also have several of the original fossil bones on display, including a nearly 8-foot-long long thigh bone.
Here is some timelapse video of the full Titanosaur skeleton exhibit being assembled:
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