3-D Printed Fossils Transforming Anthropology

Sep 19, 2015

Shortly after the discovery of Homo naledi (a new ancestor of humans), Miami University says its anthropology students can hold precise plastic replicas of some of the fossils.

Students looking at websites about the discovery found that the research team had uploaded not only photos but three-dimensional digital scans of many of the fossils.

With the help of Jeb Card, visiting assistant professor of anthropology, and John Williams of Miami’s Business, Engineering, Science and Technology (B.E.S.T.) Library, copies of fossil jawbones, teeth, and a finger bone were processed and printed using a 3-D printer at the B.E.S.T. Library.

Anthropology major Micayla Spiros
Credit Provided / Miami University

A Miami University news release says the anthropology department hopes to also download and print some additional cranial and other replicas.

“I am in the fortunate position of teaching paleoanthropology this semester,” said Linda Marchant, professor of anthropology. “How often does it happen that a momentous discovery happens while you are teaching a class on that subject?”

“Thanks to these new technologies, I’ll be able to show them a sample of the hundreds of newly discovered fossils,” she added.  

Scott Suarez, assistant professor of anthropology, is developing a new lab exercise for his Foundations of Biological Anthropology class.  Students will measure the replicas and compare them to casts of Australeopithicus africanus and Homo habilis, the closest known relatives of naledi.

“This is as real as it gets in letting students see firsthand, and in their hands, what the fossil record looks like, even as more of it is being uncovered,” Marchant said.

Miami says 3-D printing has enhanced academics at Miami for several years in fields of engineering, anthropology and others.