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JPT Nº14

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Over the past two decades or so, 3D digitization of vertebrate fossils has become increasingly common, and nowadays 3D surface models are widely used for research, exhibition, and archiving purposes. Various digitization me-thods exist, the ones most commonly used in vertebrate paleontology probably being x-ray CT (including micro-CT), laser scanning (stationary or hand-held), and photogram-metry. This variety presents the researcher with the difficult decision of which method to choose for their specific purpose. For reviews of the individual methods including their history, applications in paleontology, advantages and limits, see Mallison (2011) and Sutton et al. (2014).
The aim of this study was to compare two major methods, photogrammetry and micro-CT scanning in terms of accuracy, reproducibility, and efficiency, and thereby to help researchers choose the appropriate method for their purposes. Accuracy and reproducibility were assessed by testing for three aspects: 1. similarity of surfaces generated from micro-CT scans vs. photogrammetry, 2. inter-user error when surfaces are reconstructed from the same data set (micro-CT) using different computer programs and settings, and 3. error when using the same method (photogrammetry) on photo-graphs taken by different people. Efficiency was addressed by evaluating the duration of individual steps of surface generation, and by also taking into account the costs and the learning process of the different methods.
We chose to use this particular specimen, a cranium of an early Oligocene bothriodontine anthracotheriid, because it represents the kind of object vertebrate paleontologists typically have to deal with when generating 3D surfaces: skulls and skeletons, or parts thereof. These highly complex objects feature foramina, fossae, processus, and sharp cristae that contain a lot of morphological information. Detailed visualization of this information in the 3D model is usually crucial for subsequent morphometric or other analyses. Our specimen is intermediate in size between very small (e.g., micromammals) and very large vertebrate fossils (e.g., dinosaurs), and thus serves well as a general model specimen.

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