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Why do anthropologists need 3D printed bones?

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I thought I'd do a quick post on why anthropologists need 3D printed bones in case anybody's interested.

 

Real bones are expensive! Although we have real skeletons for teaching osteology, we are often limited to teaching the identification and examination of whole bones. For both forensic and archaeological contexts, osteologists need to be able to identify bones that are incomplete, scavenged, weathered, burned, or damaged in some other way. In such situations, the first question is whether or not the bone is human. In order to teach this advanced level of identification, we need bone fragments. We can't go around smashing bones to create the fragments, and if you're at an institution without a large archaeological collection of bones, 3D printing, especially of CT scans, can provide some fragments. Because CT scans contain internal structures (as opposed to laser scans of bones), we can digitally slice long bones to create cross-sections or cut models in ways that bone frequently fragments. We can potentially simulate trauma as well, although scans of bones with trauma or pathology would be even better.

 

I've recently started working with the Virtual Curation Laboratory (https://vcuarchaeolo....wordpress.com/) to 3D print bone fragments, whole bones, and bones with pathology or trauma. All of these things can be used to create "case studies" of single individuals or commingled individuals as well, and since they're plastic, we would have no problem using them outside for field exercises and excavations. Having age and/or sex is also important since higher quality 3D printed bones could be analyzed for those traits as well.

 

I've added some pictures from a recent conference at VCU where we presented our preliminary work and displayed a few printed bones. Some of them still have some support structures, but you can see what we're going for.

 

Thanks for reading!

Lumbar Vertebrae (L3-L5)

 

Sliced Femur

 

 

Sliced Humerus

 

 

Table of 3D printed bones

 




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