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Re: The (long) future of paleontology

On Mon, 16 Jan 2006 14:07:14 -0700, Andrew Milner wrote
> Another problem I see with leaving the fossils in the ground is a 
> lack of accessibility for other researcher to study them.  It's 
> already hard enough to go from museum to museum to look at specimens 
> you need to examine for your research, especially when it's 
> difficult to get the money out of your employers in the firsdt 
> place.  I agree with Ken.  Leaving them in the ground is not a good 
> option particularly for scientifically significant specimens.  Also, 
> how will you be able to interpret a site correctly in terms of other 
> smaller fossils (microverts., plants, fish, inverts.), trace fossils,
>  and sedimentology if you don't excavate it?

With a very high resolution scan (and I'm talking way in the future here), 
not only would you have 3D scans of the fossils (both inside and out), but 
also their exact relationships in three dimensions with the surrounding 
matrix and other trace fossils. Given that this sort of technology is being 
driven by medicine and security, I suspect we'll have such sensitive 
subsurface equipment inside of a century or two (that's tomorrow in 
geological time!). There's also an increasing culture of preservation that's 
moving away from the old 'hack them out of the ground and exhibit them' 
mentality that characterised palaeontology and archaeology in the bad old 
days. Anything that leaves things intact in the ground while still providing 
scientists with hi-res data is bound to be popular.

Digital data can conceivably last forever, and can be shared verbatim. 
Handling actual fossils tends to wear away at them no matter how careful you 
are (and breakage, loss, or theft is always a possibility). And what is the 
current fad in palaeontology? Scanning fossils in 3D and manipulating them in 
a computer! Not only can you test articulations for even the largest bones, 
but you can use the digital data to 'print' out 3D copies without messy 
casting techniques. Getting that original scanned data straight from the 
ground is just a further extension of what's already being done.

(And don't get me wrong - I'm not against digging myself. I'm just looking at 
long-term future possibilities, as per the thread subject)


Dann Pigdon
GIS / Archaeologist         http://heretichides.soffiles.com
Melbourne, Australia        http://www.geocities.com/dannsdinosaurs