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Re: The (long) future of paleontology



dannj@alphalink.com.au <mailto:dannj@alphalink.com.au> wrote:
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. ...

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. ...
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?
I'm not normally in a position to add much to Paleo discussions, having done no Paleo since undergraduate days, but I can sensibly comment on digital data.

Just because 1s and 0s are "perfect" and in principle preservable, do not be deceived into thinking that this is the best archive medium. There are all too many problems with digital data, even beyond the actual frailty of the physical storage medium used to hold the binary data. How many facilities can now read punched cards? 8" floppy disks? Laser discs (the big 12" jobs, not CD-ROMs)? .. the list goes on...
Serious digital archives are now starting to archive mothballed readers along with the recorded data.


Add to that the changing formats used in computer codes (anyone met EBCDIC character data recently?), and the changing fads in image/sound formats and compression, and you have a recipe for long term disaster.

Existing paper based archives have photographs in excess of 100 yrs old, and written material which in some cases is 1000s of yrs old.

Fossils? Most fossils are *rock* which is even more durable than paper or parchment... Yes, handling fossils can inflict wear (but so too paper and parchment), but otherwise an archive can expect to hold rocks safely for a very long time...

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.
As a secondary and interpretive medium, I can't fault digital data...
(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)




-- Neil Taylor "Creo Imaginem Mente"