A Tale of Two Mammoths: Paleontologist Mietje Germonpré on 3D Printing a Mammoth
3. How did you collaborate with Materialise?
I was contacted by Materialise and visited the company to look at the first scan of the mammoth skeleton together with the engineers. We had a general look at the virtual reconstruction and how the skeleton had been constructed in the 19th century, and we improved certain points. In a later phase the engineers came to the museum to study the mounted skeleton. We compared the reconstruction of associated bones such as the vertebral column or the lower arm with the original skeleton and thought about how it could be made more scientifically accurate.
4. How were you able to make the reconstruction more accurate?
The original mounting was done over 150 years ago, and our knowledge of a mammoth’s anatomy has improved since then. For example, in the 19th century they assumed the mammoth had a tail as long as that of an elephant, but due to frozen mammoth bodies found in Siberia, we now know that it’s actually shorter. This was really an opportunity to virtually adapt the skeleton to the new insights we have now on the anatomy. The missing bones were also originally sculpted in wood, but here we based the missing bones on a mirror image of existing bones, which makes them much more precise. 3D Printing has given us the opportunity to make a more accurate reconstruction of the mammoth.
5. What is the impact of 3D Printing in paleontology?
3D Printing and virtual reconstruction are very useful. If we have a very precious specimen, it’s easier and safer to work on an exact copy. There is less risk of damaging the part when you can work on a reconstruction. Also, a virtual reconstruction allows researchers all over the world to study the same specimen at the same time. And 3D Printing is often used to create the missing bones in a skeleton, but this project is unique because for the first time ever, we are printing an entire, life-size skeleton.