The digital model of the ancient dino skull can be turned into a replica using a 3D printer. Photo by Kimberley Chapelle
Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Anyone with access to a 3D printer can now create a replica of a 200-million-year-old dinosaur skull.
Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, used advanced CT scanning technology to image and digitally reconstruct -- bone by bone -- a detailed 3D model of the skull of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Early Jurassic.
The researchers published their rendering of the ancient dino skull this week in the journal PeerJ.
"This means any researcher or member of the public can print their own Massospondylus skull at home," Kimi Chapelle, a PhD student at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, said in a news release.
Massospondylus is one of the most famous dinosaurs in South Africa. Its fossil record is rich. But the latest study is the first to offer a detailed anatomical survey of the long-necked dinosaur's skull.
"I was amazed when I started digitally reconstructing Massospondylus' skull, and found all these features that had never been described," said Chapelle, "It just goes to show that researchers still have a lot to learn about South Africa's dinosaurs."
CT scans revealed new details about the connection between the dino's middle and inner ear. The imaging also showed the pathways nerves took through the neck and head.
"By comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret things like how they held their heads and how they moved," said Chapelle. "You can actually see tiny replacement teeth in the bones of the jaws, showing us that Massospondylus continuously replaced its teeth, like crocodiles do, but unlike humans that can only do it once."
The analysis also showed this particular dinosaur's cranial bones had yet to fully fuse. It was still maturing.
"This allows us to understand how Massospondylus grew, how fast it grew and how big it could grow," Chapelle said.
Chapelle says she plan to pose new questions and answer them with the help of new fossils and CT scans.
"Students like Kimi have been able to use our CT facility to produce cutting-edge research like this," said Jonah Choiniere, a Wits professor who supervised Chapelle's work. "It's changing the way we do dinosaur research."