Research Letters

3D techniques and fossil identification: An elephant shrew hemi-mandible from the Malapa site

Aurore Val, Kristian J. Carlson, Christine Steininger, Job M. Kibii, Cecil Churms, Brian F. Kuhn, Lee R. Berger
South African Journal of Science | Vol 107, No 11/12 | a583 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajs.v107i11/12.583 | © 2011 Aurore Val, Kristian J. Carlson, Christine Steininger, Job M. Kibii, Cecil Churms, Brian F. Kuhn, Lee R. Berger | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 January 2011 | Published: 07 November 2011

About the author(s)

Aurore Val, Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, School of Geosciences, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Kristian J. Carlson, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Christine Steininger, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Job M. Kibii, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Cecil Churms, Deb Tech, De Beers Group Services, South Africa
Brian F. Kuhn, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Lee R. Berger, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Abstract

Conventional methods for extracting fossilised bones from calcified clastic sediments, using air drills or chemical preparations, can damage specimens to the point of rendering them unidentifiable. As an alternative, we tested an in silico approach that extended preparation and identification possibilities beyond those realisable using physical methods, ultimately proving to be crucial in identifying a fragile fossil. Image data from a matrix-encased hemi-mandible of a micromammal that was collected from the Plio-Pleistocene site of Malapa, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, were acquired using microtomography. From the resultant images, a 3D rendering of the fossil was digitally segmented. Diagnostic morphologies were evaluated on the rendering for comparison with extant comparative specimens, positively identifying the specimen as an elephant shrew (Elephantulus sp.). This specimen is the first positively identified micromammal in the Malapa faunal assemblage. Cutting-edge in silico preparation technology provides a novel tool for identifying fossils without endangering bone integrity, as is commonly risked with physical preparation.

Keywords

microCT scan; volume data; elephant shrew; Plio-Pleistocene; Malapa

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