[Press and Public Relations] 'Virtual' Techniques Project 425 Million Year Old Fossils into the 21st Century

March 2001

No 31


The first ever detailed computerised 3-D images of soft-bodied fossils have been developed by Drs Derek Siveter and Mark Sutton from Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, together with Professors Derek Briggs (Bristol) and David Siveter (University of Leicester Geology Department). The images produced, which show a 425 million year old mollusc from the Silurian rocks in Herefordshire, are published in the journal Nature this week.

425 million years ago, Herefordshire was covered by a moderately deep sea containing sunken reefs which housed a wide variety of marine life. At some point, volcanic ash rained down onto the sea floor, creating an exceptionally rare and rich fossil archive as many tiny soft-bodied organisms, such as molluscs, were engulfed and preserved in the ash, rather than either decomposing or being squashed flat in the sediment, which more usually happens.

The new technique which has been developed involves micro-grinding of the fossils combined with computer regeneration techniques, which project the 4cm fossil in 3-D imagery and show its anatomy in unprecedented detail, including its many plates and spines. The detail in which the mollusc has been rendered will assist scientists as they build up a more complete record of the diversity and ecology of life hundreds of millions of years ago, which will now for the first time be fleshed out by high fidelity models of the distant ancestors of today’s snails, mussels and octopi.

"Using our new technique, we are finding that we are able to resurrect ancient creatures and project them into the 21st century, where they can tell us more about what life was like hundreds of millions of years ago," said Dr Sutton. "These ‘virtual fossils’ are an amazing combination of the old and new, and after our success with the mollusc we are looking forward to studying many other organisms and adding more pieces to the evolutionary jigsaw."


For animated images of the mollusc, see http://www.earth.ox.ac.uk/herefordshire/acaen/acaenoplax.htm

For further information please contact:

Professor David J. Siveter, Department of Geology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH(Tel: 0116 2523925).

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Last updated: 26 March 2001 15:05
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