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16 - Digital South African fossils: morphological studies using reference-based reconstruction and electronic preparation

from Part II - Hominin morphology through time: brains, bodies and teeth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2012

Sally C. Reynolds
Affiliation:
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Andrew Gallagher
Affiliation:
University of Johannesburg
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Summary

Abstract

Virtual anthropology (VA) is a multidisciplinary approach to studying anatomical data in three spatial dimensions, or in space through time, particularly for humans, their ancestors and their closest relatives (www.virtual-anthropology.com). The quantitative analysis of biological structures in varying detail is a key element, as is the availability of digital data. This fusion of anthropology, mathematics, physics, computer science, medicine and industrial design incorporates know-how for applications spanning evolutionary biology, hominoid development and growth, forensics, biometric identification, medical diagnosis and teaching (Figure 16.1). In this chapter, we demonstrate the VA toolkit by reviewing some recent results based on high-resolution CT data from South African fossil hominids. We show examples of electronic preparation (MLD 37/38) and anatomical and geometric reconstruction (Taung, Sts 71, StW 505, SK 48, MLD 37/38), and we explain the outcomes or findings regarding endocranial measurements, venous drainage systems, sexual dimorphism in A. africanus, growth trajectories of hominoids, and the allometric scaling of robust australopithecines. Digital specimens, available independent of time or location, allow us to capture novel and more reproducible data of traits and form, as from inaccessible or hitherto unformalised regions. Delicate specimens can be protected from damage when digital fossils are used to make casts, to share data among scientists and to underlie alternative measurement schemes. We argue that these themes represent one substantial area of development for contemporary fossil-based palaeoanthropology.

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African Genesis
Perspectives on Hominin Evolution
, pp. 298 - 316
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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