A (partly) 3D printed Triceratops skeleton named Dirk is now on display at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands. Dirk required months of 3D scanning, 3D printing, and assembling of 3D printed bones and original bones but the wait was well worth it.
For Dirk, a few months of assembly is nothing because he’s been laying in the ground for some 67 million years. When the paleontologists were unearthing the specimen, they realized some bones were missing, including ribs, a horn, and part of the skull. While disappointing, the missing bones wouldn’t stop Dirk from standing tall once again.
Modern day paleontologists use 3D imaging and printing techniques as an instrument to reconstruct fossil remains that are discovered in scientific excavations.
Dr. Peter Schalk, Director of Public and Markets at Naturalis
The museum had used 3D printing to recreate bones before, but only small ones on a desktop machine. “This works perfectly fine if you only need 3D prints of a handful of smaller bones, and for a single larger bone, combining a couple of smaller prints isn’t too much of a hassle,” said paleontology Professor Anne Schulp, a researcher at Naturalis. “For a really big project such as Triceratops Dirk though, we had to look further, and that’s where the Builder Extreme came in focus.”
The missing bones could either be mirrored from available bones on Dirk or from other triceratops skeletons. “If we have, for example, a left bone and the right-side counterpart is missing, we can easily make a scan and a mirrored 3D print,” Schulp explains. “For some other bone elements, particularly the vertebrae, we were welcome to use a scan of a Triceratops skeleton in the collections of the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Their Triceratops skeleton is very much complementary to what we found of Dirk.” Even some of the existing bone were deemed too fragile to display and were also 3D printed.
The Builder Extreme 1500 PRO, which has a build volume of 1100 x 500 x 820 mm, ran 24/7 for a couple of months to 3D print the hundreds of bones to complete Dirk, many of which were very large and required days to complete. A high level of detail was also needed because the researchers wanted the pieces to accurately represent the geometry and texture of the fossilized bones, so printing quickly with a draft quality wasn’t an option. Each 3D print was hand painted to look like the real thing, though a slightly lighter shade of color was chosen so that observers can tell the difference between the original bones and the printed ones.
Naturalis is displayed in the LiveScience gallery of the new Naturalis museum to demonstrate how the museum replicates bones with 3D printing, and there are already plans to use the machine on another large project at Naturalis.
Images courtesy of Naturalis & Builder