Scanning bones

We have been very busy lately – work on our Bronze Age case studies is progressing well, not least because three researchers have joined our team. We are working on all fronts – filling data bases, recording sites in GIS, analysing bones and writing articles. None of this looks very glamourous, but it is essential for good research. Last month we also did some 3-D micro-surface scanning.

3-D scanning is a very useful tool to document and better understand the morphology of human remains. The analysis of human remains within our project is, for the most part, destruction-free and primarily involves a visual evaluation of skeletal features. Building 3D-models of the skeletal indicators of pregnancy and parturition we are studying helps enormously in their accurate description, documentation, scoring and measuring.


Anna Sonnberger scanning pelvic bones at the Natural History Museum in Vienna

In addition, some of the cutting-edge research methods we employ – DNA, isotope and tooth cementum analysis, involves the sampling and destruction of a small amount of skeletal matter or the thin-sectioning of teeth. We think very carefully about our sampling strategies in order to minimise damage. If we decide to perform analyses on teeth, for example, we do the uttermost to preserve as much information on as possible. 3-D scanning documents the morphology accurately – and future generations of researchers with questions we cannot yet anticipate can go back to the virtual models, if not the original.

Here are a few pictures of the latest scanning sessions at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. We are very lucky to have access to a 3-D micro-surface Scanner (Breuckmann smartSCAN) through our host institution OREA.

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A pelvic bone of our Bronze Age study on the scanning platform. The projection of stripes helps the scanner to measure all features accurately.

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The 3-D model is available as a *.stl file, which can be viewed and printed in any 3-D viewer.


The next step will be experimenting with 3-D printing. We will see if the resolution is good enough to replace conventional casting of replicas.


About Katharina

Katharina is a prehistoric archaeologist working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her main research interests include the archaeology of the human body, gender, identity and personhood as expressed through funerary practices and art. She specialises in the Bronze and Iron Ages of Europe. As a mother of two young boys, she gathered some practical experience in addition to her theoretical interest in motherhood.
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