Jan 23, 2013

GB/3D type fossils online at the Sedgwick Museum

A unified web database of UK type fossils
Category: 2013
Posted by: Sarah

Staff at the Sedgwick Museum are busy scanning and photographing their large collection of UK fossil type specimens as part of the the “GB/3D type fossils online” project.

The project is funded by JISC (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/), and is in collaboration with several institutions around the country, including the British Geological Survey (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/), National Museum Cardiff, the Oxford University of Natural History and the Geological Curators' Group.

Together we aim to produce a unified web database of UK type fossils, including links to high quality photographs (including stereo pair anaglyphs) and 3D digital models.

With over 6000 UK type specimens, the Sedgwick Museum has one of the largest and most important collections in the UK. 'Types' are the original specimens from which new species are described, and are therefore of fundamental importance to palaeontological research. Because of this they are some of the most heavily used specimens in the collections. Through making data available online we hope to increase access to researchers around the world while reducing risk to the specimens through handling.

The images and models are also being used in the development of Open Educational Resources, which will hopefully inspire the next generation of palaeontologists.


Using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II we are capturing high quality photographs of each specimen, in standard orientations. Most images will supplement those in existing publications, but in some cases specimens will be photographed for the first time. As part of the photography process we are also taking stereo pair images.

Classically fossils photographed for publication may have included a stereo pair (two offset images) to create perception of 3D depth when optically fused by means of a stereoscope. This project is diverging from tradition and using stereo anaglyphs instead, a more accessible option. The anaglyph images are produced by photographing the specimen in two slightly different attitudes on a tilt board, at an angle of rotation of 8°. The photographs are then processed in Adobe Photoshop; the left eye image is filtered to remove blue and green, and the right eye image is filtered to remove red and green. The resultant photographs are then merged together creating a 3D image when viewed with red-blue glasses.

3D laser scanning

About 10% of the type specimens will be scanned using a NextEngine 3D laser scanner. The scans capture the external surface topography and colour of the specimens and take around 2 hours to complete. At the Sedgwick Museum we've currently scanned nearly 200 fossils and should have finished another 300 or so more by the end of the project. The models will be made available in .ply format and 3D pdfs.

If you want to find out more, the project has its own blog: http://gb3dtypefossils.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday to Friday
10:00 to 13:00 & 14:00 to 17:00

10:00 to 16:00