Meanwhile, museum visitors can peek through special viewing windows to watch preparators assemble the skeleton, which will bear 7-foot tusks. The specimen, named the Buesching mastodon for the Indiana family on whose property it was discovered in 1998, will join the museum's female mastodon skeleton, which has been on display since the 1940s.
Paleontologists rarely find complete skeletons, so they're often faced with the task of creating realistic substitutes for the missing bones. Incomplete skeletons are even more common with fossil mastodons because humans sometimes butchered the massive, elephant-like animals and hauled off whole hunks of meat, often with the bones, says U-M mastodon authority Daniel Fisher, a professor with joint appointments in the Museum of Paleontology and the departments of Geological Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.
In the past, scientists and exhibit preparators used a variety of techniques—borrowing bones from another specimen of the same species, size and stage of development, for instance, or manually sculpting a replacement bone, based on measurements and comparisons with the rest of the skeleton.
Now, however, Fisher and his team are using 3-D digitization, modeling and rapid prototyping—technologies that are widely used in manufacturing, especially in the automobile industry—to produce full-scale replicas of the bones they lack.
"In cases where there are paired bones in the body—left and right—but we found only one, we can generate the missing bone by making a digital model of the one we have, reflecting it on the computer and then producing a physical prototype of the reflected model," Fisher said. "Compared to
Source:University of Michigan