Dinosaur Chase Digitally Reconstructed
April 4, 2014

Researchers Create 3D Model Of Paluxy River Dinosaur Chase

[ Watch the Video: Photos, Maps Of Footprints Used To Digitally Reconstruct Dinosaur Chase ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Using photographs of theropod and sauropod footprints excavated 70 years ago, Dr Peter Falkingham of the Royal Veterinary College in London and his colleagues have managed to digitally reconstruct a 3D model of the Paluxy River dinosaur trackways.

The Glen Rose, Texas site is said to be among the most famous sets of dinosaur tracks in the world, and the footprints located there were originally excavated by American paleontologist Roland T. Bird in the 1940s. Following the excavation, the tracks were removed and relocated to various venues throughout the world, but prior to their removal Bird was able to document the site with pictures and maps.

The excavation portions of the tracks have been lost, but thanks to the images, Dr. Falkingham’s team was able to reconstruct an accurate three-dimensional model of the site so that the tracks could be studied in their entirety. The research was published in Thursday’s edition of the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The study authors scanned 17 photos, and then used free computer software to develop a model of the maps created by Bird. While there were some differences between the actual pictures and the hand-drawn maps, they were able to recreate the entire 45-minute long chase sequence for the first time since the excavation took place.

According to the Royal Veterinary College researchers, the 3D digital simulation allowed them to corroborate Bird’s maps and his initial descriptions of the location. Furthermore, they are hopeful that the study will help paleontologists, archaeologists and other experts digitally recreate lost specimens for which there is photographic documentation.

“When we first set out to map the Paluxy River track, creating an accurate 3D model of the site required use of a large, heavy laser scanner that cost tens of thousands of pounds, and was prone to failure especially in the extreme heat in Texas,” explained Dr. Falkingham.

“However, in recent years the technology of photogrammetry has significantly improved to the point where we were, for the first time, able to use this free software to get results just as – if not more – accurate than from use of a laser scanner,” he added. “Not only does this work with modern digital photographs but because the technology has become so advanced… we were also able to use the historic photographs taken by R.T. Bird. This is a significant advancement for the protection of sites and artifacts of paleontological importance.”

Dr. Falkingham went on to explain that it is to be expected that specimens recovered from the field will eventually become lost or begin to deteriorate, especially fossil trackways. However, advances in technology have given researchers a new and relatively inexpensive method to recreate these artifacts. All that they need to create accurate 3D computer models is a series of photographs that were taken from several different angles.

The 3D Paluxy River model created by Dr. Falkingham, Dr. Karl Bates of the University of Liverpool and Professor James Farlow of Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) will now be incorporated into further research of the entire tracksite. The overall goal of the project is to help scientists better understand how these dinosaurs moved, and how they interacted with the environment and with each other.

Image 2 (below): To digitally reconstruct the site as it was pre-excavation, scientists scanned 17 photos, developed a model and compared the model to maps drawn by Roland Bird. Credit: Citation: Falkingham PL, Bates KT, Farlow JO (2014) Historical Photogrammetry: Bird's Paluxy River Dinosaur Chase Sequence Digitally Reconstructed as It Was prior to Excavation 70 Years Ago. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93247. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093247