Fossils on File: Computerized Preservation May Give Reburied Bones Back to Science

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, March 19, 1994 | Go to article overview

Fossils on File: Computerized Preservation May Give Reburied Bones Back to Science


Bower, Bruce, Science News


A human skull sits on a turntable, its eye sockets staring ahead impassively. Suddenly. the circular platform rotates slightly and stops, guided by a computer system set up on an adjacent desk. A laser beam strikes a point on the skull's temple, then jumps horizontally to a spot 1 millimeter away. The turntable shifts again and the thin shaft of laser light continues its millimeter-by-millimeter journey around the skull. Upon completing this circuit, the laser beam drops 1 millimeter and sets out over new terrain. No bony crevice or bump escapes its inquisitive ray.

Three hours and innumerable rotations of the turntable later, the laser has transferred exhaustive information on the skull's three-dimensional properties into the computer system. A highly accurate computerized tomography (CT) scanner fleshes out the specimen's interior features. Scientists then examine images of the skull and its various parts on the computer screen, print out detailed illustrations, and store precise measurements of the disembodied specimen for a comparative study of related finds.

Another computer-controlled laser then takes the anatomical data, capable of being stored on either a floppy disk or CD-ROM, and sculpts a precise nylon replica of the skull.

This unusual union of anthropology and advanced technology -- presided over by three researchers at the University of Texas at Austin -- may either invigorate the study of bones and cultural artifacts or prove too expensive to make a major impact. But its emergence within the past year suggests that scientific innovation sometimes feeds off anxiety. in this case sparked by new laws that allow Native American tribes to reclaim their ancestors' remains from museum collections.

"Our scanning and replication project may represent a compromise for what has become an almost intractable political problem," asserts John Kappelman, a Texas anthropologist who directs the project. "In many cases, we can noninvasively store data on bones and artifacts in the computer for generations to come and still honor the wishes and rights of Native American tribes."

The dilemma cited by Kappelman stems from a 1990 federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), It requires federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds to inventory skeletal and cultural remains and return them to Native American groups that demonstrate a claim to the material. A number of tribes, both before and after passage of the legislation, have secured the return of museum-held bones belonging to their ancestors and cultural objects deemed sacred by their religious leaders, The skeletal material has invariably been reburied.

Many anthropologists and archaeologists rely on museum collections for research and regard the 1990 law as a potentially catastrophic blow to science, even if they accept it on moral grounds.

Enter Kappelman and his Texas coworkers, archaeologists Samuel Wilson and Thomas R. Hester. In March 1993, Kappelman convinced three Austin high-technology companies to participate in a project aimed at scanning and replicating a University of Texas collection of nearly 60 pieces of human bone, numerous pottery fragments, and assorted artifacts slated for eventual return to a Native American tribe.

Tribal leaders granted the scientists permission to study the 8,000-year-old remains.

Kappelman's team hit on the idea after experimenting with the technology in an analysis of several fossil knee joints that belonged to members of the earliest known species in the human evolutionary family. which lived in Africa more than 3 million years ago.

Austin firms dealing in cutting-edge computer applications gave the Native American project critical support. Digibotics allowed free access to its three-dimensional laser scanner, a technology already employed in the design, inspection, and animation of a variety of industrial products; Scientific Measurement Systems furnished its high-resolution CT scanner; and DTM Corp. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Fossils on File: Computerized Preservation May Give Reburied Bones Back to Science
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.