New Age of Morphology: Presentation Outline

New Age of Morphology: Presentation

By Damien Knight

Traditional Paleontology Is Changing

A. Traditional Paleontology required digging fossils from their matrix and destroying samples to study them.

B. New techniques in tomography are changing the study of morphology in paleontology.

C. CT Scanners and other techniques are aiding our understanding of fossils in greater detail.

CT Scanning Means We Can Examine Fossils Without Damage

A. Prior fossil examination through tomography was a destructive process.

1. It was done through serial grinding.
2. Serial grinding required manual grinding away of fossils, stopping at intervals then drawing 2D slices.
3. The process is time consuming and destroyed the fossil being examined.

B. X-ray Computer Tomography (CT Scanning) changed the way we examine fossils.

1. Originally a medical technology, the CT Scanner’s Paleontologists use is different.
2. They use the Micro-CT, which can penetrate dense rocks with higher doses of X-ray.
3. Micro-CT lets us remove fossils from host rocks digitally and examine without destroying the sample.

C. CT Scanning detects the small details even in the study of fossils trapped in amber.

1. In 2016 The Guardian published an article detailing the use of CT Scanning to detect bones and soft tissues in amber preserved tropical lizards from Myanmar. (Panciroli, 2016)
2. In mammals CT scanning can reveal details such as ear complexes encased in rock. (Landman, 2018)
3. Thanks to CT along with synchrotron radiation the understanding of the diversity of life has transformed.

Synchrotron Radiation Reveals Even Further Details

A. Synchrotron radiation (SR) has a larger photon energy range (Barbi, 2014) allowing finer details to be examined and allowing for chemical analysis

1. SR has the advantage of being powerful enough to examine dense material and is noninvasive, like CT.
2. In the figure 1-A taken from a “New Age of Morphology Takes Shape” article synchrotron microtomography radiation is used to expose radular teeth.
3. SR’s broad spectrum makes it sensitive to chemical elements.

B. Different SR Techniques provide a better understanding of fossil make up.

1. X ray fluorescence (XRF) can be used for chemical make up and identify fossil bones from surrounding sediments or fossil plants. (Barbi, 2014)

a. For example XRF was used to study the chemical composition of a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Scotty whose vertebrae analysis produced Spectrum Comparison graph . (Barbi, 2014)

2. X-Ray Absorption Near Edge Structure (XANES) reveals atoms chemical state.

a. In Scotty using this technique showed the Ca in the bone was similar to apatite while the Ca in the sediment was calcite. (Barbi, 2014)

3. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry (IR) interacts with the samples when certain molecules are present.

a. This helps with the search for organic molecules in fossils thought lost in diagenesis.

C. SR is changing how we view fossils and their preservation.
1. Fossils are clear from their host sediment.
2. Finding that evidence of original organic material is preserved in the fossils.

The technology is both revolutionary and expensive.

A. Benefits of CT and SR Scanning.

1. Nondestructive analysis of fossils.
2. The ability to 3D print scanned fossils.
3. The benefits in education and industrial uses.

B. The issues surrounding the use of scanning techniques.

1. Requires a large amount of computer storage.
2. The legal issues over data ownership.

a. Museums often have documents signed stating data and 3D prints are their property. (Cunningham, 2014)

3. Cost of equipment and storage space is expensive.

The Analysis of Fossils is More Objective and Reproducible. (Cunningham,2014)

A. Traditional study of fossil morphology is changed via X-ray scanning technologies.

B. While costs are an issue CT and SR scanning means we can examine fossils in a nondestructive manner.

C. With this sort of new technology there is excitement and a better understanding of the shape and diversity of life. (Landman, 2018)

Works Cited
Cunningham, J. A., Rahman, I. A., Lautenschlager, S., Rayfield, E. J., & Donoghue, P. C. (2014, May 10). A virtual world of paleontology. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from
Landman, N. H. (2018). A New Age of Morphology Takes Shape. Palaios (2018) 33 (7), 287-289.
Mauricio Barbi, T. T. (2014). Synchrotron Radiation as a Tool in Paleontology. Physics in Canada, 8-12.
Panciroli, E. (2016, March 30). Getting under a fossil’s skin: How CT scans have changed palaeontology. Retrieved from


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