Skip to main content

Naturalis reconstructs dinosaur skeletons with large format 3D printing

And here he is, Dirk the Triceratops! After months of scanning, 3D printing, assembling original bones and 3D prints, Dirk is proudly on display in the Naturalis Dinosaur Gallery. 

3D printing and imaging techniques to reconstruct fossil remains

The Naturalis Biodiversity Center, located in Leiden, the Netherlands, is the national research institute for biodiversity and is responsible for one of the largest natural history collections in the world, counting more than 42 million different objects. This includes a 66 million year old Trex skeleton that was discovered in 2013 in Montana, USA, and other dinosaurs such as a Triceratops nicknamed Dirk. After a construction period of 2 years, Naturalis has opened the doors to a completely new museum.

Dirk's skeleton was unearthed near Newcastle, Wyoming, USA.

The animal lived about 67 million years ago. When working on the skeleton, it became clear that some bones were missing, including several ribs, one of the horns, and a large part of the skull. Naturalis wanted to rebuild Dirk's skeleton for display in his newly opened museum. With modern technology like 3D scanning and large-scale 3D printing, they were able to complete Dirk's skeleton.

Dr Peter H. Schalk, Director of Public and Markets at Naturalis explains: "Modern paleontologists use 3D printing and imaging techniques as a tool to reconstruct fossil remains that are discovered in scientific excavations. An industrial Builder Extreme 3D printer is deployed in the LiveScience gallery of the new Naturalis museum as a continuous demonstration to the public of how missing pieces are printed and fitted into dinosaur skeletons."

Naturalis is no stranger to 3D printing

The museum has been using this technology for a couple of years, but until now it has only been on a small scale, with small 3D printers. "This works perfectly well if you only need 3D prints of a few smaller bones," says the professor of paleontology. Anne, researcher at Naturalis, and for a single larger bone, combining a couple of smaller impressions is not too complicated. However, for a really big project like Triceratops Dirk, we had to look further, and that's where the Builder Extreme came into focus. The bones to be printed from Triceratops Dirk were between 50 and 130 cm long. Therefore, Naturalis invested in the Builder Extreme 1500 PRO, which has an extremely long print bed.

Mirror scan & 3D printing

Before scientists could begin 3D printing, they had to scan the bones of other triceratopses in order to complete Dirk's skeleton. "If we have, for example, a left bone and the counterpart on the right side is missing, we can easily do a mirror scan and 3D printing", explains Schulp For some other bone elements, particularly the vertebrae, we were able to use a scan of a Triceratops skeleton in the collections of the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. 

His triceratops skeleton is very complementary to what we found of Dirk. After processing the scans, the 3D printing process began. Builder Extreme has been printing 24/7 for the past few months and printed hundreds of different items. Some of the bones found were simply too fragile to display, so they were also scanned and printed. Dirk's ribs, for example, were not well preserved enough to allow mounting to the skeleton, and some were even missing, so they have all been 3D printed.

Please enter your Email and press Go to start the password recovery process