Virtual dodo makes a comeback online and in 3D

"The Dodo & Given", by G. Edwards (1759)

Paleontologists and artists alike may be interested to hear of a new project to further our understanding of the unfortunate Raphus cucullatus, otherwise known as the dodo. Fewer that 300 years ago the bird was strutting around Mauritius, yet today only two complete skeletons are known to science. Researchers at the Massachusetts College of the Holy Cross are hoping to extend the influence of one of those skeletons by giving it new life online.

Cast of mummified dodo head (looking thoughtful) from Aves 3D

The skeleton has been scanned in 3D, digitized, and uploaded to a public website funded by the National Science Foundation. Using a Java plugin, users can manipulate 3D images of the individual bones, as well as a mummified head (left).

We first read about the story in Digging up the Dodo, an article on IOLscitech. The dodo images are found on Aves 3D. The Aves 3D database contains images of many bird species; it’s primary aim is “to allow for the rapid global dissemination of three-dimensional digital data on common as well as rare and potentially fragile species, in a format ready for a variety of quantitative and qualitative analyses, including geometric morphometric analysis and finite element analysis.”

After conducting our own research using the data, we can also report that by careful rotation of the mummified head image it is possible to produce quite convincing facial expressions including “solemn,” “offended,” and “thoughtful.” Each expression requires tiny adjustments to the image, but of course, as the most famous dodo of all once advised, “the best way to explain it is to do it.”

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