The Taung Child Box: Arts & Crafts

In honor of (sort of) finishing up the Taung Child chapter for Famous Fossils, Hidden Histories: a paleo arts-n-crafts project, or a 3D cardboard model of the Taung Child and a replica plywood box.

The Box, the Taung Child,  Adventures With the Missing Link.  Author's "artistic" attempts.  (photo: L. Pyne)

The Box, the Taung Child, Adventures With the Missing Link. Author's "artistic" attempts.  (photo: L. Pyne)

 

The original casting of the Taung Child fossil had incredible ramifications for how the fossil was interpreted within the relatively new science of the early twentieth-century paleo-community.  Casts of the fossil were not sent to British scientific circles; without access to the fossil (except through photographs in the 1925 Nature paper describing the find), the scientific community had little choice but to dismiss the fossil until others had the opportunity to study the fossil with careful scrutiny. 

 

Indeed, casts of fossils, particularly in the first part of the twentieth-century, had huge ramifications for how experts, non-experts, and museums could engage with fossils that extended beyond the actual, tangible, fossil itself.  When Raymond Dart sent the Taung Child to R.F. Damon & Company (in London) to create a cast of fossil skull and mandible in 1925, casts were sent to the British Exhibition at Wembley as well as other museums and researchers around the world – the cast became an ambassador of the fossil and its research paradigm.

 

According to R.F. Damon & Company's correspondence with Dart, “anyone” could order a copy of the cast for a mere £15 (or approximately $1300 today.)  However, those “everymen” were not the intellectual giants of the anatomical community – the eminent Sir Arthur Keith could barely hide his disgust at having to view a cast of the fossil with the rather unwashed masses making their ways through the Wembley exhibition. [1]

Laser cutting slices for the Taung Child crania.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Laser cutting slices for the Taung Child crania.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Gluing, gluing, gluing.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Gluing, gluing, gluing.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Assembling and painting The Box. (photo: L. Pyne)

Assembling and painting The Box. (photo: L. Pyne)

The scan for this cardboard model comes thanks to ATOR; I compiled the slices for the cardboard assembly, courtesy of 123DMake.  The box is modified to fit the crania is a composite of designs from Thingiverse.


References

[1] Raymond A. Dart with Dennis Craig, Adventures With the Missing Link (Harper & Brothers, NY, n.d.); Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, vol. 2nd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); John Reader, Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man (London: Penguin Group, 1981).




Bosei Redux

After Friday night’s successful printing of the P. bosei crania, we decided to go for round two of tech fun with our buddy, KNMER 406 – looking for another 3D print and a cardboard cranium. 

The printing specs stayed the same (quarter size, MakerBot Replicator 1, ABS plastic, etc.) with the resolution upped to "fine" (0.1 mm layer height vs. 0.3 mm.)  And with the recent Domínguez-Rodrigo et al's paper in PLOS One, printing a bosei seemed particularly apropos.

 

Finishing the print of KNMER 406.

Finishing the print of KNMER 406.

Cleaning the skull.

Cleaning the skull.

Raft, structural supports, and cranium

Raft, structural supports, and cranium

Both prints side by side -- fine resolution on the left and coarse resolution on the right.

Both prints side by side -- fine resolution on the left and coarse resolution on the right.

With the MakerBot cheerfully whirring away in the background, I had a chance to laser cut and assemble the full-size 406 cranium from cardboard.  The downloadable pdf from African Fossils wasn’t sized for the Trotec laser cutter – however, with Autodesk 123D Make it was fairly straightforward to resize the print sheets to fit the trays. This pdf is the same full-size crania, recut to sheets that fit the TechShop’s equipment.  The cardboard sheets are quartered from Office Max science fair boards (ironic, yes), and the “pin holes” are set to the size of bamboo skewers. 

Laser cutting sheet one of the cardboard cranium.

Laser cutting sheet one of the cardboard cranium.

All of the pieces cut out, ready to be assembled.  Dark holes are for the bamboo skewers and gluing alignment.

All of the pieces cut out, ready to be assembled.  Dark holes are for the bamboo skewers and gluing alignment.

Gluing, aligning, gluing, aligning, gluing, gluing, gluing... Art really imitates science.

Gluing, aligning, gluing, aligning, gluing, gluing, gluing... Art really imitates science.

Final cranium.  The cardboard and its wavy corrugation really accent the slight distortion on the right side.  One of the TechShop employees suggested that the project could really benefit from googly eyes.  

Final cranium.  The cardboard and its wavy corrugation really accent the slight distortion on the right side.  One of the TechShop employees suggested that the project could really benefit from googly eyes.
 

Great blending of art, science, and technology and major kudos, again, to African Fossils for their efforts to publish downloadable 3D models.

A 3D Print: KNMER 406

After spending time this fall working my way through material collected from the Dart Archives (thanks to Wits University), I've had fossil casts on my brain.  Casts of fossils, particularly in the first part of the twentieth-century, had huge ramifications for how experts, non-experts, and museums could engage with fossils that extended beyond the actual, tangible, fossil itself.  When Raymond Dart sent the Taung Child to R.F. Damon & Company (in London) to create a cast of fossil skull and mandible in 1925, casts were sent to the British Exhibition at Wembley as well as other museums and researchers around the world -- the cast became an ambassador of the fossil and its research paradigm.  According to R.F. Damon & Company's correspondence with Dart, "anyone" could order a copy of the cast for a mere £15 (or approximately $1300 today.)

Projects today, like African Fossils, offer an interesting parallel to those early casts of paleoanthropological fossils.  The dissemination of 3D scans of fossils serve a similar sociological purpose -- experts, non-experts, museums, etc. can become engaged with and invested in the paleo process.  After seeing a tweet for new scans of fossil hominids pass through my Twitter feed today, I was curious to see if it was possible to print out one of the scans from the  African Fossils project.

Thanks to the local TechShop here in Austin, we spent the evening printing out a copy of KNMER 406's crania, much to the delight of myself and other TechShop enthusiasts.  ("What is that?"  "Why does the skull look like that?" "Is that a famous fossil?"  "Where is it from?")  It was an incredible "material ambassador" for talking about paleoanthropology.  (The laser cutter was tied up this evening, but a run of the laser cut model for the crania should be coming soon.)

For those interested in the technical details:  The model was processed with MakerWare and printed on a MakerBot Replicator 1 with the soft, soothing, blue hue of ABS plastic.  (Sadly, the Replicator 2 had had a hard week and was down for the evening...)  In the interest of time, the model was printed at the lowest resolution setting. And in an interesting twist of historical irony, the printer is only slightly more than the cost of one of Dart's original casts. 

African Fossils deserves major kudos for their efforts!

 

Warming up the MakerBot.

Warming up the MakerBot.

Halfway through the print.  Note the support structures (under the zygomatic arches) and raft (on the bottom) included in the print.  These weren't included in the original file, but we opted to use them due to the fickleness of ABS plastic.  

Halfway through the print.  Note the support structures (under the zygomatic arches) and raft (on the bottom) included in the print.  These weren't included in the original file, but we opted to use them due to the fickleness of ABS plastic.
 

Finished print.  Note, again, the support and raft structures.  Note, also, the amazing detail that shows through, even with the low res print!

Finished print.  Note, again, the support and raft structures.  Note, also, the amazing detail that shows through, even with the low res print!

Cleaning the print.  Feels like excavating...

Cleaning the print.  Feels like excavating...

Final print of the little guy.

Final print of the little guy.