Artec 3D scanners used to document Homo naledi species discovery in South Africa’s Rising Star cave
Portable, high-resolution scanners used to overcome geographic and environmental challenges for largest human ancestor excavation in Africa.
PALO ALTO, Calif. – February 10, 2016 – Artec 3D, a leading developer and manufacturer of professional 3D software and hardware, today announces that its handheld Artec Eva ™ scanner and Artec Studio software were utilized for the excavation and documentation of the ancient Homo naledi species in the Dinaledi chamber of the Rising Star cave system near Johannesburg, South Africa. Due to the challenging location of the remains deep within the cave system and concerns of rising water from recent rains degrading the discovery, the University of the Witwatersrand’s excavation team called upon Artec’s products to quickly and accurately capture the site. The team was able to recover 1,550 specimens in just five weeks with the advanced 3D scanning technologies.
The expedition to recover Homo naledi was led by Professor Lee Berger, Research Professor in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand. Upon learning about the site in 2013, Professor Berger knew studying it would be a challenge due to the shallow depth and small size of the cave’s pathways, as well as the width of the actual chamber. Artec’s Eva light-based, handheld scanner provided the necessary portability and ease-of-use to make documentation possible in high resolution and full texture.
Using the Artec Eva within the cave system, the team was able to scan a desired area, produce a visualization of the environment and fossil locations, and transmit that information to the team above ground.
Using the Artec Eva within the cave system, the team was able to scan a desired area, produce a visualization of the environment and fossil locations, and transmit that information to the team above ground. This allowed the more experienced above-ground team to see the site as if they were there and provide the necessary direction and guidance to the cavers below. After scanning, Artec Studio’s auto-alignment feature was then used to streamline the process of stitching together the digital files, allowing the team to quickly analyze the data.
“I was amazed at how simple and accurate such a high-level technology could be in less than ideal conditions,” said Ashley Kruger, paleontologist at Wits University. “The team learned how to use the scanners in just under an hour. Using this technology significantly sped up the entire recovery process, reducing some tasks that would have taken hours to minutes. With projects like this, the bones have to be documented on their own as well as in relation to the excavation site. Normally, this involves manually recording fossil locations and cross referencing with an established grid. Artec’s technology was able to streamline this process immensely, despite extremely challenging and limiting conditions.”
With 3D scanning, a recovery project that would have taken decades can be accomplished in mere weeks.
“As with any preservation project, the environment is forever changed the moment it is touched,” said Artyom Yuhkin, president and CEO of Artec 3D. “3D scanning technology is allowing teams like this one to operate with the confidence that data will be captured in high fidelity, before the site is compromised. Moreover, these projects can be completed more quickly. With 3D scanning, a recovery project that would have taken decades can be accomplished in mere weeks.”
The Rising Star project is still underway, as the team continues to analyze the data and determine its larger implications for human history. Published work focused on the project’s use of 3D data, technology and methods is expected to be released this year.