Digital reconstruction of soft-tissue structures in fossils

Stephan Lautenschlager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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In the last two decades, advances in computational imaging techniques and digital visualization have created novel avenues for the study of fossil organisms. As a result, paleontology has undergone a shift from the study of fossilized bones, teeth, and other hard-tissues to using virtual computer models to study specimens in greater detail, restore incomplete specimens, and perform biomechanical analyses. The rapidly increasing application of these techniques further paved the way for the digital reconstruction of soft-tissue structures, which are rarely preserved in the fossil record. In this contribution, different types of digital soft-tissue reconstructions are introduced and reviewed. Examples include methodological approaches for the reconstruction of musculature, endocranial components (i.e., brain, inner ear, neurovascular structures), and other soft-tissues (e.g., whole-body and life reconstructions). Digital techniques provide versatile tools for the reconstruction of soft-tissues, but given the nature of fossil specimens some limitations and uncertainties remain. Nevertheless, digital reconstructions can provide new information, in particular if interpreted in a phylogenetically grounded framework. Combined with other digital analysis techniques, such as finite element analysis (FEA), multibody dynamics analysis (MDA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), soft-tissue reconstructions can be used to elucidate the paleobiology of extinct organisms and to test competing evolutionary hypotheses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-117
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Paleontology
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


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