What do you do when you can’t extract a 425 million-year-old fossil from the material in which it’s embedded? Mark Sutton, of Imperial College London, grinds away a few tens of microns at a time, taking digital images of each exposed surface. Some clever data manipulation then lets him construct a 3-D virtual image of the creature, which can then be manipulated on a computer screen. The technique has revealed several new organisms from the 425 million-year-old mid-Silurian deposits of the Herefordshire Lagerstätte on the Welsh borders.
Mark Sutton makes serial sections
Of fossils embedded in stone
And, with digital snaps, makes connections
That never before could be shown.
With his digital processing arts
He can image the fossil complete,
Including the creature’s soft parts –
An impressive and valuable feat!
Dibasterium, Enalikter, Kulidroplax,
From Herefordshire’s rich Lagerstätte,
Have succumbed to Mark’s gentle attacks,
And now we can see them much better.
He can colour each body division,
Rotate them, and zoom in and out,
Revealing, with 3D precision,
The creature from tail end to snout.
Now others can research his creatures
Without risk of loss, theft or harm,
And examine their new-revealed features
In all of their digital charm.
Is it palaeontological perfection?
Not quite, for one problem persists:
At the end of Mark’s serial sectioning
The fossil no longer exists!