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3D-Print Your Own 20-Million-Year-Old Fossils

Illustration for article titled 3D-Print Your Own 20-Million-Year-Old Fossils

What do you do if you don't have a breathtaking room full of ancient bones and fossils? You get yourself a 3D printer and start downloading files from African Fossils, an online archive of prehistoric East African artifacts. No pith helmet required.


With over 40 digitized fossils in their collection, you can explore 3D renders of fossils representing prehistoric animals, human ancestors, and even ancient tools. Captured using Autodesk software, an SLR camera, and often the original specimen (rather than a cast replica), these renderings bring us closer than most will ever get to holding ancient artifacts. And if you've got an additive manufacturing device at your disposal, you can even download plans on Sketchfab to generate your own. Take a look!


Gorilla_Skull_1 from anvesoft on Sketchfab.

There's something strangely invigorating about the notion that modern technology and the power of the internet can let you hold a strikingly accurate replica of a 20-million-year-old fossil in your hand. It's not the first time accurate representations of ancient artifacts have been 3D-printed—Cornell's Hod Lipson has experimented with 3D-printing cuneiform tablets, and Harvard's Semitic Museum began repairing some of its artifacts with 3D printers last year—but, whether you're a serious bonehead or just casually curious, flip through the gallery and take a look at how far we've come. [H/T Ron Golan/@sketchfab]

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While a few of the fossils in my collection are younger than 20 million years, (maybe 3 or 4 of them...), the vast majority are in the hundreds of millions of years old.

The majority of my fossils predate dinosaurs by quite a while. I collect mostly Lower Cambrian fossils, like those found in the Chengjiang Biota.

I also have an extensive collection of Trilobites dating from 450 million years old to 250 million years old.

Fossils can be amazingly inexpensive. A complete Psittacosaurus skeleton, professionally mounted like a museum display will run you $2,500 on ebay.

You can get spectacular examples of Trilobites on ebay, or elsewhere for under $100. Your local museums gift shop will have some.