The 'Most Impressive' Dinosaur Fossil Just Got 3D Scanned

Thousands of photos were stitched together to recreate a nodosaur fossil that has been compared to both a dragon and a work of art.

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May 17 2017, 10:35pm

© Robert Clark/ National Geographic. Stunning Discovery Some 110 million years ago, this armored plant-eater lumbered through what is now western Canada, until a flooded river swept it into open sea. The dinosaur’s undersea burial preserved its armor in exquisite detail. Its skull still bears tile-like plates and a gray patina of fossilized skin.

If fossils are nature's sculptures, the recently-discovered remains of a 110 million-year-old nodosaur might be Gaia's Venus de Milo. The dinosaur, which National Geographic photographer Robert Clark called "pretty much the most impressive fossil I've ever seen," is so well-persevered that it's been compared both to a masterful statue and a dragon from Game of Thrones. The coolest part is that a photographer captured a 3D model of the specimen with photogrammetry, which is now available to the public through National Geographic's website.

Miners in Canada found the nodosaur in 2011. A technician named Mark Mitchell at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the nodosaur will be displayed, separated petrified flesh from stone over the course of the last five years. After he finished, National Geographic Explorer Corey Jaskolski used an SLR camera with ultraviolet and infrared lighting to document the seven recovered pieces of nodosaur from every conceivable angle. He and a team of web developers led by National Geographic Senior Editor of Graphics Brian Jacobs mapped the photos onto a 3D frame using photogrammetry.

The result is a fun graphic that notes the fossil's different body parts and displays cool facts about the dinosaur when it was alive. It also identifies the degree of preservation of its skin, plates of armor, and even its last meal. Isn't science neat?

There's still a lot to learn about the nodosaur, though. "The high-quality preservation will help paleontologists reconstruct the armor of other dinosaurs. Efforts are underway to better understand the fossil's chemistry, which could yield insight on the animal's diet, behavior, and environment," says Michael Greshko, who wrote the National Geographic story that revealed the nodosaur to the world. Now the model will help raise awareness about the importance of paleontology, putting the fruits of researchers' labor into the hands of the public.

Face the dragon yourself in the video and images below, or click here for the full interactive experience.

Read the full story of unearthing the nodosaur here.

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