Malapa synchotronic

1 minute read

More on the scanning of the MH1 skull in this press release: “First studies of fossil of new human ancestor take place at the European Synchrotron”

The analysis of the terabytes of data has only just started, but the preliminary visualisation of the complete skull already available shows intriguing details. Among them are the fossilised insect eggs whose larvae could have fed on the flesh of the hominid after death. Researchers also noticed an extended low density area that could point towards a remnant of the brain after its bacterial decay.

I’m rather hopeful about this kind of technology. The described “terabytes” of data for a single skull are really going to be difficult to make accessible for anyone unless paleoanthropologists start collaborating more with more established data-sharing programs in genomics, physics, and astronomy. With best-practices comes more standardized data access guidelines. It may not lead to open access, but then again it may.

It would be interesting to pursue a kind of “tiered” data access, so museums and the public could have real data at, say, 0.5 mm-scale, with micron-scale data reserved to qualified researchers. That would facilitate my dream of having hominin data available for high-school science classes, while enabling replication of scientific studies. It might also eliminate some of the arguments we’ve seen in the last few years about “whose CT scans are adequate” to show the anatomy.