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Dino Goes Digital, Scientists Map Wall Of Bones

Dinosaur National Monument

Scientists from Brigham Young University and Dinosaur National Monument have teamed up to map the famous “wall of bones,” a sandstone slab containing more than a thousand dinosaur fossils.

Using a laser scanner and photogrammetry, Brooks Britt, a BYU professor and paleontologist, is working to put together the most accurate model of the wall since 1936.

Over the years, fossils of dinosaurs dating back 150 million years to the late Jurassic have been removed from the 5,000 square foot wall.

Britt said both 2-D and 3-D maps will be created from the over 1 billion data points collected. The map of the current fossils will be overlaid with historical maps, including dinosaurs that have since been removed and taken to other museums for study, giving a unique view of the wall, past and present.

“Once all bones have been scanned, once we’ve put all of the data from the flat maps together, you’ll be able to go into this [map] just like you use navigating your car driving down the road using your GPS,” explained Britt. “You can touch something and say, ‘I want to know where this is, who does it belong to, what age is it in terms of ontogeny.’”

Britt said the hardest part of the project is aligning information from past maps with the new scan. But he explained the hard work, which includes scaling the steep wall, will be worth it.

Credit Dinosaur National Monument
A laser scanner slowly rotates while creating a 3-D image of the fossil deposit.

“There are a lot of people who would have liked to have come here, but it’s not easy traveling this far," Britt said. "People all around the world will be able to look at this online, whether it’s the lay public or scientists.”

Scanning for the project is almost complete, though Britt said the map will take a few years to complete.