Idaho Bison Fossils Find New Life Online

Dec 6, 2017

Bison fossils stored at the Idaho Museum of Natural History are getting a new life online as digital 3-D scans. It’s an attempt to make the specimens available to everyone.

The 250 digitized fossils range from skulls to individual bones and are around 200,000 years old. Most of them come from a fossil bed at the American Falls Reservoir. They belong to the Bureau of Reclamation, but the museum at Idaho State University in Pocatello is the custodian of the collection.

Nicholas Clement is a senior researcher at the museum and says the specimens are stored under controlled conditions and can’t always be put on display. So the museum hopes the online models make it easier for people to see the fossils and use them for research.

“Most of this stuff is perishable. It’s very fragile, so through this technology we can sort of blow the doors off the vault and allow anybody to get in there and take a look in a digital form,” Clement says.

Many of the fossils pictured online have colorful names like “Junior,” “4th of July” and “Humpty Dumpty.” Clement says the names often come from the researchers who find them.

“It’s not uncommon for researchers to give these guys fun names and it helps us identify them and it adds a little bit of character to the specimens,” says Clement.

He notes they will be adding more of their 150,000 bison fossils to the web. In the future, they hope to add camels, mammoths, and giant sloth fossils — all from Idaho — to the online collection.

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