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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Jul 22;275(1643):1587-93. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0263.

Tomographic techniques for the study of exceptionally preserved fossils.

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Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Imperial College London, London SW7 2BP, UK.


Three-dimensional fossils, especially those preserving soft-part anatomy, are a rich source of palaeontological information; they can, however, be difficult to work with. Imaging of serial planes through an object (tomography) allows study of both the inside and outside of three-dimensional fossils. Tomography may be performed using physical grinding or sawing coupled with photography, through optical techniques of serial focusing, or using a variety of scanning technologies such as neutron tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and most usefully X-ray computed tomography. This latter technique is applicable at a variety of scales, and when combined with a synchrotron X-ray source can produce very high-quality data that may be augmented by phase-contrast information to enhance contrast. Tomographic data can be visualized in several ways, the most effective of which is the production of isosurface-based 'virtual fossils' that can be manipulated and dissected interactively.

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