CT scanning a fossil

Photogrammetry, structure-light and laser scanning all are used to produce excellent 3D models of the surface of a site, object or specimen. But what if you want to look inside it? Many fossils are trapped within rock that obscures it, or there are features within the body of an animal that researchers would like to examine such as bones, organs or even mummies. X-rays allow scientists to see what is inside something without having to cut it open and potentially destroy it.

Medical imaging technology has advanced to help people (and pets) to see if there's something internally that might be making them ill. Computed Tomography (CT), or CAT scanning, is a technology that pieces together thousands of individual X-ray pictures into a three dimensional image. Museum scientists discovered that using the same X-ray technology they can look through a variety of specimens and objects, from dinosaur bones and eggs, to animals and plants, Egyptian mummies or even look inside at the piece of a mobile phone.

Image top right: CT scanning a fossil (c) Rochelle Lawrence, Queensland Museum 2021.


In palaeontology we use X-rays to see if we can look for fossils before treating them with chemicals or using tools to chip away at rock. There might be features we cannot see with the naked eye, like a hatchling dinosaur, or footprints buried inside a rock, or minerals growing within a meteorite. Without X-rays, the only other way to achieve this would be to slice a specimen into tiny slivers, looking at each one piece by piece, destroying the fossil in the process.