Scientists create first 3D skull reconstruction of tetrapod from 360 million years ago

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 March 2015

Scientists use 3D scanning techniques to reveal more about tetrapods which once roamed earth

A photo of a dinosaur skull against a black background
The original fossil skull of Acanthostega gunnari © Dr Laura Porro
X-rays on the skull of a tetrapod which lived 360 million years ago show that the “crucial” species would have seized prey with its jaw and had a longer head than suspected, according to scientists in Bristol and Cambridge carrying out the first 3D reconstruction of the four-footed ancestor of land vertebrates.

Experts are likening the tetrapod to evolved crocodiles after scanning bones deep within the skull of a specimen with the help of complex software. Bones and teeth were separated and cracks were repaired in the skull, allowing scientists to conclude that the Acanthostega used large front teeth and a hook-shaped lower jaw to feed on other creatures.

A photo of various reconstructions showing parts of a dinosaur's skull
The 3D model showing the complete skull on top with 'exploded' views of the upper and lower jaws below© Dr Laura Porro
“Because early tetrapods skulls are often ‘pancaked’ during the fossilization process, these animals are usually reconstructed having very flat heads,” said Dr Laura Porro, the lead author on the study.

“Our new reconstruction suggests the skull of Acanthostega was taller and somewhat narrower than previously interpreted – more similar to the skull of a modern crocodile.”

Researchers now hope to use their methods on more flattened fossils derived from the earliest tetrapods, explaining how some of the first animals to roam land adapted to the challenges they faced.

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A photo of a diagram of a dinosaur skull
© Dr Laura Porro
A photo of a diagram of a dinosaur skull
© Dr Laura Porro
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