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Giant Ground Sloths, Mastodons, Mammoths, Saber-toothed Beasts, Oh My! Celebrating National Fossil Day 2019

by Bernard K. Means


Megalonyx femur from Saltville, Virginia and 3-D scanned at the Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum on October 7, 2019

National Fossil Day 2019 is October 16, 2019. Because of a scheduling conflict, the Virtual Curation Laboratory is celebrating a couple of days earlier on October 14, 2019. Our lab’s poster includes illustrations of the skeleton of Jefferson’s giant ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) by VCU alumnae and former lab director Isabel Griffin and a claw that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson and illustrated by current VCU student Rachel Martinell. Isabel also drew a mastodon for use by the lab, and finally current VCU student and lab intern Alara Long created a whimsical drawing of Benjamin Franklin and the mastodon molar he once owned.

national fossil day poster 2019

The official National Fossil Day poster features a different giant ground sloth, the Shasta  ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) striding across the opening of Rampart Cave in Arizona.

national fossil day

In the foreground of this image are some 3-D prints of a sort from a Shasta ground sloth: coprolites (e.g. poop). Before I saw this poster, I had actually 3-D scanned a coprolite from the cave represented in the poster at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History on behalf of the Western Science Center. I sent them the resulting digital file so that they could 3-D print and use in an exhibit. Last Monday, I returned to the Smithsonian Institution to 3-D scan more fossils from Rampart Cave, including more poop–there are drawers of it in the collections–a skull and some lower arm bones (radius and ulna).

The resulting digital files are all now edited and, thanks to the generosity of the Smithsonian Institution, will be made publicly available. My team and I have 3-D printed and in many cases painted replicas of these and several other fossils we have 3-D scanned at our partners in preserving the past, including the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Georgia Southern Museum, HNB Garhwal University, Independence National Historical Park, Las Vegas Natural History Museum, New York State Museum, Virginia Living Museum, Virginia Museum of Natural History, and the Western Science Center.

One of the recently 3-D scanned Shasta giant ground sloth coprolites was 3-D printed and is so realistic that a fly landed on it!