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VCU Archaeology

I began the process of scanning loose human teeth

by Andrew Foster, 2015 Spring Intern


My name is Andrew Foster, and I am a senior undergraduate student interning in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  During the preceding winter intersession, I happened to take a one-week, intensive course on human dentition identification and development, and it was during this class that my interest was piqued regarding the potential use of 3D scanning technology and its applications for dental anthropological research.  Dr. Means encouraged my interests, and with a number of samples lent from the VCU Bone Lab, I began the process of scanning loose human teeth.



While I generally had success with scanning molars, some problems immediately presented themselves.  Given the intensely small and detailed nature of loose human teeth, a level of detail was necessarily lost, especially in the occlusal surface so often utilized.  Additionally, relatively symmetrical teeth, such as incisors and canines had a tendency to scan improperly, what we call “Stonehenge-ing” in the lab, wherein each scan is broken apart in space instead of merging into a single mesh.  Apart from these issues, the process of working with the digital models was facilitated by their small size, and processing times were relatively short, allowing for a large number of specimens to be scanned and manipulated during my 120 hours here.


The final product at present includes both digital animations of the scanned and edited loose teeth as well as 3D printed replicas of the original tooth.  My hope is that these replicas may be used in conjunction with  future Human Dentition identification instruction to enhance the classroom experience and allow for mass collaboration on one specimen, versus the segmentation inherent in identifying singular teeth.  Additionally, the existence of virtual models provides for a reliable means of recreation in the event of specimen destruction, something not currently available to the VCU Bone Lab’s collection.


Moving forward, my hope is to begin work on a digital typology for the Virtual Curation Museum.  Akin to the existing zooarchaeology virtual type collection currently made available by the Virtual Curation Lab, openly publishing such a type collection online would provide an invaluable resource for dental anthropology students the world over.  Further, with the addition of an ultra-HD scanner to the Virtual Curation Lab, I hope to rescan the molars currently in the collection, in order to more accurately capture dimensions – in particular the occlusal surfaces – which prove so invaluable to dental analysis.  It is my belief that taking precise digital measurements of these models will alleviate many of the problems that plague the metric analysis performed by dental anthropologists currently.




  1. Pingback: How 3D Printed Bones Are Revolutionizing Forensics And Bioarchaeology | Forensic News - May 28, 2015

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