Grant Museum uses 3D technology to restore rare skeleton - Museums Association

Grant Museum uses 3D technology to restore rare skeleton

Quagga’s missing limb replaced in major project
Profile image for Rebecca Atkinson
Rebecca Atkinson
The Grant Museum of Zoology in London has used new technology, including 3D printing, to restore the skeleton of quagga, an extinct South African zebra.

The animal was hunted to extinction in 1883, and it is believed that only seven skeletons exist today. The Grant Museum’s specimen is the only one on display in the UK but the skeleton has been incomplete after one of its hind legs went missing during the second world war.

The museum worked with the Royal Veterinary College and the Bartlett Manufacturing and Design Exchange at the University College London Bartlett school of architecture to rebuild the skeleton.

The remaining right hind leg was scanned in a CT machine and the data was used to create a digital mirror-image of the missing left leg. This computer image was then modelled in solid nylon using a 3D printer, before Nigel Larkin, a specialist skeleton conservator, attached the printed bones to the skeleton.

“Because of its age the quagga was in a pretty poor state, particularly for such an irreplaceable object,” said Jack Ashby, the manager of the Grant Museum.

“We have worked with specialist bone conservators to restore the skeleton to ensure its long-term survival in the museum. We are so delighted that we’ve been able to give it its missing leg back. Not only does it add a fantastic chapter to a specimen with so many stories, but the new leg also makes the whole skeleton more stable.”

The restoration of the quagga has been one of the main focuses of Bone Idols, a project to restore 39 of the Grant Museum’s largest and most significant skeletons. So far 31 specimens have undergone conservation, including the museum’s largest skeleton of an Indian one-horned rhino, as well as the skull of a giant deer and endangered chimpanzee skeletons.

Several discoveries were made during the project, including Larkin realising that the museum’s rhino skeleton had insect larval casings in its nose.

“At first we thought they were from a museum pest, but after the team put a call out on Twitter we found out they were rhino bot fly, a parasite of live rhinos, and were from before the rhino had died,” Ashby said. “Larkin also found that one of the rhino’s tusks and one of its other teeth were made of wood, and he found leftovers from its last meal between its teeth.”

The museum has raised more than £20,000 through online and in-gallery donations, individual grants and special events to fund the project.


The Bone Idols project page 

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