Staff members of the Illinois State Police crime scene services command set up a Leica C10 3D scanner to capture an image of the mastodon at the Illinois State Museum. Photo by Chris Young

Modern technology to give 3D view into past

January 24, 2014 at 01:14 AM

Technology that helps police investigate crimes today is allowing scientists at the Illinois State Museum to more thoroughly investigate the past and share what they learn with the public.

Wednesday morning, members of the Illinois State Police crime scene services command set up a scanner to create three-dimensional views of the museum’s American mastodon — one of the largest specimens known.

Jeffrey Saunders, the museum’s curator and chair of geology, excavated the mastodon in the 1970s.
The mastodon, an ice-age elephant, is on display next to a giant ground sloth in the museum’s Changes exhibit.

Brian Miller, forensic diagramming and animation supervisor for the Illinois State Police, said his office assists investigators by measuring and documenting crime scenes.

The equipment used is a Leica C10 3D scanner that captures about 9 million points as it completes a 12-minute scan.

It is one of the latest tools for law enforcement that ranges from the most basic — a tape measure — to equipment similar to that used by surveyors and 3D imaging scanners.

Ultimately, the scans will be used to provide additional learning opportunities outside the museum.

“We want something that can be manipulated online, virtually by the general public or boiled down to a model that could be downloaded and 3D printed,” said Chris Widga, assistant curator of geology.

Classrooms could make use of the scans when studying elephant anatomy, for example, or when puzzling over hard-to-explain Ice Age mammals like the giant ground sloth.

The sloth has long claws, even though it is not a carnivore.

“It is totally foreign in terms of its anatomy,” Widga said.

He said plans to create 3D scans of some of the museum’s larger specimens have been in the works for some time.

Chris Young can be reached at 341-8487 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

On the ‘Net

* Chris Widga’s blog “Backyard Paleo”:

* Smithsonian Institution 3D scan of a woolly mammoth: