THALIS SUBMISSION: PUBLICITY OF OUR NATURAL HERITAGE: USE OF STATE OF THE ART TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE DIGITAL IMPRINT AND RECONSTRUCTION OF A 3D SKELETON OF THE LAST EUROPEAN ELEPHANTS
Greece stands out for its rich natural and cultural heritage. Although geological heritage is a rather new concept, the paleontological excavations in Charkadio Cave, Tilos Island (Dodecanese, Greece), dating back in 1971, have revealed findings belonging to the last European Elephants (Elephas tiliensis), that inhabited Tilos Island 45.000 – 4.000 years ago, thus providing significant scientific information on the palaeoenviroment.
These mammals are believed to have reached Tilos Island, one of the richest locations with fossil endemic elephants, after having crossed narrow sea passages from the mainland. This must have happened when the world climate was very cold and the sea level about 100 – 120 meters lower than today. After having lived for several thousand years on Tilos Island, they were ultimately subject to dwarfism and finally disappeared in the recent geological past. The role of human in this extinction has yet to be revealed, though it is almost certain that he affected the longevity of this animal among other animals in the islands of the Mediterranean. Therefore, their extinction, just 4.000 years ago, allows us to refer to the last dwarf European elephants that inhabited the peri-Mediterranean regions.
The aim of the current project is the recreation and exhibition of this unique natural treasure, with the use of state-of-the-art-methods and technologies never before used for such a purpose in Greece, so that the general public will “meet” a species that has been extinct in the wider European region for more than 4.000 years. It is without doubt that, for the field of Palaeontology in Greece and Europe, no such previous interscientific – inter-institutional collaboration has been designed, aiming to accent a Palaeontological treasure of this importance of an extinct mammals that recently – in geological terms – inhabited the wider European regions alongside with humans.
The scientific teams involved, aim at the full reconstruction of these mammals, when the bones found at excavations, are not adequate or of the same animal for a complete recreation (see Tilos Municipality, current exhibition), because they originate from more than 50 different individuals and none of them were found whole or in anatomical arrangement. In less rich excavation sites such as Crete (see representation in the Palaeontological Museum, Rethymno, Creta) or Sicily, this is even more difficult.
For the first time in Greek Palaeontology, a unified method will be developed for dealing with this species and will be applied in the Laboratories of the National Technical University of Athens, exploiting the preserved fossils of the Museum of Palaeontology and Geology.
The existing fossil collection will be digitized using methods such as Computed Tomography and High Accuracy Laser Measurements. The generated 3D data will lead to a first virtual reconstruction. The missing bones geometries will be complemented through the combined work of all the researchers involved, where modern anatomical data of recent mammals will be mathematically integrated into the paleontological findings. A specially designed support frame will also be integrated and the full reconstruction will be constructed using rapid prototyping methodology, with materials that simulate, in the highest possible degree, the fossil bones.
Today, when we are called upon to deal with the dramatic climate alterations and the radical changes in Biodiversity – the United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity– it is necessary to promote our natural and geological heritage in the highest possible degree, with the anticipation that this will motivate and urge the public in matters of environmental protection.
The synthetic reconstruction along with all the work phases – starting from the excavations - will be exhibited mainly at the Museum of Palaeontology and Geology of NKUA where Team Leader 2 is Director and on several other locations such as the National Technical University and finally at the new Museum of the Island of Tilos, near the actual excavation site and natural habitat of those unique animals.
Contact: MECHANIMAL Project Coordinator
© NTUA / NKUA / UPATRAS 2011