Last week, project Co-I Dr Jo Buckberry attended the annual meetings of the Paleopathology Association and theAmerican Association of Physical Anthropologists in Portland, Oregon, USA. On Saturday she presented our poster “From Cemetery to Clinic: 3D digitised pathological data from archaeological leprous skeletons”. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about our 3D digitisation projects. Jo reports:

The poster (click here to download a copy), designed by Tom Sparrow, was really striking, and was a real draw. Plus I had a great location, in a quiet corner of the room with a table (useful for stashing all my stuff), but very close to the morning coffee! Better still, I was equipped with my laptop and the project iPad, and was able to showcase a selection of 3D scans to anyone who stopped by (I did pounce a few times!). This worked as a great hook, capturing people’s interest, and facilitating discussion about how the images were captured, the texturing process, and comparing greyscale raw scans with textured images. It was also great to be able to compare the high resolution scans in the full version of Meshlab with the lower resolution scans using the ipad. One response I heard over and over again was “wow…”!

Jo at the AAPA meeting in Oregon

Overall, delegates were impressed by the project and many indicated that they would be visiting our website and downloading a few scans to investigate further. There was some mild consternation that we couldn’t get WiFi in the area of the venue we were stood in, so it wasn’t possible to download the meshlab app and get going straight away… The opportunity to use the scans for teaching was seen as a clear benefit to the anthropological community (especially with North Americans who rarely have a skeletal collection at their institution). The outputs from Digitised Diseases are clearly going to be extremely useful in this regard – one palaeopathologist jokingly commented ‘I am teaching leprosy and TB next week – any chance you can upload your TB scans by Monday?’… The clinical radiographs were also recognised as a particularly valuable teaching and research resource.

Jo shows some AAPA delegates some 3D models on the new iPad

Over the course of the two conferences there were several podium presentations and posters about 3D scanning, using a variety of different techniques and each project had different aims. It was a great opportunity to discuss approaches, share problems and bounce around ideas. Throughout the Paleopathology Association conference I used the meshlab app on my iphone to show off a few scans whenever I told anyone about the project – a great way to advertise our poster on the Saturday, and to pass on information to delegates who weren’t able to stay all week.

Many people asked me if we were going to have scans of a normal skeleton, which could be used for comparison. Sadly this is outside the scope of the current project (we have a target of 1800 scans and many, many pathologies to cover), but it is certainly an area we are investigating. At present ‘From Cemetery to Clinic’ uses a series of line drawings and photographs, to illustrate the location of the affected bones and their normal appearance respectively. Some of our early scans of metabolic disease were for the You Are What You Ate exhibition “The Dark Side of Eating”, which David and Pawel developed into video renders – often using stills to indicate where the scanned bone came from (in the case of cranial bones affected by scurvy), or articulating and then opening out two knee joints affected by osteoarthritis. This is an area that we really hope to be able to develop further.