Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnofrafii   ¹ 1 (52)  2021



Digital Copies for Anthropological Research: Virtual Models and Databases 

Syutkina T.A., Galeev R.M.  (Moscow, Russian Federation)


             page 105117


In the last two decades, a large number of anthropological papers have been focused on digital copies of palaeoanthropological materials rather than original skeletal remains. According to some foreign scholars, “virtual anthropology” has taken a shape of a separate field of anthropological science. One of the main advantages of “virtual anthropology” is the possibility to develop databases, datasets, digital collections and catalogues accessible to the scientific community worldwide. Digitization of research objects facilitates organizational side of studies, provides access to wider data, expands the toolkit of available research methods, and also provides safety to the original materials. At the same time, the variability of types of virtual models along with the absence of generally accepted protocols complicate verification of morphometric and structures data. The main goal of this review paper is to structure the available information on virtual palaeoanthropological databases and the materials they contain. 3D-scanning technologies can be generally divided into surface scanning (including photogrammetry) and tomographic scanning. The first group of technologies provide 3D models of the shape of an object, accurate enough to be used in morphometric studies if resolution of the equipment is adequate for the size of the object and aims of the study. The second group is designed to scan the whole form of an object, which allows the examination of its internal structures or tissues, small surface structures or dental material. Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses: while surface scans are cheaper and easier to obtain, CT scans provide information unavailable from the former technique. Assessment of qualitative and quantitative characteristics of digital copies depends on objectives of the study. The article provides an overview of 17 databases of virtual paleoanthropological models, which comprise either surface or CT scans, or both. These materials can be used in various fields of study, including human evolution, primatology, palaeoanthropology, palaeopathology, forensic science, human anatomy, as well as in teaching of these subjects. For each collection, approximate number of objects and terms of use have been specified.

Key words: virtual anthropology, surface scanning, computed tomography, microtomography, photogrammetry, digital databases.


Funding. Published in accordance with the research plan of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS. The study was partially funded by Russian Foundation for Basic Research, grant 17-29-04509.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 07.12.2020

Article is published: 26.02.2021


Syutkina T.A.

N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Leninskiy prospect, 32a, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation



Galeev R.M.

N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Leninskiy prospect, 32a, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation