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Johannesburg Meetup with guest speaker on microtomography

I am organising another computational archaeology meetup in Johannesburg on the 21st of November. This time the company that I work for (Entelect) is sponsoring a venue and pizza!

This post aims at going a bit more in depth on the topics that will be discussed as well as on the guest speaker and how this meetup came to be.

Let’s start with a short story first. We were on our way to Clarens for a weekend away with my sister in law and her partner. There are a few “dinosaur walks” in Clarens, where a palaeontologist can take you on a hike in the Drakensberg and show you fossilised dinosaur bones and footprints. This sounded really cool and I was obviously geeking out about it. I think it was this geeky moment that triggered my sister in law and her partner to tell me about their friend Viktor the palaeontologist.


Victor is a palaeontology student at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He was part of the ILL/ESRF International Student Summer Programme, which is a 4-week experimental project on the applications of X-ray and neutron science to different fields. His research focused on the use of X-ray microtomography for palaeontology. More specifically, his research was on distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs. I’ll attempt to expand on this later on in this post.

Viktor’s research used micro CT scans, otherwise known as  X-ray microtomography, to analyse the bones of a South African dinosaur Nqwebasaurus thwazi. This technology, which stands for Computerised Tomography, consists of performing a set of X-rays from different angles around the fossil. This yields high quality images of the fossil that can be used to for 3D reconstructions as well as to analyse the internal structure of the fossil.


Two weeks ago I asked my sister in law if she thought Viktor would be willing to do a presentation on his research at a computational archaeology meetup. She put us in touch and he was excited to do it. His 30 minute talk will be split into the following main sections:

  • Introduction to microtomography
  • Why is the synchrotron data preferred?
  • Distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs (his research topic)
  • Data calling for the revision of theropod phylogeny

Yes, I too was super confused when I saw these words and was reminded that English is my third language. Let’s get some definitions down.

I’ve already briefly explained above what microtomography is. Synchrotron refers to a powerful source of X-rays produced by electrons moving in a circle. This is just another way of getting X-ray imaging different to the classical tube-based CT scans. Viktor will be explaining why this type of scan is generally preferred. If you want some more detail regarding the different processes – this paper goes quite a bit in depth regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The next thing to explain is Viktor’s topic itself: “Distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs”. Postcranial skeletal pneumaticity refers to the presence of air spaces within bones separated from the skull. Theropods are a group of bipedal dinosaurs. Now that we know that the separate terms in the title mean, we can conclude that the talk will be on the distribution of air spaces within the bones of bipedal dinosaurs.

Lastly, Viktor will show us some data that “calls for the revision of theropod phylogeny”. Phylogeny refers to the evolutionary history of an organism, in other words, the evolutionary tree of a species. In his talk, he will show us data that he has discovered that may change what we know as the evolutionary history of theropod dinosaurs.


During the meetup I will also be doing a very short talk introducing computational archaeology. This is so that people that joined the meetup in order to find out what this strange concept is can gain some basic knowledge on the subject before diving into a very specialised talk. This talk will open the meetup and also allow me to introduce Viktor as the guest speaker.

So now that you have a bit more detail regarding the meetup, come join! Here are the details:

  • Meetup page
  • Date: 21st November 2016
  • Time: 18:30
  • Location: Entelect HQ – Unit 13, 2nd floor, 3 Melrose Boulevard, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg
  • Why: cool talks and pizza

If you want even more info on our speaker you can check out the following:

I hope to see some of you there! Let’s learn more about the digital humanities of South Africa 🙂


One comment on “Johannesburg Meetup with guest speaker on microtomography

  1. […] If you missed the original post regarding Viktor’s research you can access that here. […]

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