410-Million-Year-Old Arachnid Brought 'Back to Life'

First Posted: Jul 09, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

"It's alive!"

Though this isn't quite a scene from a monster movie, researchers from the University of Manchester and the Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin, might have been playing God when they recreated a 410-million-year-old arachnid.

To do so, scientists used preserved fossils from the Natural History Museum in London to concoct a video that demonstrates the ancient creature's range of motion. From this along with comparisons to other arachnids, they also used an open source computer graphic program called Blender to create a video showing the animals walking.

"When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain," said author Dr. Russell Garwood, a palaeontologist in the University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, in a news release. "They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders. Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved -- all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs."

Co-author Jason Dunlop, a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, said: "These fossils -- from a rock called the Rhynie chert -- are unusually well-preserved. During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life. This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked. For me, what's really exciting here is that scientists themselves can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry -- and immense costs -- of a Jurassic Park-style film.

"When I started working on fossil arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like; now we can view them running across our computer screens."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the Journal of Paleontology.

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