Neutron-based computed microtomography: Pliobates cataloniae and Barberapithecus huerzeleri as a test-case study

Alessandro Urciuoli, Clément Zanolli, Josep Fortuny, Sergio Almécija, Burkhard Schillinger, Salvador Moyà-Solà, David M. Alba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


© 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Objectives: High-resolution imaging of fossils with X-ray computed microtomography (μCT) has become a very powerful tool in paleontological research. However, fossilized bone, embedding matrix, and dental tissues do not always provide a distinct structural signal with X-rays. We demonstrate the benefits of high-resolution neutron radiation in three different specimens showing problematic contrasts with X-ray μCT. Materials and methods: We compare neutron with X-ray μCT scans of fossils from two Miocene catarrhines from the Vallès-Penedès Basin: the cranium (IPS58443.1, holotype) of the putative stem hominoid Pliobates cataloniae, to discriminate between bone and matrix; and two lower molars (IPS1724n,o, holotype) of Barberapithecus huerzeleri, to discriminate among dental tissues. Results: X-ray μCT scans of these specimens fail to retrieve any contrast between matrix/bone and enamel/dentine, whereas neutron μCT scans deliver high-contrast images, enabling a proper evaluation of the specimens' internal anatomy. Discussion: Low bone/matrix intensity difference with X-ray μCT scans in IPS58443.1 is due to the extreme similarity in chemical composition between the matrix and the fossilized tissues, and the presence of high-density elements. In IPS1724, it is attributable to the convergence of enamel and dentine compositions during fossilization. On the contrary, neutron radiation returns very different contrasts for different isotopes of the same element and easily penetrates most metals. Neutron-based μCT scans therefore enable a correct definition of the bone/sediment and enamel/dentine interfaces, and hence a better segmentation of the images stack. We conclude that neutron radiation represents a successful alternative for high-resolution µCT of small-sized fossils that are problematic with X-rays.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)987-993
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • X-rays
  • fossil catarrhines
  • neutron imaging
  • neutron radiation


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