Lazarus in the museum: resurrecting historic specimens through new technology

Lauren Sumner-Rooney, Julia Sigwart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
247 Downloads (Pure)


All scientific and intellectual endeavours advance by building on earlier observations. In organismal biology, we can in fact directly replicate original studies of morphology and anatomy, when the original material is still present and accessible in the permanent care of museums. We refer to the apparently miraculous “Lazarisation” of these historical specimens, when the application of state-of-the-art scientific techniques brings new life to material in natural history collections. Classical anatomical, histological and palaeontological work established our fundamental understanding of the natural world over centuries of meticulous and dedicated research, much of which remains unsurpassed to this day. Many of these original specimens are still available to active researchers through dedicated permanent collections in the care of universities and museums. An explosion of advancing methods in recent decades has opened new avenues of research that can exploit invaluable historical material. We review the application of novel techniques, primarily new imaging methods, to historic and important specimens. The pursuit of ultra-high resolution magnification, three-dimensional digital modelling, non-invasive scanning techniques, and, increasingly, elemental analyses all have enormous implications for the future of morphology. Palaeontology, comparative anatomy, and development in particular make ideal platforms for the exploitation of these new techniques. These methods are revolutionizing our use of museum collections and reinventing their role in modern morphological research, which comes at a time of increasing threat to collections and museum curation funding. Future innovations in imaging and non-invasive analyses will doubtless accelerate the renewed research efforts dedicated to existing specimens. Most importantly, we celebrate the continued contributions to morphology from these invaluable pieces of our scientific heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-84
JournalInvertebrate Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2018


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