Discovering the first wolf with AR

In the study coordinated by the Department of Earth Sciences an innovative way to see fossils digitally

In the photo, the visualization with augmented reality compares the skull of a current wolf (light) and the digital fossil of Canis borjgali (dark)

The oldest remains of what must be considered the ancestor of the extant wolf have been found in the famous Georgian site of Dmanisi. The discovery of an international team coordinated by Saverio Bartolini Lucenti, a research fellow of the Department of Earth Science, was published in open-access in and presents new evidence about the evolutionary line of the wolf and other species related to it. A further innovative element of the research is the possibility of displaying digitalized fossils on mobile devices (smartphone or tablet) thanks to an augmented reality application.

The researchers analysed the remains of the wolf ancestor found in the Georgian site, renowned for the oldest evidence of hominids outside the African continent, which dates back to 1.8 million years ago, and compared them with the coeval ones of Canis etruscus from the Upper Valdarno Basin, preserved in the Museum of Geology and Paleontology of the , considered until today the oldest ancestor of the wolf.

“Comparing the remains of the Georgian jaws and skulls with the Florentine ones we understood that we were dealing with a more evolved species than Canis etruscus, with traits that were common to those of the extant wolf,” explains Bartolini Lucenti.

The new species was named by the team — which includes researchers from the National Museum of Georgia, ICREA Institute of Barcelona and Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona — Canis borjgali (from the name of the seven-ray solar symbol of Georgia) and has morphological features which place it at the origin of the Eurasian Pleistocene species Canis mosbachensis, which in turn is considered the direct ancestor of the wolf.

“The use of augmented reality, used for the first time in a scientific research, allows us to improve the accessibility to the described fossils thanks to a simple web app through which anyone can, for instance, comparethe teeth of Canis borjgali, those of the Etruscan wolf and of the extant wolf or the cranial morphologies with other reference samples,” adds the researcher.

Bartolini Lucenti’s study aims to enhance the paleontological heritage of the University Museum System through digital techniques and was part of the ‘Researchers for culture’ project of Regione Toscana and co-financed by the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze Foundation; research in Georgia took place in the context of a project coordinated by Lorenzo Rook, professor of the Department of Earth Sciences, and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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