DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A Duke University professor’s website has made it possible for anyone with a 3-D printer to create replicas of many kinds of ancient specimens.

Duke’s Division of Fossil Primates houses ancient and unique fossils that date back 55 million years.

“This skull is irreplaceable,” said postdoctoral associate Lauren Gonzalez. “If it’s damaged or lost, we can’t necessarily get back to Egypt to even try to attempt to find more of this animal.”

It’s a valuable collection, but because the fossils are so old and so rare, it’s been difficult to make them easily accessible to the public, until recently.

“We can’t really put a one of a kind 30-million-year-old skull in the hands of an eighth grader, so what we’re trying to do here is make high quality three-dimensional digital renderings of all of these fossils,” explained Douglas Boyer, an assistant professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke.

Now, Duke researchers have the ability to scan the fossils, create a detailed 3-D image and use a 3-D printer to print out accurate replicas. They’re also putting digital images of the fossils online so researchers, teachers, and students across the world can access them.

“We’re creating a virtual museum and it’s called ‘Morphosource’ anyone can get access to these and download a file and they can load that file into a 3-D printer, make their own physical replica of it,” said Boyer.

“A child can pick this [3-D fossil replica] up turn it around and they can see this is what early primates would have looked like,” added Gonzalez.

The goal is to give more people access to fossils they’d normally never get the chance to see or study.

So far, there have been 24,000 downloads from Morphosource, and it’s not just fossils from Duke that you can access.

Museums across the world can also upload digital renderings of their fossils.

Access to the website is free for anyone.

If you’d like to see the website, click here.