Automatic determination of 3D orientations of fossilized oyster shells from a densely packed Miocene shell bed

Ana Puttonen, Mathias Harzhauser, Eetu Puttonen, Oleg Mandic, Balázs Székely, Gábor Molnár, Norbert Pfeifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Shell beds represent a useful source of information on various physical processes that cause the depositional condition. We present an automated method to calculate the 3D orientations of a large number of elongate and platy objects (fossilized oyster shells) on a sedimentary bedding plane, developed to support the interpretation of possible depositional patterns, imbrications, or impact of local faults. The study focusses on more than 1900 fossil oyster shells exposed in a densely packed Miocene shell bed. 3D data were acquired by terrestrial laser scanning on an area of 459 m2 with a resolution of 1 mm. Bivalve shells were manually defined as 3D-point clouds of a digital surface model and stored in an ArcGIS database. An individual shell coordinate system (ISCS) was virtually embedded into each shell and its orientation was determined relative to the coordinate system of the entire, tectonically tilted shell bed. Orientation is described by the rotation angles roll, pitch, and yaw in a Cartesian coordinate system. This method allows an efficient measurement and analysis of the orientation of thousands of specimens and is a major advantage compared to the traditional 2D approach, which measures only the azimuth (yaw) angles. The resulting data can variously be utilized for taphonomic analyses and the reconstruction of prevailing hydrodynamic regimes and depositional environments. For the first time, the influence of possible post-sedimentary vertical displacements can be quantified with high accuracy. Here, the effect of nearby fault lines—present in the reef—was tested on strongly tilted oyster shells, but it was found out that the fault lines did not have a statistically significant effect on the large tilt angles. Aside from the high reproducibility, a further advantage of the method is its non-destructive nature, which is especially suitable for geoparks and protected sites such as the studied shell bed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2125-2142
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Earth Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2018



  • 3D orientations
  • 3D-point cloud
  • Digital documentation
  • Oysters
  • Sedimentology
  • Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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