The use of non-destructive approaches for digital acquisition (e.g. computerised tomography-CT) allows detailed qualitative and quantitative study of internal structures of skeletal material. Here, we present a new R-based software tool, Icex, applicable to the study of the sizes and shapes of skeletal cavities and fossae in 3D digital images. Traditional methods of volume extraction involve the manual labelling (i.e. segmentation) of the areas of interest on each section of the image stack. This is time-consuming, error-prone and challenging to apply to complex cavities. Icex facilitates rapid quantification of such structures. We describe and detail its application to the isolation and calculation of volumes of various cranial cavities. The R tool is used here to automatically extract the orbital volumes, the paranasal sinuses, the nasal cavity and the upper oral volumes, based on the coordinates of 18 cranial anatomical points used to define their limits, from 3D cranial surface meshes obtained by segmenting CT scans. Icex includes an algorithm (Icv) for the calculation of volumes by defining a 3D convex hull of the extracted cavity. We demonstrate the use of Icex on an ontogenetic sample (0-19 years) of modern humans and on the fossil hominin crania Kabwe (Broken Hill) 1, Gibraltar (Forbes' Quarry) and Guattari 1. We also test the tool on three species of non-human primates. In the modern human subsample, Icex allowed us to perform a preliminary analysis on the absolute and relative expansion of cranial sinuses and pneumatisations during growth. The performance of Icex, applied to diverse crania, shows the potential for an extensive evaluation of the developmental and/or evolutionary significance of hollow cranial structures. Furthermore, being open source, Icex is a fully customisable tool, easily applicable to other taxa and skeletal regions.
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