Neolithic Water Wells, Laser Scanning & Open Access Archaeology

PLOS

There’s a lovely new article about Neolithic water wells at PLOS:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051374

The article discusses the timber-framed wells dating to over 7,000 years ago, claiming that “the first farmers were also the first carpenters.” The preservation in these wells is fantastic, and images of the whole ears of einkorn (early wheat) accompany the article.

Other interesting points from the article include the fact that they block-lifted the wells in order to excavate them in a controlled environment. One of the blocks weighed 70 tons! Block-lifting involves cutting around the targeted feature or artifact and taking the whole thing with you, including the surrounding dirt. Archaeologists often wish they could just block lift things and take them away, though the process can destroy the context around the artifact being block-lifted, as in the case of the paintings cut off the walls at Catalhoyuk. In the case of a well, this process can be performed safely, assuming that the well does not cut through earlier stratigraphy.

Once in the lab, the team laser-scanned damn near everything, as far as I can tell. This is productively shown in the detail recorded for the timbers, and the ability to show the adze work and fitting for the timbers. I am curious about the time differential–how many hours did it take for the laser-scanning team to process and manipulate the imagery versus how long would it have taken for an archaeological illustrator to do the same? I am still not sold on photogrammetry and laser scanning as a substitute for drawing, especially as drawing archaeology is an aid in understanding the archaeology as much as recording, but this article is a fantastic argument for using laser scanning to record and reconstruct timbers. Additionally, timbers are difficult for archaeologists–they’re rarely in good shape and once you take them out of the ground it is a race to record and conserve them before they disintegrate before your eyes.

Finally, the team uses dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) to corollate the dating of the well, but also to determine that the trees used to construct the well originated from at least 46 mature oak trees that felled at “just above breast height”, then “split in half with wooden wedges that were hammered in using wooden mauls” and then worked into their final length with adzes and burning.

Fantastic detail, solid methodology and well presented in an open access journal–this small article about Neolithic wells gives me hope for archaeological publishing!*

*Though PLOS certainly could make it easier to embed and share article images. I had to download and re-size and re-upload to make this work out.

2 responses to “Neolithic Water Wells, Laser Scanning & Open Access Archaeology

  1. Thank you very much for the complements! This is the nicest comment on the publication we received up to now.
    To answer your question: “I am curious about the time differential–how many hours did it take for the laser-scanning team to process and manipulate the imagery versus how long would it have taken for an archaeological illustrator to do the same?”
    The ‘laser-scanning team’ basically consists of one technician (but who is extremely good). As we had the work-flow going the average time for the complete process for one of the large timbers from the well from Altscherbitz took three and a half hours. That includes scanning the thing, building the 3D-model, rendering, georeferencing, making tiffs and putting them together in InDesign as a plate for the catalogue (six views and some sections). And we have a complete 3D-model of the wooden cladding as well (pun intended) to play around with during the analysis. At the start of the excavation I wasn’t convinced about laser scanning either, as you can imagine, now I am. Especially the tool marks are better and more objective than even a good archaeological illustrator can archieve.
    Greetings from Germany.

  2. Dear Rengert,

    Thank you for your comment and for sharing some details regarding your workflow! Good luck with your future work.

    Cheers,

    Colleen

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