Tag Archives: open access

Neolithic Water Wells, Laser Scanning & Open Access Archaeology


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


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.

Archaeology and E-Scholarship

Dodging between rainstorms and trying to finish up my Visualisation in Archaeology paper, I managed to make it to the “Taking Control of Your Own Publications” E-Scholarship presentation at the department. Sadly, as usual, it was poorly attended–I really wanted to also check out a talk in Near Eastern studies, but at a place like UC Berkeley you can easily get overwhelmed by the number of interesting events and talks going on. Still, I thought a few more students would be at the talk.

Anyway, it was important that I go, as I was griping in my freshly written paper about the lack of quality institutional support for Open Access scholarship, and this was put into my lap. As you may or may not know, it is International Open Access week and E-Scholarship managed to launch a redesign of their webpage and announce their intention to head a new direction, from being a repository to a publishing and research-oriented set of tools for scholars at the University of California campuses. It makes a lot of sense, as universities in the United States are funded by the taxpayers, who foot the bill for faculty wages and research costs, and then have to pay for the same research again when universities have to buy access to the major journals, and then the average taxpayer STILL doesn’t have access to the research–they’d have to pay for it a THIRD time at an exorbitant rate to buy it for themselves from the journal.

Open Access advocates at this point are nodding their heads weakly. It’s been a long and tiresome fight, and there’s still no guarantee that these big, institutional archives are actually the answer. I asked a couple of pretty simple questions:

Q: So once you are no longer affiliated with the University of California system (as I will presumably get my PhD in a couple of years), do you still get to publish with E-Scholarship?

A: No, with some qualifications, such as in the instance of journal publishing, wherein the journal that you found with E-Scholarship will still be supported after you graduate.

Q: What about non-traditional publications?

A: They are working on integrating data sets, but aren’t quite there yet.

I wanted to ask what the back-up plan would be, and how far away their data storage was from the Hayward fault, but I didn’t want to harass the nice presenter.

While I am really happy to have this kind of support for my research and publications, I guess I just see it as one more tool to add to the Edupunk kit. It might even become the most important tool, but I still can’t emphasize the importance of spreading your research out over a number of platforms, both for wider public dissemination as as a fail-safe measure.

E-Scholarship still does not meet some of the specific needs for wholesale archaeology publishing in that there is not a place for integrated GIS data, images, and the connection to museum collections that we need. I am hoping that when (if?) other large institutional archives come online they will be able to integrate their data. Sadly, when I tried to upload some of my work, I repeatedly got an error message–frustrating as their system requires a decent amount of data entry leading up to that point.