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Scanners will shed new light on the level of social organisation of Neanderthals

How can we best represent cultural or natural relics so that they become a “data library” used in scientific projects – this is the question archaeologists from the University of Wrocław have been asking themselves. The answer was provided by scanners purchased thanks to funding from the Excellence Initiative – Research University.

How to record an image or an inscription carved in a rock? With a photo or a drawing? It is possible but it changes three dimensions into two. And that’s not enough.

– The method of drawing documentation of cultural or natural relics, which has been used until recently, based on measuring at most a few hundred points in two-dimensional space, did not provide sufficient possibilities. This technique, which was a kind of compromise between reality and the researcher’s vision, with the emphasis on the latter, provided images which, due to their nature, could not be subject to further processing or reinterpretation. A solution that partially compensated for this situation was the introduction into the toolkit of models created on the basis of collections of photographs, combined by means of photogrammetric algorithms. Here, however, we are confronted with many limitations, such as time-consumption and the difficulty of mapping large and topographically complex spaces without losing information. Therefore, we have long been looking for fully functional outdoor scanners using laser or structured light. We are just making our scientific dream come true,” rejoices Professor Andrzej Wiśniewski from the Department of Stone Age Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław.

The amount of PLN 541,800.00 obtained from the funds for the purchase of research equipment in the framework of the Research University Excellence Initiative for the ARCHEOSKAN project allowed the scientists to purchase two scanners, computer equipment and specialist software for data processing, which were provided by TPI Sp. z o.o. One of the scanners is a latest-generation laser device, model Faro Focus S150+, operating in stationary mode. It is designed for scanning outdoors and indoors with high accuracy (+/-1 cm) at ranges from 0.6 m to 150 m and under very wide temperature differences. This is not without significance, for example, in archaeological work carried out in winter. The efficient operation of the scanner is determined by the parameters of the measurement speed: nearly 2 million points per second. This means that a rock shelter or building can be scanned within a few hours. Although the device has a simple touchscreen interface, it can be controlled remotely as it connects via the internet to a mobile computer within its “own” WiFi network. The second of the scanners is also a recently widespread innovation. This is the Mantis-Vision F6 Short Range (SR) mobile scanner, based on structured light technology. It is used for fast scanning of objects or spaces of complex structure, where the beams of a stationary scanner cannot reach. It has a high scanning accuracy of 0.5 mm and a range of 0.25 m to 0.75 m. In addition, we can “live” monitor the scanning process on the included tablet. This gives the possibility of current control of coverage of the scanned space. Faro Scene and Gexcel Reconstructor software as well as Agisoft PhotoScan are included for processing and merging acquired point clouds.

Efekt skanowania fragmentu stanowiska środkowopaleolitycznego Pietraszyn 49a, pow. Racibórz, za pomocą skanera mobilnego Mantis-Vision
Effect of scanning a fragment of the Middle Palaeolithic site Pietraszyn 49a, Racibórz district, with the use of mobile scanner Mantis-Vision, photo: private archive
Widok tego samego fragmentu stanowiska po nałożeniu tekstury na chmurę uzyskaną za pomocą skanera stacjonarnego Faro Focus S150+
View of the same site section after texture overlay on the cloud obtained with the Faro Focus S150+ desktop scanner, photo: private archive

– We have already completed a pilot presentation of the technical capabilities of the scanners used to prepare basic documentation of a fragment of the Middle Palaeolithic Pietraszyn site near Racibórz, dated to be around 58 thousand years old. The measuring works were managed by Karol Derejczyk, a representative of TPI. The site in Pietraraszyn is unique in that the remains in the form of clusters of production waste have survived almost intact to this day. In order to find out whether, for example, the activities that resulted in these micro-waste piles were temporally and spatially coordinated, we need detailed documentation – explains Prof. Wiśniewski and adds that this is an extremely important issue, because it may shed new light on the level of social organisation of Neanderthals.

During the field trial, the entire site with all pits was scanned using a Faro Focus scanner. In addition, the surface of the trench, where there was a fragment of a cluster of stone products with single mammoth bone remains, was scanned with a Mantis-Vision scanner, obtaining a very accurate image of the spread of the objects in the context of the geological sediment layer.

Wykorzystanie skanera mobilnego Mantis-Vision
Use of the Mantis-Vision mobile scanner, photo: private archive

The researchers currently have point clouds, which they will use to build models. On this basis they will carry out further observations and analyses of spatial and stratigraphic systems. In the near future they also want to document one of the caves in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland and the stratigraphic sequence of an open Upper Palaeolithic site in Lower Silesia.

Scanning of sites in the Archeoscan project is an activity spread over many months and many research ideas. In all of them scanners are indispensable.

Skanowanie z użyciem skanera Faro Focus S150+
Scanning with a Faro Focus S150+ scanner, photo: private archive

– For example, we want to understand the relationship between culture and nature, learn about the living conditions of people over the centuries within the changing urban fabric, or broaden our knowledge on the causes of object variability based on analyses of large data sets. We are sure that the assigned tasks will meet with the interest of the youngest adepts of archaeology, whose openness and ingenuity can provide important support in the development of research using this kind of imaging techniques – emphasises Professor Wiśniewski.

In 2019, the University of Wrocław was among the top 10 Polish universities that started the adventure in the project “Initiative of Excellence – Research University”. Since then, projects, competitions and initiatives have been launched to turn UWr into a world-class research institution over the next six years. One such project is the competition for financing scientific and research apparatus from the Research Apparatus Fund.

Published by: Maria Kozan

13 Jan 2022

last modification: 13 Jan 2022