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UK researchers examine the impact of laser scanners for anthropological study

April 25, 2014
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3D laser scanning can be used for a wide-array of purposes, one of which is uncovering mysteries about our past. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have been able to use laser scanners to map the skeletons of humans living during the development of agriculture. The data sets collected by this technology and digitalized through 3D modeling has allowed archeologists and anthropologists to understand the evolution of the human skeletal structure, providing insight into how changes in lifestyle impacted human development.

Laser scanners help further research into human evolution
Alison Macintosh, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of archeology and anthropology at Cambridge University, recently showcased her research into how the mobility and development of humans living in Central Europe was impacted by the increase in farming around 5,300 B.C., according to an article by Cambridge. Since bone strength is often linked to lifestyle and physical experiences, the Macintosh theorized there may be a link between bone mass and the use of technology for physically demanding tasks. Macintosh used a portable 3D laser scanner to map the femora and tibiae leg bones of skeletons dated between 5,300 B.C. and 850 A.D. that were found in cemeteries throughout Europe to understand bone strength among different agricultural groups.

After examining the data, Macintosh discovered that men and women living in the Danube river valley's fertile soils were less strong than those who lived in other areas. In other words, those where farming was possibly prosperous or where advancements in technology reduced the need for physical exertion saw changes in the adaptability of their bones.

3D laser scanning was able to help Macintosh uncover this discovery by accurately mapping the structures of early humans' bones. Because of laser scanning's accuracy, the scans were even able to showcase that factors other than farming can have an impact on a person's bone strength. For example, Macintosh found one Iron Age female's bone strength was relatively high, but her tibia was not. If the tibia was as strong, it would indicate the woman was highly mobile, but as this was not the case Macintosh suggested the discrepancies may be due to genetics or body size.

The popularity of 3D laser scanning among UK researchers
3D laser scanning has become such a commonly used tool for anthropological study and the research of historical sites that the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, also called English Heritage, provides guidance for the proper use of 3D laser scanning for these purposes. It offers information on the basics of laser scanning, how to use information gleaned from the mapping technology, the best ways to archive collected data and more because the technology provides researchers with innumerable benefits. As laser scanners can provide better measurements and more data than other types of collection methods, researchers can have an almost complete view of an object or space. From mapping the human skeleton to land surveying historic sites, laser scanners are a popular and valued tool for researchers in the country.

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