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“Don’t Drill That!”: Portable Scanning as a Tool for Minimally Destructive Dendrochronological Sampling of Wooden Cultural Heritage

Authors: Brita Lorentzen*, Cornell University, Sturt Manning, Cornell University
Topics: Field Methods, Human-Environment Geography, Middle East
Keywords: dendrochronology, cultural heritage, scanning methods, wood conservation, Cyprus
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Traditional dendrochronolgical sampling methods for studying wooden cultural heritage generally favor collecting physical samples, either via cutting cross-sections or drilling cores. While useful for dendrochronology and necessary for further analyses like radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis, taking physical samples may be too destructive for delicate, rare, or sacred wood materials. Previous dendrochronological studies have used X-ray microtomography, CT scanning, and flatbed scanners to generate high-resolution images of wood samples suitable for tree-ring measurement and crossdating as an alternative to physical sampling. However, these techniques may be cost prohibitive for some project budgets, or logistically impossible to implement for objects and structures that cannot be disassembled or transported.

We report here on our experiments in, and protocol derived from, using Doxie Flip, a widely available portable document scanner, as a relatively inexpensive tool for scanning wooden timbers and objects in situ for dendrochronological analysis. We highlight our work on an ongoing dendrochronological project analyzing painted wooden icons, religious objects, and timbers from Byzantine churches and medieval monuments in Cyprus (many of which are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List), in which we have successfully measured, crossdated, and built long tree-ring chronologies from samples collected using portable scanning methods alongside physical sampling. Our results indicate that portable scanners are a useful tool for minimally destructive sampling, although may not be suitable for wood with particularly narrow ring-growth and micro-rings, or when a flat surface cannot be prepared on the sample.

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