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CSIRO mine safety tech becomes archaeological tool

Zebedee helps map ancient cave etchings

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A 3D mapping technology announced earlier this year by Australia’s science agency CSIRO is being used to help map what might be the world’s oldest cave etchings.

During December, CSIRO scientists undertook an exploration on behalf of the Adelaide museum, in which they took the technology known as Zebedee into the delicate Koonalda Cave in South Australia.

The cave was used as a flint mine by Australian Aborigines as far back as 30,000 years ago, the cave includes markings known as “finger flutings”, apparently made by dragging the hand across the soft limestone walls.

Enter Zebedee, a 3D mapping system created by the CSIRO and licensed to UK company GeoSLAM. The handheld system gathers a real-time point cloud of its surroundings without needing systems like GPS as a reference (handy, since GPS doesn’t work underground).

Zebedee consists of a lightweight LiDAR (light detection and ranging) set, along with inertial measurement. And yes, its inventors – Robert Zlot and Mike Bosse of the CSIRO’s Autonomous Systems Lab – say its name was inspired by the character in The Magic Roundabout.

New Scientist describes the expedition to map the caves here - and the purpose of the finger flutings still remains a mystery.

However, with the 3D maps, researchers can at least examine the cave from their desktop, without the six-hour drive to reach the caves. ®

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