The History of Boreholes

by | Nov 8, 2021

Modern boreholes use huge machines and can reach miles into the Earth’s crust. Obviously, this has not always been possible. Today we are going to take a look at the history of boreholes to see how we have ended up with the advanced techniques that we have today. 

Where it all began

The earliest examples of boreholes come from ancient Egypt and date back to around 2,500BC. Interestingly, many people believed that ancient Egyptians didn’t have any kind of technology to create the boreholes and cores that can be observed from these times. This is because there were no techniques known in the modern day that would create boreholes and cores in the shapes that could be seen in ancient Egyptian examples. 

Luckily, scientists and historians aren’t so keen on accepting “alien technology” as the answer to how they seemingly used advanced machinery so long ago. Research has shown that they created tools with copper “drill bits” that were used to core out boreholes. To allow the soft copper to get through hard materials, such as granite, they simply used water and an abrasive material, like sand. There are also signs that they may have known about certain chemical reactions that can help with the process. 

A little while later…

Our first gap in the history of borehole technology development is substantial. It wasn’t for another 2,300 to 2,700 years that there seems to be any advancement. There is evidence that in China, by the Han Dynasty, boreholes were employed for mining, salt wells and more. In fact, by the end of the Han Dynasty, tools had been developed to perform percussion drilling. Iron drill bits were connected to bamboo and repeatedly slammed into the borehole to make it deeper. Of course, these were rudimentary and powered by humans jumping up and down as a counterweight. It was a very slow and laborious process, although it was capable of drilling holes as deep as 140m already! 

These tools became more and more developed over the next thousand years, adding in extra tools such as those to repair cave ins or to retrieve tools that have fallen into the hole. They even started adding a sort of lining, with hollowed out logs at the entrance of the borehole. China remained at the forefront of borehole technology for many centuries. Around 1050 AD, they began using a stripped bamboo “cable” that allowed them to create much deeper holes. As these machines were still powered by humans and animals, there was only so much weight they could lift, so this cable made it possible to get to depths of 300m to 400m, which was the average depth by the 1700s. 

Elsewhere in the world

During this time, the rest of the world was trying to catch up. One of the greatest inventors in history, Leonardo Da Vinci himself, designed a drilling rig in the late 1400s, but it was many more years before there were any significant developments. In 1835, a well in Shenghai became the first in the world to hit a depth of 1km, which was nearly twice as deep as boreholes anywhere else in the world at the time. It took over 10 years to create it, so it looked like no one would be able to get close for quite a while. 

During the 1800s’ industrial revolution there were several advancements, bringing efficiency way up. Finally, they could start using engines to perform percussive drilling, meaning they could use heavier weights and work faster than any human could. This trend continued into the 1900s, where it would take around 2 years to drill a 600m hole at the start of the century. By 1950 it would take 9 months. By 1975 it would take less than 2 weeks and that brings us to today. 

Current day

These days we can use portable machines that can easily fit into gardens to drill boreholes, taking only a day or two to complete. We have much more advanced techniques to avoid holes caving in, using steel casing to protect the borehole’s structural integrity. Drill bits, cables and more have all been optimised to speed up drilling time. Now, it only takes two people to do a job that previously would have taken several trained professionals many days to accomplish. 

Contact Us 

So, if you are looking for a speedy, cost-effective borehole drilling company, you’ve come to the right place. For more information on borehole drilling, or if you’d like to know more about our services, please get in touch!    

Contact Borehole Solutions today on 01733 200 501. We also offer an extensive range of other geotechnical services, including sonic, rotary and cable percussion drilling, as well as soakaway, water well and ground source heat pump installations! Or take a look at our Instagram page to see images of our previous work.