2006 Experimental Archaeology Conference (EAC1)

Date: November 9, 2006

Venue: Organised by the Material Culture & Data Science Research Group, University College London

Content: 11 papers, 33 participants



Practicabilities of experiments in archaeology

Once you have set up a structure for an experiment, you need to know which steps to take to for others to be able to both follow your reasoning and repeat your experiment. These steps need to lead to a published report. What are the steps in doing, documenting and publishing experiments? In executing series of experiments, there are two key parties: the universities and the archaeological open air centres. There are tens of faculties across the world where experimental archaeology is a theme for education, in some cases as well for research. On the other hand, there are dozens of archaeological open air centres which offer their facilities to both students and research. How come experiments are published so scattered across the archaeological literature and how can we make both the reports as well as the original data accessible? Could there be an academic network themed with experimental archaeology?


Waiting for the air to clear: experimental archaeology and the use of domestic space in early medieval roundhouses
Tríona NICHOLL, UCD Dublin (IE)

Houses and the domestic spaces they contained formed the nucleus of the settlement landscape in early medieval Ireland. They were familial and social centres as well as providing a productive and creative space in terms of subsistence, craft and industrial activity. Despite the various structural differences present in the corpus of early medieval roundhouses, two factors which unite them all are the use of interior fires and the need for a functional level of visibility. This paper aims to explore the potential experimental archaeology has to enlighten us as to the impact use of fire and the varying levels of interior visibility can have on the exploitation of domestic space in early medieval roundhouses.


Feather objects and materials science in archaeology
Mari LOWE, Cranfield University (UK)

Materials testing in archaeology has been attempted many times in the past with varying degrees of success; from strength testing of reproduction armour, to fracture analysis of ancient ceramics. In many cases, examples of these objects have survived to provide a template for the materials scientist. In the case of feathers, this is rarely the case. While this poses a challenge, it also highlights the need for different forms of investigation.
The feather objects in this investigation are those connected with warfare. There are many ethnographic and historical examples, throughout the world, of warrior figures wearing feathers as clothing, adornment or as ?talisman? devices. The project aims to uncover the properties of feathers using testing techniques currently used in materials science. It can then be determined whether these properties have any link with the uses of feather objects by warrior figures. More broadly, this is an interdisciplinary investigation into the links between feathers and self-protection.


Food for thought: nut exploitation in prehistoric Europe
Penny CUNNINGHAM, University of Exeter (UK)

Archaeobotanical studies tend to focus on the earliest evidence of plant domestication from the Neolithic onwards. Very few discuss the exploitation of wild plant foods, such as acorns and hazelnuts, beyond mentioning their presence at a site. In contrast, there are many interpretations regarding wild plant exploitation and processing methods during the Mesolithic. Archaeobotanical evidence demonstrates that exploitation of wild plants, in particular nuts, across northern and central Europe, and the western Mediterranean, occurred throughout the later periods of prehistory. Therefore, the archaeobotanical data invalidates the dichotomy created by archaeologists between the use of wild plant foods by hunter-gatherers and farmers. As a number of factors may favour the preservation of one plant species over another, we cannot rely on the archaeobotanical evidence alone to understand the= exploitation of any plant food. There is a long tradition of using archaeological experiments and ethnographic evidence of plant processing methods to enhance our understanding of the exploitation and processing of domesticated plants, but little research has focused on any wild plants.
This paper discusses a series of hazelnut and acorn pit roasting experiments based on the archaeological evidence of pits, fire cracked stones and nuts, from a variety of prehistoric sites. By focusing on one particular type of plant food, these experiments highlight possible pit-roasting methods and offer an opportunity to question many of the assumptions that surround our current understanding of wild plant exploitation in prehistoric Europe.


Experiments in malting, mashing and brewing

In this paper I will demystify the brewing process, present my experimental work and discuss the archaeological evidence for grain processing in the early Neolithic. I will investigate the importance of malting in relation to the origin of grain agriculture in the Near East and Levant. I have been investigating grain processing techniques for several years now, in particular malting, mashing and fermentation. The keystone of my research is that these fundamental processes are governed by biochemical laws that remain unchanged across the millennia. Practical experimental research is therefore a valid means of re-creating techniques and products of the ancient past.
The transformation of grain into ale is a ritual process - it could perhaps be described as the first alchemy, turning dry grain into an intoxicating, pleasant tasting drink. The harvested grain must be carefully treated in a certain way and a specific set of activities must be adhered to in order to get a successful and drinkable result.
Even today, most maltsters and brewers are extremely secretive about their methods of making a particular kind of malt or ale. An understanding of these grain processing rituals enlightens our interpretation and understanding of archaeological remains, material culture and society.


Experimenting as a means to understand cloth types from the Alpine area of Europe from the Neolithic to Bronze Age
Susanna HARRIS, UCL (UK)

For my PhD I am researching the social context of cloth in the Alpine area of Europe from the Neolithic to Bronze Age. Cloth I define as flexible, thin sheets of material that can be folded, wrapped, shaped and tied. This includes woven textiles, animal skins, twined cloth, netting and knotless netting.
One of the central issues of this research is to understand the relationship between cloth types. This is problematic, as many of these cloth types only exist as preserved fragments and are not made in the present day. To address this issue, I have turned to experimental archaeology to create some of the cloth types. Through these experiments I can ask: How can these cloth types be made? What tools do I need? What are the physical characteristics of the cloth types?


The Earliest Brass in China - Some Thoughts on the Role of Experimental Evidence
Jianjun MEI, Institute of Historical Metallurgy and Materials University of Science and Technology Beijing (CN)

In this paper, I would like to present a review of the discussions surrounding the earliest brass objects found in China over the past twenty years, in order to show the role that the experimental evidence played in shaping scholars? From the review, the paper suggests that the experimental evidence may be very useful in offering a fundamentally new perspective towards a controversial issue, but it is still far away from drawing a full and decisive picture because of the nature of the simulation experiment.


Reconstruction of the first copper-sulphide smelting processes in Western Europe: The need for experimental approach
Emilien BURGER and David BOURGARIT, Centre de Récherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Paris Research group ChimArt (FR)

The earliest evidences of copper smelting activities in France, be it at the Late Neolithic settlement of Al-Claus (Tarn-et-Garonne), at the more specialised Late Neolithic "metallurgist village" of La Capitelle de Broum (Peret-Cabrieres, Herault), or at the Early Bronze Age smelting workshop of St-Véran (Hautes Alpes), reveal that the first copper productions are associated with smelting of complex polymetallic copper-sulphides. Since sulphidic ores reduction processes are traditionally considered to be quite complex, thus requiring a technical knowledge and skill which were not supposed to have been reached before the Middle Bronze Age, the reconstruction of these early processes has become a crucial issue. Information about these processes is mainly acquired from physico-chemical analysis of archaeological finds, especially copper smelting slags. This metallurgical waste provides structural and chemical probe (such as bulk composition, crystallites nature and morphological texture, or residual sulphides/copper droplets) sensitive to charge composition and working conditions (T, pO2, process duration, cooling rates).
However, given the complexity of the reacting system and the variety of possible reaction paths, using the sole existing thermodynamics in order to reconstruct the metallurgical process proves to be vain. In order to point out correlations between chemical features of the slags and thermodynamic conditions, further experimental reconstruction at various scales appears necessary. 
On the one hand, copper smelting experiments are carried out in a laboratory furnace, where atmosphere, temperature as well as cooling rates can be well mastered. As an example, thanks to such experimental apparatus, two ways of bringing oxygen into the system could be tested, by controlled input of either gaseous oxygen (pO2) or solid Oxygen (oxidic to sulphidic ores ratio in the initial charge). Thus, a particular redoxcondition field leading to archaeological-like slags could be drawn, by taking into account both sources of oxygen. Furthermore, laboratory experiments enable us to study other main parameters such as T or kinetics.
On the other hand, field smelting experiments are necessary to test the feasibility of the working conditions inferred in the laboratory. As an example, bringing gaseous oxygen in a system controlled by charcoal as fuel appears as a main issue.
This presentation aims at discussing both aspects of experiments in relating some of the results obtained so far.


Modern Wootz Steel Production

(no abstract)


Slippier slag and social display? Copper-smelting technologies in the Aegean Bronze Age
Oliver PRYCE, UCL (UK)

The excavation of a number of Early Bronze Age sites in the Aegean has recovered perforated ceramic fragments. Archaeometallurgical analysis of slag adhering to these fragments indicates they were the remains of copper-smelting furnaces. Despite compelling analytical data supporting this identification, no attempt has been made, thus far, to establish how these unusual furnaces may have operated. The use of perforations is poorly understood and can be considered a counter-intuitive solution for the reduction of oxidic copper ores. The experiments reported here explore the possible technological choices made by the ancient metalworkers of Chrysokamino to ensure the effective reduction of copper minerals. Temperature data and slag samples were obtained to ascertain the technical performance of the furnace structure with, and without, perforations. Possible reasons are given for the use of a perforated design, and the implications of such technological choices are considered.


Design and Use of Natural Draft Furnaces for Bronze Casting
Bastian ASMUS, UCL (UK)

This paper is concerned with the design and use of bronze casting natural draft furnaces. It demonstrates the possibility to use such a furnace with and without artificial oxygen induction by means of bellows and/or tuyeres. It challenges the implicitly accepted concept that high temperature processes in furnaces necessarily require additional air supply. It explores furthermore resulting problems of crucible handling, fuel charge and gas flow in the suggested furnace designs.
The archaeological record lacks furnaces as well as tuyeres, at least in proportion to the overwhelming number of metal objects. If furnaces are present, they usually lack a superstructure. The number of tuyeres we find is too small to assume their use for all high temperature processes. But this is only a mystery if we assume as necessary the use of bellows for melting metals. There are three possible alternative solutions for this:
1. Tuyeres are not yet found, due to limited archaeological research
2. You do not need bellows
3. You do not need tuyeres
The experiments presented here tested the latter two possibilities. The outcome clearly suggests the use of both furnaces without bellows and furnaces with bellows but without tuyeres. It will be demonstrated that bellows are not necessary to achieve high temperatures, although the use of bellows can greatly facilitate the control over the furnace temperature. Tuyeres are not obligatory at all for inducing oxygen into the furnace.