2007 Experimental Archaeology Conference (EAC2)

Date: November 16, 2007

Venue: Organised by the University of Exeter (UK)

Content: 12 lectures, 2 posters, 78 participants


Proceedings EAC2Proceedings

A number of the papers presented at the 2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference were collected into an edited volume and published in 2008. This volume contains papers presented at the conference by Mary Ellen Crothers, Carolyn Forrest, Cordula Hansen, Susanna Harris and Heather Hopkins. It is complimented by additional papers by Elizabeth C. Blake and Ian Cross, Elizabeth Cory-Lopez and Eva Fairnell. This volume is available directly from the publisher, Oxbow.

CUNNINGHAM, P., HEEB, J. & PAARDEKOOPER, R. eds., 2008. Experiencing Archaeology by Experiment, Oxford: Oxbow.



Where did it all begin? Experimental Archaeology from the 19th to the mid-20th Century
Carolyn Forrest MA, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland

This paper will explore the early history of experimental archaeology from the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. It will show that, far from being a product of the post-War ‘New Archaeology’, experimental archaeology has a much longer pedigree. The development of the discipline of Archaeology in the mid-19th century will be studied, considering the context of theological and intellectual debate. This will focus on an examination of the scientific methods and interests of the early amateur archaeologist John Lubbock, 1st Baron of Avebury and close friend of Charles Darwin. Such work will be contrasted with an article written by Robert Ascher in 1961; one of the first to use the term experimental archaeology. The paper will consider whether there has been a continuance of ideas and methods relating to the nature of experimentation in archaeology and to what extent this has been affected by changing social and academic influence.
This work is drawn from research being undertaken towards a PhD at the University of Aberdeen – “Experiment or Experience – The roles of scientific method and experiential activity in Experimental Archaeology and how they supplement our knowledge of the past”. I am looking at the scientific role of experimental archaeology from the 19th century to the present; the types of experimental archaeology that have been undertaken and the contrasts between those who have participated in experimental archaeology in the past and those in the present. I am interested in the idea that knowledge of the past can be gained through imitation, based on archaeological evidence, or hands on activity and how this ‘learning’ can be transferred to a wider audience as an exchange of kills or information.


“Up in smoke”: Re-discovering medieval gunpowder
Robert Smith, Leeds, England

In the 1990s the author was involved in a series of experiments to investigate the power, range and effectiveness of early cannon. Although accurate modern replicas of the barrels were made, the actual propellant was modern black powder and though some valuable lessons were learned and data acquired, the veracity of this work was very questionable. 
Unfortunately medieval gunpowder is not available for study or analysis as, by its very nature, it has disappeared – in a puff of smoke – or been destroyed as being too dangerous to store. In order to understand more fully what the differences between modern and medieval gunpowder the Ho Group was formed in Denmark with the aim of replicating the process of making medieval black powder – from the manufacture of the ingredients to the mixing and manipulation of the final product. This work has taken us from Iceland to India, from the laboratory to the firework maker and from the contemporary literature – the so-called Feuerwerkbücher – to saltpetre makers still working in traditional ways in India today. Although we have not yet succeeded in making something which closely resembles medieval gunpowder we have come to understand the problems involved and to get a real understanding of the very complex material that gunpowder actually is. 
Without the experimental work we would not have been able to gain such insights and knowledge enabling us, for example, to question modern and long-held theories of how the gunpowder and cannon developed in China before making their way to the West where they, like printing and the silicon chip, literally ‘changed the world’. This presentation will outline and summarise the work of the Ho Group to date and the ways that experimental archaeology has made vital and unprecedented contributions to our work.


Identification of projectile impacts on large ungulate skeletons 
Dr. Jean-Christophe Castel, Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Département d’Archéozoologie, Genève, Switzerland

In the context of the collective research program Functional Technology of Solutrean Points, conducted from 1987 to 2000, more than three hundred impacts were experimentally produced on ungulate carcasses (goat, cow, horse). Based on the classification of these types of impacts proposed by Ph. Morel (1991), we can estimate that only the inclusions of point fragments in the bones remain diagnostic in most archaeological contexts.
The other types, such as scrapings or splittings, can be confused with tool traces, carnivore tooth marks or post-depositional alterations. Ph. Morel has published the results for small herbivores, and we present our results here for large herbivores. More than 200 stigmata were observed on the carcasses of an adult cow and horse following experimental shots with Solutrean projectiles (shouldered points, laurel leaf points and willow leaf points) and a few reindeer antler points. These traces are concentrated around the vital parts of the animals. The most common types are marginal scrapings and splittings, but implantations are more numerous than on small ungulate skeletons. This numerically significant body of data derives from carefully controlled experiments. Indispensable for the interpretation of the stigmata observed on bones found in Palaeolithic sites, such experiments contribute to our knowledge of the conditions prey exploitation and allow us to address questions concerning the fossilization of these traces and their apparent frequency.


Experimental Glassmaking in Egypt
Dr. Paul T. Nicholson & Dr. Caroline M. Jackson
University of Cardiff, Cardiff, Wales

This paper summarises an attempt to determine whether a reconstruction of a large furnace discovered at Tell el-Amarna in 1993-4 could reach temperatures sufficient to produce glass from local raw materials. The question of whether or not the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty (1550-1295 B.C.) could actually make their own glass from its raw materials rather than simply work glass from imported ingots has been a vexed one. Central to this has been the view, based on theory alone, that glass furnaces must have been of small size in order to reach sufficient temperatures, and that structures as large as those unearthed at Amarna could not therefore be for glassmaking.
The scale of the experiment, which involved building a furnace at full size, and at the site of Amarna itself, will be discussed. The authors feel that the question of scale and location is an important one, and that the value of the experiment is, to some extent, determined by these factors. The question of the substitution of raw materials and the viability of the results will also be discussed. Furthermore, the work will be set into the context of the overall research strategy of the Amarna Glass Project and linked to laboratory analyses of materials from the Amarna site.


Using Experimental Archaeology to answer the unanswerable: A case study using Roman Dyeing
Heather Hopkins MA, Bradford University, Bradford, England

The scale of manufacture in Roman Pompeii has been subject to fierce debate. Moeller (1976) concluded that the dyeing industry had created a surplus for export. Jongman (1988) concluded that Pompeii relied on imports. Previous studies relied on theoretical assumptions. This study used a new approach: the relevant parts of the dyeing industry were reconstructed to determine the parameters of the apparatus and to gauge its capacity.
This study began with the construction of a full-scale replica dyeing apparatus, copied from remains in situ in Pompeii, to establish the operating parameters of an apparatus. A determination of cycle time, fuel type and requirement was made. A full survey, the fullest to date, of the standing remains of the dyeing industry was undertaken in Pompeii. The skeletal data of Herculaneum was matched to a modern population and an ergonomic assessment of each dyeing apparatus was made. The replica was amended to allow exploration of the effects of a change in design and ventilation. A computer simulation using Finite Element Analysis was undertaken. The design, cycle times and temperatures were taken from the excavated remains and experimental findings. The FE Analysis allowed the determination of physical changes in materials during heating, the mode of failure of the apparatus and the time span within which this occurred. 
The approach and findings of this study are both novel and new. The study is sequential, taking a theoretical classics problem through replicative experimental archaeology into Finite Element modelling. It allows the problem to be understood and explored by those from differing disciplines. Each answer must withstand scrutiny from each discipline. While this study answers specific questions about the size of the dyeing industry, it may be used in the abstract to illustrate the application of a technique to answer ‘unanswerable’ questions.


Experiencing the materiality of prehistoric cloth types
Dr Susanna Harris, University College, Archaeology Institute, London, England

On the rare occasions when we encounter prehistoric cloth, the preserved remains are usually fragmentary and decayed, therefore no longer retaining their original qualities. However, the materiality of cloth, including its structure and surfaces, and sensual properties such as colour, smell, flexibility and texture are integral to the understanding of these artefacts as part of past human engagement. To investigate this subject, I have conducted experiments to explore the materiality of prehistoric cloth as sensory experience. The focus of this work is the prehistoric cloth types known from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in the Alpine region, including cloth made from flax, wool, tree bast and animal skins, as well as, woven and twined cloth, netting, knotless netting, skins and furs. The first stage of the experiment was to obtain a range of cloth types that resembled prehistoric examples as closely as possible. In some cases antique materials or modern examples of similar cloth types were used. For cloth types that are no longer produced, these were made especially for the experiment, or were sourced from earlier experimental work. The second stage of the experiment involved asking study participants to handle each of the cloth types, then to compare the different cloth types and to describe their experience. In this paper I discuss the source and choice of the cloth types used in the experiment, the method and results of the handling experience and the contribution of this experiment to understanding prehistoric cloth types. 


Analytical and Experimental Approaches to Carving Technology during the Cypriot Middle Chalcolithic
Elizabeth Cory-Lopez MA, University of Edinburgh, Archaeology, Edinburgh, Scotland

The study of prehistoric technology and technological systems has been greatly enhanced by the work of the anthropologist Pierre Lemonnier (1992). He provided the beginnings of a methodology by which the functions of technological systems could be linked contextually into social systems. Inspired by the work of Leroi-Gourhan, Lemonnier further developed the concept of the Chaîne Opératoire to unlock and understand the sequences of actions that the human agent uses to act on the material world.
This concept, I propose, will be of great use in helping to understand technological systems that might have been used to carve the stone, picrolite during the Middle Chalcolithic period of Cyprus (c3200-2700 BC) and thereby providing a new contextual tool in the greater understanding of the society of the time. To approach this it will be necessary to analyse the original artefacts, and attempt reproduce the tool markings experimentally, to provide insights into the potential tool suites and techniques used in the carving process.
In similar studies in experimental tool mark replication, such as Gwinnet and Gorelick (1979), the analytical procedure has been carried out using the high magnification Scanning Electron Microscopy. Whilst very successful in providing detailed images of very fine striations, the technique involves making replicas of the original artefacts using a silicon-based moulding material. I have found that such replication material can be damaging to picrolite. Considering the artefacts, which number into the hundreds, are held in disparate district museums and localised collections throughout Cyprus, a less invasive, but portable method of analysis is required.
By using 2 low-level binocular microscopes, combined with a digital SLR camera and a digital imagiser I have studied the perforations made in five picrolite pendants. Experiments were then conducted in an effort to reproduce these marks. From this I have begun to hypothesise about the perforating tools and techniques that could have been used in the construction of the original artefacts, and thus begin to understand the Chaîne Opératoire. 


Presenting archaeological heritage of the Bronze and Iron Age to the public: ruins versus reconstructions
Clara Masriera i Esquerra, Joan Santacana i Mestre & Ferran Urgell i Plaza, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

This paper is the result of several years’ research into the excavation, study, interpretation, reconstruction and presentation of Bronze and Iron Age archaeological sites in Europe and specifically in the west coast of Mediterranean Sea. We present the case example of two reconstructed Bronze and Iron Age settlements; a state of the art of the Bronze and Iron Age reconstructed settlements in Europe and a visitor’s study comparing the communicative or didactic efficacy of those sites which were presented in a traditional manner and those which have been reconstructed.
Our research started with the excavation of an Iberian Citadel in the village of Calafell built during the Iron Age. After the excavation, the team planned to reconstruct part of the settlement “in situ” using the same tools and materials as the ones in the Iron Age. To interpret the site they use craftsmen, archaeological information and archaeo-ethnological comparisons. The result was a 1:1 scale Iberian settlement visited by twenty thousand people per year.
After this first successful reconstruction, the same team excavates a Bronze Age settlement called “Barranc de Gàfols” in the southern part of Catalonia. With the aim to know, interpret and experiment how the Bronze Age architecture was, they built two Bronze Age houses with the whole information taken out from the excavation and using experimental archaeology methods.
 To focus and define our approach, we chose first to establish which existing archaeological locations had been used to trace the course of European Protohistory, and then to investigate which of these locations were presented to the public on a 1:1 scale. 
Running parallel to this was our plan to compare the communicative or didactic efficacy of those sites which were presented in a traditional manner – that is, through the preservation of existing remains without further direct intervention – and those which had been three-dimensionally reconstructed or replicated. Was this latter approach an effective means of achieving better public understanding of the period in question? Our field work focused on five archaeological sites from the Iberian period, all located in Catalonia. Four of these display preserved remains, while one is partially-reconstructed. 
It may seem ambitious to attempt to analyse Bronze and Iron Age archaeological displays throughout Europe but our research objectives were quite modest from the outset. Our fundamental aim was to establish how worthwhile it was to carry out volumetric reconstructions of archaeological sites, in all their possible variations. 
Our fundamental hypothesis was this: given that most people find it difficult to conceptualise physical space, a visit to a reconstructed archaeological site should help them to reach a better understanding of that space. 
The results of our research clearly show, beyond any possible doubt, that people always learn from visiting reconstructed sites. In this regard, significant differences can be seen in the surveys carried out before and after the visit. The surveys from the preserved sites, on the other hand, not only show no evidence of learning having taken place, but actually raise the possibility that such visits increase confusion: in other words, that people understand less as a result. This is a surprising finding, going far beyond the range of our initial hypothesis: the idea that a visit to an archaeological site could actually lead to decreased levels of knowledge and understanding had never occurred to us. 


“Umha Aois/The Bronze Age 4,000 Years On” - Experiment and Experience
Cordula Hansen, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland

This presentation will introduce the Umha Aois experimental bronze casting project, which was founded in 1995 by a group of artists and archaeologists in Ireland. The project's contribution to archaeological research will be discussed on the background of some theoretical considerations regarding the value of practical knowledge in academic studies.
Umha Aois (Irish for “Bronze Age”) has been mainly led by art practitioners until 2004, when interest from archaeologists and PhD researchers increased dramatically. Organised as an annual symposium, the project is unique in its thoroughly interdisciplinary approach, which brings together theoreticians and practitioners from a variety of fields.
Now in its 12th year, the project is beginning to make a significant contribution to experimental archaeology. Participants have gained a high level of competence in Bronze Age casting technologies and are generating publishable data. 
Apart from the annual casting symposia, the group's activities now include demonstrations at heritage events, educational activities for schools, regular publications and exhibitions as well as ongoing research by individual members.
Due to its interdisciplinary nature, Umha Aois provides a forum for experiential activities and scientific experiment, practical skills and theoretical thought in fields as diverse as art, archaeology, ethnography and philosophy.
This paper will concentrate on the potential relationships between academic and practical knowledge within Umha Aois as an interdisciplinary research group. The presentation will conclude by placing the project into the wider context of current models of research and knowledge generation, which encourage practical experience in combination with traditional academic research.


“It's all been done before”: Experimental pottery firing and the challenge of persuasion
Dr. David J.C. Walker, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, England
The Derbyshire Ware Project / The Northern California Experimental Firing Group

The experimental firing of pottery and pottery kilns dates back at least 150 years, but despite this august history, experimental firing languishes in the doldrums in Britain. Indeed, at a recent Medieval Pottery Research Group meeting, one old hand opined “there’s no point doing any experimental work now – it’s all been done before”. Is this true? Can experimental firing have any meaningful future? 
British experimental firing projects have had varying degrees of archaeological impact. The success of the best of these projects in shaping our understanding of pre-industrial ceramic production is easily demonstrated, but the seeds of decline can also be found here. Unspecific goals, a lack of knowledge, planning and experience, poor dissemination of results, no organized structure, and a drift towards the experiential and educational at the expense of the truly experimental have all resulted in a situation where experimental firing is mistrusted and far removed from the mainstream of archaeology. Despite this, there remains a broad range of ceramic questions which experimental firing is uniquely qualified to answer.
To attempt to re-establish experimental firing as a viable and practical course of action, this paper calls for three things: 

  • Firstly, for experimental firers to display a tighter understanding of what they are trying to achieve. Understanding the relationship between the three pillars of experimental firing (structure, process, and product) will result in experiments with focused aims and credible results.
  • Secondly, for the experimental firing community to establish a close consideration of what remains to be achieved, how this can be done, and how this can best be communicated to other archaeologists.
  • Thirdly, for experimental practitioners to create an active community, so that experience and expertise can be shared, and standards expected. Without that active community, experimental archaeology can only remain a fringe activity. Stand up, experimentalists! You are not alone!



The Derbyshire Ware Project: examining a ceramic industry through experimental archaeology
Dr David J.C. Walker, University of Nottingham / The Derbyshire Ware Project / The Northern California Experimental Firing Group (UK)    

About bone flakes and splinters: an experimental program in human intentional fracture on archaeological record
Ana Mateos (ES)