2008 Experimental Archaeology Conference (EAC3)

Date: November 15 & 16, 2008

Venue: Organised by the University of Edinburgh & the Scottish Crannog Centre (UK)

Content: 13 lectures, 60 participants

See: Conference review (PDF) by Roeland Paardekooper



More than the daily grind: experiments in grain processing techniques
Merryn Dinely (UK)

This paper discusses the traditional and ancient craft of malting. It seems to be assumed that grain = flour = bread. Malting has been overlooked and is rarely discussed or considered when interpreting sites. Malting has been an important aspect of grain processing for millennia and may have played a part in the origin of grain agriculture 10,000 years ago in the Ancient Near East and Levant. My experiments are very simple. They involve using stones to crush unmalted and malted grain and demonstrate that it is, in fact, difficult to make flour from unmalted grain using a saddle quern. Malted grain, however, can be crushed very easily indeed. Crushed malt can be gently heated with water to produce malt sugars. These experiments challenge the basic assumption about grain that seem to be everywhere - that quern stones were used for grinding grain to make flour for bread and that grain was used mainly for this purpose.


Barbed point manufacture at Star Carr
Ben Elliott, University of York (UK)

The early Mesolithic site of Star Carr is renowned for its large number of barbed points, made from red deer antler. The site, located at the edge of palaeolake Flixton, has yielded 97o% of Britain's Mesolithic barbed points. Found alongside these are 94 pieces of antler which display signs of the groove and splinter technique - a method of removing splinters of antler from a beam, which may then be worked into a tool. There has, however, been debate over how much of the manufacturing process was carried out at the site, with the comparative lack of evidence for the fine finishing work in the site's assemblage (Jacobi 1978, Andresen et al 1982, Pollard 2000, Conneller 2006, Warren 2006). This paper aims to address the question of barbed point manufacture at Star Carr, using a series of experiments in antler working. A re-analysis of some of the worked antler from the site shows that the manufacturing process itself may have differed from that originally described by Clark (L954), and this reanalysis was used to create a methodology that specifically matches the Star Carr assemblage. The aim of the experiments was to identify the antler debitage produced in the manufacturing process, and then search for this debitage in high resolution by sorting through floated bulk soil samples taken from the site during the current series of excavations.
The experiments themselves used flint tools to remove portions of red deer antler using the groove and splinter technique. These were then worked into three forms of point found at Star Carr, whilst the antler debitage produced at each stage of manufacture was recorded. Although the sorting of soil samples recovered no antler material, other insights gained during the experiments shed new light on the practice of barbed point manufacture.
The antler was softened by soaking during the process, and the constant resubmerging of antler in water caused dried blood to be washed out, creating the impression that the antler was bleeding. This unusual characteristic of antler as a material could have important implications for Mesolithic attitudes towards death and rebirth, previously discussed by Bevan (2003).
It was also noted that whilst extremely effective during the initial stages of splinter removal, soaking the antler became less effective once a splinter had been obtained, The decreased importance of soaking antler in the finishing stages of barbed point manufacture may have some significance in debates over the location of such working, as it would allow these activities to be carried out away from the water's edge.
Other interesting observations included the increased importance of using wedges in the groove and splinter method of working antler, and how tine tips themselves can be fashioned into appropriate wedges with minimal working. The use of tines as wedges when removing splinters of antler can be seen in the antler material from Star Carr, both in the large number of worked antlers with tines removed, and the presence of light impressions on cuts made into the antler tissue.
The findings of these experiments in barbed point manufacture have led to a much deeper understanding of the processes involved, a reassessment of Clark's (1954) original interpretation. This in turn has led to a better understanding of the archaeology of Star Carr, and given a fascinating insight into a particular Mesolithic practice.


Experience versus Experiment: differing disciplines’ definitions leading to the answering of ‘unanswerable’ questions, a case-study using Roman dyeing
Heather Hopkins, Bradford University (UK)

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. These previous studies relied on theoretical assumptions. This study used a new approach: the problem was approached from experimental archaeology, and full-scale experimental replicas of the relevant parts of the dyeing industry were built and used to determine the parameters of the apparatus and to gauge its capacity.
The use of experimental replicas led to entirely new questions. This study had to satisfy both archaeological and engineering definitions of ‘experiment’, of ‘replica’, and of ‘how’ the apparatus operated. The founding experimental archaeology of the 1960s examined the artefacts at the macroscopic level to discover how they worked. The experiments of the 1960s were true experiments with unknown outcomes. Since then there has been a movement towards more predictable experiments. Engineers today examine materials at the microscopic level to predict behaviour and failure before the artefact is constructed. This study was able to use both of these approaches to understand the factors influencing the apparatus and to predict the outcome in a way that was impossible before.
A true experiment must replicate the design, the materials, the construction technique and the method of operation. A replica that differs from the original in any of these is an experience and not an experiment. An aesthetically and authentically reconstructed replica may not meet the criteria of a true experiment as the material properties, such as heat transfer and therefore fuel requirement, may differ. This study was able to use modern engineering to both substitute materials that were unavailable and predict the behaviour of other materials that could have been included. Construction and use of the experimental replica supplied data to allow an exploration of the materials at a micro level in engineering. The Finite Element Analysis allowed the determination of physical changes in materials during heating, the mode of failure of the apparatus and the timespan within which this occurred. Through this it was possible to determine the magnitude of output of the dyeing industry, that the maximum was far smaller than previously thought, to place the output within the context of the city and to understand the significance of the industry as a whole.
This study had to meet all of the definitions used in both experimental archaeology and modern engineering. The results from this study answered previously unanswerable questions through the application of a new approach and new techniques. This study provides a sequential case study by which the application of different techniques could be followed by those of differing backgrounds. As the study at each point satisfied both the archaeological and engineering definitions of experimental replication, the results are grounded in solid experimental science in differing disciplines and so may be used as a foundation for further experiment and understanding.


Modelling textile production in the past: family hemp textile production in a Transylvanian village 
Alice Choyke & Zsuzsa Daniels (HU)

Cycles of textile production in the past were both complex and involved a network of factors starting from the quality of the raw plant material, preparation of the fibres, spinning and weaving the fibres to produce clothing and other goods from the woven products. In addition, the quality of the final products could be influenced by a number of variables occurring at each stage in their manufacture. Issues of quality and value of plant derived textiles are related to: the quality of the fibre plant; the fineness of the extracted fibres; the dexterity of the craftsperson and finally, the way traditional expectations and long intimate experience with a craft shape evaluation of the end products. These are, perhaps, all things that could be considered when designing and evaluating archaeological textile production experiments.
Traditional hemp textile production was still being carried out only a few years ago in the Transylvanian (Romania) village of Szék (Sik). It was women who were responsible for textile production here and they worked at it from early childhood within family groups. Different age cohorts were responsible for different stages in the work from planting and harvesting the hemp plants to extracting fibers and spinning them to weaving textiles of varying degrees of quality for a variety of culture specific purposes. Furthermore, in the close family and village setting differences in ability were noted and fed into notions of reputation. In this paper, Mrs. Zsuzsa Daniel provides insights from her personal experience as a child and young married woman growing up in this traditional peasant village.


The colours of Minoan faience: replicating an ancient technology
Susana Kirk, University of Cranfield (UK)

Experimental replication of ancient artefacts can be a powerful tool in the interpretation of scientific data gained from the study of such objects. The technology of Minoan faience from the late 3rd to early 2nd millennium BC has been reconstructed from the microstructure and chemical composition of objects from Crete. This analytical work has outlined the materials and colorants used to produce a range of objects from beads to polychrome inlaid plaques. It was found that iron, manganese and copper were used to produce a range of colours which were believed to consist of reds, browns, greys/ blues, greens and white. Colour in faience is produced by the colorant metals within the glass phase of the glaze. However, all of the faience examined was significantly weathered and had lost most of its glaze and glass phase. Therefore experimental replicates, based on the compositional data, were made to examine more closely the original colours of Minoan faience, Four attempts were made to produce faience of sufficient quality, varying the amount of water used and the processing (kneading and shaping) of the unfired material, It was found that the amount of water used and the length of time the unfired faience was handled had a strong effect on the successful development of the glaze layer, The replicate faience showed that, contrary to the subtle colours expected, the original colours of Minoan faience were much stronger and more varied than had been anticipated, particularly where the different colorants were present alongside one another. For example, mixing copper and manganese produced a violet-blue colour which was close to the colour normally produced by cobalt in glass. It was also found that relatively small amounts of manganese (1o% MnO) produced a strong purple colour in the faience. The replication work also highlighted the complexity of reproducing ancient technologies and the high level of technical knowledge and skill required.


Apprenticeship in Palaeolithic Societies – Preliminary Results of Recent Experimental Flintknapping and its Implications for Archaeological Interpretation
Farina Sternke, University of Glasgow (UK)

Recent studies involving skill and its transmission have provided information on the nature and length of apprenticeship and the social organization of labour. However, attention has focused almost exclusively on the younger periods of prehistory such as the Neolithic and Bronze Age. In many European countries differential levels of skill and skill development can be observed in Palaeolithic stone tool productions although to-date, research has only concentrated on the description of individual assemblage components.
My research is based on the assumption that the modalities (neuropsychological and biomechanical) of the knapping procedure remained the same throughout prehistory and explores the acquisition and transmission of the knapping skill in European Palaeolithic societies through a re-evaluation of existing literature and published data sets in combination with an analysis of new lithic replication data. I particularly concentrate on the identification of different skill levels and examples of skill development in knapped stone assemblages to establish skill transmission patterns linked to different production methods and techniques, for example Prepared-Core-Technologies (PCT), i.e. Levallois, as well as biface and blade production. The main research questions addressed in this project are,
How was the knapping skill associated with a specific reduction method acquired and transmitted?
Does the complexity of a reduction method affect the nature of skill transmission?
How was the knapping skill transmission integrated into the social division of labour in Palaeolithic society?
I aim to critically examine the proposition that theoretical knowledge is more important than practical know-how in the early stages of the acquisition of the knapping skill by an integrated analysis of modern replication studies.
The methods that are employed consist of a review of existing experimental and archaeological data sets supplemented by a focused targeted analysis of new experimental data. For this purpose, beginner, novice and expert knappers were inducted in the production of comparative stone tool collections using three production methods: bifacial reduction (1), the Levallois method (PCT) (2) and blade production (3) to determine the technological and conceptual features associated with these three skill levels and to identify the main stages of skill acquisition. In the near future, these experimental stone tool collections will be used for a description of the technological and conceptual attributes of selected archaeological assemblages in an overall comparison of the evidence for differential skill and skill acquisition in Palaeolithic assemblages on an inter-site and inter-regional basis.
In this paper, I will present some preliminary results of the experimental stone tool production carried out at the Historical and Archaeological Experimental Research Centre (HAF) in Lejre, Denmark and comment on their implications for our current archaeological interpretations of Palaeolithic technology.


Changing material identities - an experimental approach to the copper axes of south-eastern Europe
Julia Heeb, University of Exeter (UK)

The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin represents one of the most profound technological changes in later prehistory. In my own research I am trying to investigate these issues through the experimental exploration of early copper technology. The most suitable artefacts to study for this purpose are the copper hammer axes and axe-adzes, as they are emblematic of this period and region and provide a good sample size. Little consensus exists regarding their production technology, even though many attempts have been made to answer questions such as: 'were they cast in open or closed moulds?', 'were they forged or cast?' Having looked at a large proportion of these objects I have come to the realisation, that there might have been a variety of production techniques which were used to make these objects. This has obvious implications for the social and cultural interpretation of the societies making these objects. I will explore these and other issues by presenting some new experimental results while engaging at the same time with some theoretical issues of experimental archaeology.


Flint use in flint scarce regions – Experiments with low quality flint
Lotte Eigeland (NO)

One problem for flint-scarce regions is evaluating how the scarcity influences strategies of stone tool production. In this paper I discuss the Norwegian condition, in which no indigenous flint can be found. Flint is only present along the coast, as ice-transported pebbles of mostly small sizes and irregular shapes. In other words, there must have been an unstable supply of high quality flint in prehistory. A main problem is how the transmission of technological knowledge progress in a flint-scarce region compared to a flint-rich region. For this paper, four experiments with low quality flint using different teaching methods i.e scaffolding and trial-and-error, and alternative reduction methods, like the bipolar technology, is presented. One result suggests that due to the amount of flint wasted during the process of learning, intensive apprenticeship might have been carried out in regions with better supply of flint. Bipolar technology is termed a good alternative strategy on low quality flint, but not for maximizing raw material.


Experimental Testing of Methodologies in Use-wear Analysis
Dr. Harry J. Lerner, Brandon University (CDN)

Experimentation in archaeology should involve the experimental testing of not only new hypotheses but new methodologies as well.  This is especially true in the field of use-wear analysis or traceology. Applying digital techniques to the analysis of both experimental and archaeological use-related wear traces offers an opportunity to endow use-wear research with the kind of objective and systematic quantification that has long been sought after by use-wear researchers the world over.  A new methodology that combines digital imaging and GIS is used to assess three-dimensionally the effects of both raw material and contact material variability on patterns of use-wear accrual.  The late Archaic of the American Southwest is used as a test case to verify the effectiveness of the proposed methodology and to assess its potential for future applications.    


Study of the harmonization, convenience and suitability of house designs in Ancient Egypt for the Egyptian environment, and their experimental reconstruction in light of archaeologicaI evidence
Manal Massaud (EG)

The research is dealing with the experimental reconstructions some houses in Ancient Egypt that are not existing in the mean time in the light of the discovered architectural and archaeological ruins and application on them to study how they suit the Egyptian environment. This research is dealing with the study of the house designs in Ancient Egypt using the following examples 
i)    at Hirakonpolis, within the N.E. corner of main town-wall, foundation of houses ascribed to the third Dynasty have been found, where small bricks of the houses seem to have been set in continuous rows along narrow streets; 
ii)    at Saqqara, in Djeser's enclosure, a small house of the third Dynasty, and where a building has been recognized as representing the royal pavilion; 
iii)    from the fourth Dynasty, a series of houses uniformly planned in one row bordered with two streets, near the mastaba of queen Khentkawes at Giza: this is the earliest town planning project for housing the priests of the necropolis; 
iv)    the workmen's houses, from a town at El Lahun -Kahun of the Middle Kingdom/seventh Dynasty; 
v)    Amarna houses of the New Kingdom/eighth dynasty. We can make a comparison between the house and the royal pavilion in Djeser's enclosure and restoration of the actual pavilion and Kahun/Amarna houses. I shall do the experimental reconstructions and address the house designs in Ancient Egypt for harmonization, convenience and suitability for the environment by studying
a.    The direction of the building with the winds to temper the weather;
b.    the mass formation of the buildings and its function;
c.    the function of the existing spaces and their forms in the houses;
d.    the courtyard, the garden and the pool;
e.    The used constructing materials of the environment.


Reinterpreting roofs in the Iberian Citadel of Calafell
Clara Masriera Esquerra, Jordi Morer de Llorens and J. Santacana Mestre (ES)

Mediterranean Iron Age architecture differs from northern European. The most important materials used in the Mediterranean are rock, clay and straw, because those are easily found nearby while the northern European Iron Age architecture is mainly based on wood and thatch; this area is full of large woods and long rivers. How do we know that? Because we have archaeological evidence as well as ethnographical hints.
The Iberian Citadel of Calafell was the first settlement in Spain which was partly reconstructed through experimental archaeology techniques, “in situ” and giving a vision of how an Iberian fortification could have been like in the 3rd century BC. Following this first experiment, some other settlements in Spain have done something similar, but never with such precision in their architectural techniques.
Actually, the Iberian Citadel of Calafell is an Archaeological Open-Air Museum since 1995. In 2007, after 12 years, it was closed to the public, because problems with maintenance occurred and it had become a static Archaeological Open-Air Museum without experiments and without life. From 2007 on, a new management team from the University of Barcelona is leading a new project on experimental archaeology. One of the experiments is to test the shape of the roofs; this means the inclination of them, the resistance, the impermeability, the precise material as well as the height of the walls. During summer 2008 we replaced the old roofs with new ones. From this moment on, we are going to measure the humidity, the resistance with and without rain and how often we need to make maintenance.
We hope to present some results next year; our purpose this year is to present the experiment.


Desk work, field work, then what? Where experimental archaeology becomes public archaeology
Roeland Paardekooper, University of Exeter (UK)

Through experiments, one gathers knowledge: data one can learn by heart, but as well knowledge gained by experience. Transferring this knowledge into a report is far from easy, many aspects are not transferrable by written text or photographic images. Experiencing is a key method of learning as well as transferring knowledge to others. The value of such experience is heavily dependent on the context, including other information carriers.
If an experiment is to have value, quite a bit of deskwork needs to precede the actual execution of the experiment. One aspect is that of finding references to previous similar experiments. Publications of experiments are shattered across thousands of articles. The result are new experiments where archaeologists reinvent the wheel because they simple have not been able to find preceding similar experiments. The solution might be in using the internet better as well as in a more formal infrastructure for scientific experimental archaeology. Publications alone condense only a part of the knowledge gained with experiments.
For many experiments, archaeological open air museums can serve as open air laboratories. They can, however have some more advantages to archaeology. Usually, the archaeological open air museums have the contacts to the right materials and craftspeople one needs for (eccentric) experiments. But the advantages for archaeologists in these museums are manifold. Tomas Johansson was an early advocate of these museums and was one of the founders of the international association of those museums, EXARC. Those museums benefit of regular contact with the archaeological discipline. 
First time experiments usually are that costly or elaborately prepared, that a transfer of knowledge to colleagues can only be restricted to the team involved. After a few attempts, one will have learned the techniques necessary to execute the experiment, but mastering it up to a reasonable level requires repeating. This repeating than can be used to transfer more knowledge than just what can be documented.
So, after the deskwork and first field work, there is a third step to take: repeating the experiment and communicate about it while experimenting. Again, archaeological open air museums can offer the right context. In some cases, the demonstrating of an activity has become more important than the experimental side of it. Archaeologists can benefit from these museums. It are easily accessible heritage centres, well prepared for such informal education of the general public. Informing the public is a need for archaeology and in doing so, support for the discipline itself will grow.


The positivist-postmodern tension in experimental archaeology of today
Tine Schenck (NO)

Archaeology is a social science which in general takes use of social and interpretational theories from literature studies, sociology and social anthropology. Hermeneutics is one such theory that has come to found the basis in post-processual archaeology the dominant; however unreflected upon, strand of theoretical thought in today's postmodern environment in archaeology. Hermeneutics make everything relative to the researcher in question. Even more complicating, it makes everything relative to the subjects we study - the people of the past. Numerous archaeological approaches have tried to deal with this, for instance contextual and phenomenological approaches. However, some archaeologies are still not willing to deal with uncertainty in the same way, and amongst these is experimental archaeology which models itself on scientific principles, Natural sciences are generally directed by positivism. They try to achieve 'true' results by setting up experiments and testing the results to confirm or deny the conclusions. The research model dominating is the hypothetico-deductive-nomological method, which clearly relies on hard facts. Since experimental archaeology is modelled on 'hard' sciences in the wish that it may perform truly scientific experiments and thus produces highly likely conclusions, it is rather positivist in methodology. An experiment will be conducted according to scientific standards and the results will be tested, or at least open for testing, by repetition. However, experimental archaeology often fails to address the fact that archaeology cannot be tested due to its past nature, and even more - social entities such as societies do not follow strict and presupposed guidelines. This paper aims to explore how the tension between positivist and postmodern thought can be resolved in experimental archaeology by taking the interpretational process into consideration. Three case studies will be analysed with this in mind.