2016 REARC Conference (REARC6)

Date: Friday, November 18, 2016 - Sunday, November 20, 2016

Venue: Colonial Williamsburg

Content: 17 papers, 9 workshops, 80 participants

See: Conference review by Christopher Menke


Key Note Address

Experimental Archaeology: Engaging Mind and Body
Dr Linda Hurcombe, Department of Archaeology, College of Humanities, University of Exeter, UK

Experiments have proven to be one of the most adaptable and valuable methods applied in archaeological research and in public presentation.  In scientific terms ideas can come from anywhere: what matters is a testable theory.  In practice, the issue of experience as a research resource runs through this discussion.  I want to draw on my own experiences to show how the engagement of mind and body is what makes experimental archaeology such a valuable tool.  These research activities range widely; from a simple two day experiment to a 10 year taphonomic study in order to understand the formation and erosion processes of the archaeological record within a landscape; from trying to solve a 20 year old puzzle of the function of a stone tool and discovering a new process, to building the first boat of its kind for 4,000 years within a maritime museum using mostly volunteer labour; from working with Archaeological Open-Air Museums in a five year project to ‘Living Mesolithic’ for eight weeks; from low tech to high tech by presenting traditional crafted replicas and 3D prints to assess methods to build a multi-sensory touchable experience in traditional museums and discovering new insights into the perception of experiences and questions of authenticity.  
In such a diverse field there is a long list of beneficiaries.  These range from the archaeologists who use experimental archaeology to the skilled craftspeople who so often help; from the volunteers who are drawn into the open-air museums which present intangible heritage in such tangible ways, to the public who enjoy a multi-sensory experience in those museums; from the popular accounts in the press reaching a wide audience to the research papers publishing the results for the scientific community.  All these aspects help to generate and expand archaeological knowledge but there is another valuable contribution made by experiments and experiences when mind and body are engaged – learning to ask new questions.



Archaeological Open-Air Museums and Archaeological Site Museums: History, Prospects and Alternatives
Roeland Paardekooper, EXARC

Many excavated archaeological sites are open to visitors, bringing them a story about the origins of the location. The ‘magic of the place’ attracts many people. In some cases, what is still visible after the archaeologists were ready is left untouched, in other cases these are (re)constructed on site or nearby. Another possibility is setting up a heritage interpretation centre where the story of the site is told with modern means of interpretation. Each of these three approaches has its strong sides.

The reasons for opening an archaeological site to the public can be manifold; these can be political, touristic, economic or cultural / archaeological. What is sure is that cultural tourism worldwide is going up, and bringing life size (re)constructions add to the attraction of the site. The most important thing however, no matter what interpretation tool one applies, is that the story told to the public has a thoroughly researched background; we need to fill the gaps in our knowledge by means of solid research and disciplined use of fantasy.


Experimental archaeology and (re)constructing early medieval houses and daily lives in the 8th and 10th centuries AD
Aidan O'Sullivan, UCD School of Archaeology, and UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture, University College Dublin, Ireland

This paper would explore the work of The Early Medieval and Viking House Project, at the Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture (CEAMC) at the UCD School of Archaeology, University College Dublin. The houses being built at CEAMC are based on excavated early medieval sites from the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, with the evidence of original archaeological excavations, environmental evidence and early Irish historical texts used to try and understand how these houses were built, organised and used in practical terms. Experimental testing with light, smoke, heat, humidity and other details, also enables us to explore how these buildings may have functioned in terms of comfort and daily life, but also in social, ideological and gendered terms. Experimental archaeology allows us to re-read archaeological evidence, but also to provide a material reading of early medieval legal texts, and most importantly, allows us to question some easy assumptions about societies in the past.


A fresh look at Colline Blanche: A Canadian Lithic Quarry of Unusual and Spectacular Proportions.
Jack Cresson

A recent visit by eight primitive and lithic technologists- sanctioned by the Quebec Ministry of Culture, the Cree Nation and the Cree Archaeological Authority in Ouje' Bougoumou-proposed to investigate and document (supported by lithic processing experiments) the physical remains and pristine setting of this ancient quarry source of the famed 'Mistassini quartzite'. Also to record and (GPS) ancillary lithic deposits that occur along the Temiscamie River, a major waterway artery that provided access to the 'quarry'.


Generating Alternate Contexts: CRM Archaeology, Experimentation, and Interpretation
Matthew Swieton
Archaeology– both conducted through the academy and through Cultural Resource Management (CRM)– relies on the respective contexts of artifacts to make archaeological interpretations. However, the modes in which these two archaeologies are conducted differ greatly due to the issues emergent from the interface between CRM archaeology and the sociological institutions affected by archaeological interpretations. This interface imposes austere parameters on CRM archaeology; thus causing adverse effects on data collection and sampling techniques, and ultimately impairing the quality of archaeological interpretation. Experimental archaeology and the use of controlled replication can generate alternative, yet comparable, contexts to compensate for said emergent issues. A recent CRM excavation of a middle archaic projectile point workshop in eastern Connecticut will be discussed, in addition to how experimentation has worked in formulating an interpretation of the site amidst emergent sociological constraints.


Hide Processing in Prehistory: an experimental approach to prehistoric tanning technologies
Theresa Emmerich, University of Exeter, UK

The importance of skin processing technologies, in the history and dispersal of humankind around the planet cannot be overstated. This presentation outlines a systematic analysis methodology targeted at this specific material type, with the goal of determining the tanning technologies in use during prehistory, from extant archaeologically recovered processed skin objects. The methodology is a product of macroscopic and microscopic observations of a sample reference collection containing over 200 samples. Which were used to produce a database of defining characteristics and tendencies for each of six tannage types; wet and dry scrape brain tan, bark tan, alum taw, urine tan and rawhide. The sample collection is made up of twenty-two economically important species from both Europe and North America, as well as a collection of well used clothing and utilitarian items, made from traditionally processed skins. This research has demonstrated that archaeologically preserved objects made from processed skin can provide information about the tannage technologies in use prehistorically, as well as more detailed information such as manufacturing sequences and the conditions of use to which the object was subjected.


Experimental Archaeology as Participant Observation: A Perspective from Medieval Food
Scott D. Stull

Central to anthropology is the concept of participant observation, where a researcher engages in immersive learning through ethnographic fieldwork. This concept is also important for archaeologists, as immersive learning provides an avenue for more robust interpretation and the development of better research questions. Participant observation is not directly possible in the study of medieval archaeology, and replication studies of food culture can serve as one avenue toward immersive learning in archaeology. Replication studies of medieval food, notably the use of medieval cookbooks and replicated medieval vessels from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Germany, offer insights into medieval life and everyday practice. This paper will discuss two specific examples: replicating a medieval beverage from a fourteenth century cookbook and replicating possible foods cooked in pots from a fifteenth-century tavern in Nuremberg.


A Knotted Puzzle…. the analysis and reconstruction of knotted nets
Katrina Worley

Knotted nets are among the most common textile artifacts found in archaeological and ethnographic contexts. The vast majority of nets are worked in a specific knot; the sheet bend or weaver’s knot. This is a completely asymmetrical knot, and as a result, it is possible to “read” the net for clues as to the working direction used during construction. In spite of the fact that nets are often reduced to fragments in the archaeological record, there is much that can be learned from them. In the analysis of a group of archaeological and ethnographically collected nets associated with Native Peoples in California, a pattern emerged of differential knot orientation in nets from different parts of the state. Through experimentation, a number of ways in which these different orientations could be produced were determined. This paper explores these nets and the cultural implications of this difference in knot orientation.


How to Reverse Engineer Archaic Hairstyles
Janet Stephens

Recreating archaic hairstyles is an excellent way for museum interpreters to enable audiences to physically experience intimate rituals of social membership as catalyst for wider discussions of material culture, industry, social hierarchies and trade in bygone eras.  During such encounters, the ability to reconstruct hairstyles depicted on artifacts belonging to the interpreter’s own institution, locality or region are particularly meaningful and memorable—but how does one reverse engineer archaic hairstyles depicted in sculpture or painting without the aid of primary technical sources?   Janet Stephens systematically guides non-specialists in how to examine 2 and 3 dimensional artworks using concepts of line, directional movement, volume and geometric form in order to recognize and sequence common hairdressing techniques.


It’s All Fun and Games – Reconstructing Hnefatafl through Experimental Archaeology
Neil Peterson

Around the world known by the Vikings one could find local variations of hnefatafl being played in many countries. This game blends some of the strategy of chess with some of the simplicity of merrels. Sadly, the Vikings failed to leave us a complete ruleset.  This session will discuss using experimental archaeology to fill in the missing rules, the results from some game sessions at REARC 2014, and future directions for these reconstructions.


Building the Academy: An Archaeological, Historical, and 3-D Visualization of the American Revolution
John l. Seidel, Washington College

A decade of archaeology in the 1980s investigated a surprisingly sophisticated military cantonment built Gen. Henry Knox and the Continental Artillery at Pluckemin, NJ. The 1778-1779 facility included barracks, forges, workshops, and the nation’s first military academy. Study of the remarkable collection of materials continues, and includes two generations of 3-D modeling of the site and its buildings. This collaborative effort involved Washington College archaeologists and students, its GIS Lab, and experts from Colonial Williamsburg. For archaeologists who focus primarily on buried remains, seeing the site and its massing in three-dimensions was an eye-opener. The engagement with craftsmen who understand the realities of 18th century life and work provided important new insights into function and construction. This paper briefly reviews the site’s history and archaeology, followed by an exploration of the modeling process, the results, and lessons learned.


Experiments on the recreation of the headdress of Star Carr
Diederik Pomstra

At the Mesolithic site of Star Carr (United Kingdom) 24 so-called headdresses have been found, made from the cranium of red male deer. The first have been found 70 years ago, but recent excavations at the same site produced yet three more of these fascinating objects. Anthropological and archaeological information indicates use in a shamanistic context. The most complete headdress was extensively studied by the POSTGLACIAL team of York University.
Various traces of working were observed on the artefact and based on these, a series of experiments were performed to establish the probable production sequence. 
The outcome of these experiments was rather surprising. And although questions were answered, the experiments also raised new ones.


From Little Seeds Grow Mighty Trees: Reflections on Experimental Archaeology in College Classrooms 
Tim Messner, Department of Anthropology, State University of New York at Potsdam

Over the last half-decade, applied learning has become a powerful tool used inside (and outside of) the college classroom. It is widely recognized that these initiatives provide students with opportunities for hands-on learning that reinforce concepts and ideas presented in a textbook or lecture. In this presentation, I explore the role experimental and reconstructive archaeology can play in accomplishing these pedagogical goals. While building on the foundation of existing scholarship relating to the use of experimental archaeology in higher education, this talk will push the focus forward by highlighting the different scales of impact these projects can take. Greater emphasis is placed on the efficacy of this pedagogical strategy in connecting students with higher level learning outcomes that only emerge through “high-impact” opportunities such as experimentation. To demonstrate these ideas, I draw on examples of student and faculty research conducted at the State University of New York at Potsdam.


Looking in the Historical Mirror: Our Agricultural Past in North American Living History Farms
Ed Schultz, Colonial Williamsburg

All of us have a link to our agricultural past. Coursing through our blood are the genes of those that worked the land. Whether it is a generation or a millennia ago, just look in the mirror and you will find the farmer. 
Contextualizing the past connects the then and now. Catching the wave of the Open-Air museum movement in Europe, North American museums responded in a variety of ways. One of these museum expressions is called a “Living History Farm”. A place of learning that works the land with period technology using the reconstructive and experimental methods embedded in this approach.  
This presentation looks at the development of living history farms as a way to contextualize the past to modern visitors. It reviews the concepts generated by early thinkers and profiles two sites that are members of the Association of Living History, Farms and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM).


Challenging Easter Island's Collapse: a new twist on an old narrative 
Maureen Folk

Scholars view Easter Island as a quintessential example of humans destroying their environment. These researchers commonly attribute this deterioration to past peoples moving multi-ton stone statues called Moai. It was originally hypothesized that the statues were moved horizontally using palm rollers. This has been challenged, instead using large ropes to move Moai in an upright/vertical position. The ecological impact of this approach, however, remains unknown. To assess this, I constructed two large ropes using fiber from basswood and calculated the amount of material used in relation to the trees harvested to deduce the potential degree of deforestation. Though thousands of trees are needed to manufacture these ropes, the overall ecological effect may have been less catastrophic than previously thought.


Analysis of Deer Bones Experimentally Cut With Oldowan Replicas
Arysa Gonzalez

Recent applications of devices capable of reconstructing micro- 3D surfaces allow researchers to examine cutmarks in greater detail than previous approaches that used 2D micrographs.  A white-light confocal profiler provides 3D topographic surface reconstructions that are suitable for qualitative and quantitative study.  Two-dimensional profiles and 3D surface areas, volumes, mean depths, and maximum depths can be determined using surface analysis software.  Preliminary analyses using this technique readily distinguishes cuts made by steel and stone tools.  Efforts are underway to distinguish different types of stone tools from various assemblages including Oldowan.  The current study aims to better understand cutmark variation created by Oldowan tools by quantifying cutmark data from white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) limbs experimentally cut using Oldowan replicas made with flint, basalt, and obsidian.  The data will be used to prepare an Oldowan cutmark database that will help analysts distinguish actual Oldowan cutmarks.


Testing an Old Story: The Source of Brick Clay at Brookgreen Plantation
Carolyn Dillian

Brookgreen Gardens, a National Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places listed property in Georgetown County, South Carolina, is comprised of multiple historic plantation properties, including Brookgreen Plantation, owned by Joshua John Ward, a major slaveholder in the mid-19th century. Within the property are archaeological resources associated with the homes of enslaved African and African-American people. The history presented in tours and lecture series for Brookgreen Gardens visitors say that the piers and chimneys of these homes were made of local brick, from clay dug and processed on site, which allegedly formed the ponds and water features still visible today. The project presented here outlines experiments conducted to test that assertion, including collecting, firing, and geochemically analyzing local clays, in the hopes of better understanding the brick-making and home-building practices of Brookgreen’s enslaved population.


Workshops / Demonstrations

At the Weavers House:
Theresa Emmerich with prehistoric tanning methods,
Linda Hurcombe with prehistoric fibers

At the Armory:
Jack Cresson with stone tool technology
Fergus Milton bronze smelting and casting
Darrell Markewitz and Neil Peterson with an iron bloomery furnace,
Bill Schinlder with Prehistoric Cooking

At the Gunsmith Shop:
Doug Meyer with Atlatls
Stephen Fox with late stone-age and early historic bows 
Diederik Pomstra with stone-age bows

Kathryn Ranhorn, a graduate student from George Washington University will be attending the conference and looking for volunteers for some stone tool technology research

Conference attendees will have the opportunity to tour Colonial Williamsburg in a very special way. Some of the world's leading prehistoric technology demonstrators will set up next to Colonial Williamsburg's craft specialists in order to contextualize the technologies typically seen there.  Our demonstrators will showcase the worldwide technological precursors to the colonial crafts typically shown at Williamsburg. In this way, conference attendees and park visitors will walk through virtual prehistoric time lines on their way to observe the colonial craftspeople.  For example, on your way to the armory you will see stone tool technology, bronze smelting and casting, and iron smelting demonstrations.  On your way to see how gunsmiths practiced their crafts in the 18th century, you will witness a variety of prehistoric weapons under construction, including atlatl and bow making technology.  On the way to the weaver's house, you will see prehistoric fiber processing and prehistoric tanning methods.

Students will be "embedded" with our craftspeople to learn first-hand the basics of the technologies and also have the opportunity to interact with the public.