2017 REARC Conference (REARC7)

Date: Friday, November 16, 2017 - Sunday, November 19, 2017

Venue: Colonial Williamsburg

Content: 15 papers, 8 workshops, 68 participants

See: Conference review by Mahala Nyberg


Key Note Address

Growing Lost Crops, Reconstructing Ancient Knowledge Systems
Natalie G. Mueller, Cornell University

Like lithic tools, ceramic vessels, or works of art, the bodies of domesticated plants and animals are expressions of human social intelligence. They evolve within institutions, are maintained through multi-generational communities of practice, and are consciously shaped to meet the changing needs and desires of communities. Their potential as sources of inference about the human past is vast. Crop seeds in particular are ubiquitous in the archaeological record. They are most useful as artifacts when there is extensive experimental or traditional knowledge linking their distinct morphologies to particular practices and evolutionary histories. But my research is focused on 'lost crops' – a suite of annual plants that supported communities in eastern North America for millennia, but which fell out of use before European colonists arrived and are not remembered in oral or written histories. Recently, my colleagues and I have begun to grow the lost crops experimentally to gain insight into this lost crop system. We are also exploring the possibility of re-domesticating lost crops, using gardens as tools for experiential learning about pre-Columbian history, and working to document and conserve remaining populations of lost crop progenitors across eastern North America.



Replicating Lusignan ceramics and cuisine as a means to study medieval culture
Scott D. Stull Ph.D, Cortland University

Recreating historic food creates insights into the processes of cooking and broader perspectives on the societies in question (Vandepoel 2017). Replicating ceramics expands our knowledge of both production and use (Saraydar 2008). Using recreated vessels for both cooking and eating medieval food reveals aspects of culture inaccessible by other means. This project examined the ceramics and cuisine of medieval Cyprus. This culture is particularly significant as it is a cross-roads of the medieval Mediterranean and a site for cultural entanglement of western and eastern social practices and technology. Detailed information about food consumption from medieval Cyprus is currently unavailable; this project explored possibilities for food and cuisine as a foundation for later study.


Reviving the Art and Science of Azul Maya
Kelly McKenna, Cortland University 

In the Late Classic Period, the Maya culture used a sky-blue pigment, known as Maya Blue, which has lasted hundreds of years in archaeological deposits despite being based on organic and inorganic materials. This pigment was ritually significant in the Maya world, as the Maya applied it to ceramics representing the color of water in honor of the Rain God Chaak. The precise formula for this pigment is uncertain. A replication effort using plant-based dye and clay material (Palygorskite) from outside the Maya geographic world attempted to see if a similar pigment could be produced. Replica vessels using locally-sourced clay from Groton were used as a medium for the pigment test. The results showed that the pigment was similar to but not the same as Maya Blue. However, the results provided insight into the making and application of Maya Blue, and provided avenues for further investigation.


Experimental Archaeology, Ethnography, and Abandoned Pastoralist Homesites in Northern Kenya 
Carolyn Dillian, Emmanuel Ndiema, Rahab Kinyanjui and Purity Kiura 

Dassanech homesites in Kenya offer a unique field laboratory for observing how pastoralist sites are selected, occupied, abandoned, and decay. Since 2012, our project team has been monitoring, mapping, and recording modern pastoralist sites near Lake Turkana. The Dassanech are pastoralists who maintain a relatively traditional lifeway, herding cattle, goats, and sheep, in an arid environment that requires frequent residential moves to provide adequate forage for their animals. Our purpose is to examine site selection and decomposition after weeks, months, and years of abandonment. We are examining house and animal enclosure construction and placement, inventorying material culture that is abandoned when residences are moved, monitoring reoccupation, and documenting plant and animal species' colonization of abandoned sites. These data inform our archaeological survey, excavation, and interpretation of prehistoric pastoralist sites dating to the Middle Holocene (4,000-6,000 years ago) and provide a richer understanding of the past.


Reconstructing an Early Mississippian Beaded Fabric from Pottery Impressions: Rivercane as Beads?
Jane Eastman, Western Carolina University

This paper presents ongoing research at a likely Mississippian Early Pisgah phase component at the Cross site, 31JK159. Work is aimed at clarifying site stratigraphy and chronology and exploring a pottery surface treatment historically identified as "woven reed or quill impressed" that is common at the site. This is a minor surface treatment in some Pisgah phase assemblages from Western North Carolina and may be a marker for Early Pisgah. The impressions on the pottery indicate that a beaded fabric was pressed into the surface of the pots before drying to give the exterior a distinctive texture. This exact woven beadwork is no longer part of the Cherokee traditional arts, so Western Carolina University's experimental archeology class will attempt to reconstruct it, then make impressions with it to see if we are able to replicate the surface texture of the pottery. Michael Crowe, Jr., an expert in Cherokee material culture, will assist the class.


Experimental Archaeology: Experiments in String, Stone, Wood, and Clay
Barbara Klessig, Humboldt State University

The Value of experimental archaeology is becoming increasingly important in understanding past technologies. Experimental archaeology can provide insight into the production of a given craft and the tools used in creating goods needed in everyday life or for trade. This presentation chronicles the efforts of the experimental archaeology lab at Humboldt State University, California, over the course of sixteen weeks and documents the creation of tools of stone, wood and clay that would have been used in the production of textiles. After creating the tools, students put the tools to use in the production of textiles as they could have been created as much as two thousand years ago. As most of the students involved had never worked with the materials needed to create the tools or textiles, they gained valuable insight into how the tools were generated and how they were used in textile production. This form of experimentation not only provided insight into the production of the textiles themselves, but into the production of the tools used in creating textiles and the importance of traditional and ancient technologies.


The Effect of Formulation and Heat Treatment on Cob's Strength and Frangibility
Robert Schweitzer, Toronto District School Board

One of the main components of high school chemistry is to teach students the scientific method and how it is implemented in labs. Experimental archaeology is well suited for this goal. The manner in which artefacts are created often contains a chemical component: dyes in fabrics, glazes on pottery, alloys in iron, etc. Providing the students with a focussed research question allows them to develop an appropriate procedure while exposing them to all of the variables that make experimental archaeology so intriguing and frustrating. This year, my students started their school year with "The Effect of Formulation and Heat Treatment on Cob's Strength and Frangibility". Working first within small groups and then as a class, they are then able to generate data that may then be used to write an academic paper or be applied to other experimental archaeology projects.


Elementary Ex-Arc
Richard Schweitzer, Hillcrest Private School

Aristotle said, "We learn by doing."  This is all the more important for children.  However, does experimentation by children have any relevance in the study of experimental archaeology?  To examine this question, experiments were undertaken with a group of children aged 6-10 to see whether useable data could be generated from the children's results.  The young students both attempted to reproduce the results of adult experimenters, such as Justyna Orlowska ("How Did They Drill That? -- A Few Observations on the Possible Methods for Making Large-sized Holes in Antler" Exarc 2015/2) and create original experiments.   Analyzing the results of these experiments should help determine whether experimental archaeology with children is experiential or experimental, and assist in improving interactive museum programs.


The Intersection of Art Conservation and Experimental Archaeology
Jonathan Thornton, Buffalo State University

At Buffalo State College, which hosts one of the three comprehensive graduate programs in Art Conservation in the United States, the materials and technologies of artifact production are seen as the foundation of conservation practice. Both experimental and experiential Archaeology and History of Technology are taught in workshops and the regular curriculum.   This has been so since the founding of the program in 1970. All areas of study including the conservation of paintings and art on paper include practical instruction, but the emphasis is especially strong in the conservation of “objects” made of glass, stone, ceramic, metal, fiber, leather and a wide range of other materials. Every two years, Professors Jonathan Thornton and Aaron Shugar organize an outdoor workshop called “Days of Fire” for Buffalo State and other students, which includes a variety of pyro-technologies including iron smelting and smithing, bronze casting, pit firing of ceramics, lime kilning, glass working, and cooking.  In addition, all first year students are required to carry out a “technology project” using basic materials and hand tools under the direction and tutelage of Thornton. Such projects have included a wide variety of explorations in an extremely diverse range of materials. This paper describes the rational for these activities, and illustrates them with views of relevant facilities and tools, workshop practice and finished results.


Cultural Taphonomy: A Comparative Study of Mummification Processes Among the Early Egyptian and Inca Cultures
Emma Williams, SUNY Potsdam

This research employs controlled laboratory experiments to compare desiccation rates in natural and artificial mummification processes while considering the cultural context of the funerary practices.  Artificial mummification techniques will be represented by the Egyptian and Inca cultures.  Natural mummification includes artificial heating and cooling of the carcass buried in sand within a clay pot.  Egyptian mummification requires evisceration of the carcass, treatment with alcohol to limit bacterial activity, and submergence in natron. Inca mummification necessitates evisceration and skinning of the carcass, use of alcohol, and drying of the specimen. Rat carcasses will be used in place of human cadavers. Documentation of the process, duration, and stages of their mummification will take place. The lab protocols established by this research will provide protocols for future taphonomic studies. This research emphasizes the necessity for considering the cultural context of taphonomy. Understanding the taphonomy of desiccated tissues is directly relevant in bioarchaeological applications.


Shifting the Sand: Replicating Black Powder Grenades
Stephen Lacey, East Carolina University

Black powder hand grenades are ubiquitous for several European archaeological sites between 1600 AD and 1900 AD. Unfortunately, many archaeological reports only note the presence of hand grenades in artifact inventories, perhaps denoting some minor measurements. Only one report contains a full assessment of grenades but was preformed by treasure hunters who excavated the pirate ship Whydah. No known primary historical sources describe grenade production, size regulation, storage, or shipping practices. For this study, a system of measurement was developed to compare three collections. Measurements from those collections were used to replicate hand grenade shells, the focus of this paper. Two types were made, one glass and the other cast iron. These replicas will later be used in controlled detonations on a federal blast range to record the blast in full spectrum. That analysis will be used for a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine the lethality of hand grenades.


How Many Pots? Experiments Using an Alternative Method to Calculate MNV with X-ray Fluorescence
Carolyn Dillian and Sydney James, Coastal Carolina University

There are many ways in which ceramic sherds are quantified. Some researchers present a raw sherd count, others present ceramics by weight, and still others present counts of rim vs. body sherds. The ultimate goal of these quantifications, however, is to determine how many vessels were discarded within the site, a count often summarized as Minimum Number of Vessels (MNV). However, for prehistoric pottery in much of the Americas, this is difficult, and MNV calculations may vastly over- or under-estimate the real number of ceramic pots within a site. We experimentally test an alternative method for calculating MNV that incorporates geochemical analyses using X-ray florescence spectrometry.


Public Access to History through Archaeology
Katie Stringer Clary, Coastal Carolina University

Public history, like experimental archaeology, is relatively new as an accepted academic program; the two fields are intrinsically linked and should use interdisciplinary collaboration to better educate and involve the public in their work. This paper explores the ways public historians and archaeologists convene in museums and historic spaces through artifacts, interpretation, education, and other interdisciplinary undertakings. The paper presents case studies in education and interpretation by the author, as well as exemplary programs from various sites in the United States and Europe. In its conclusion, the author suggests the best practices for interpretation and public engagement with experimental archaeology through contributory and collaborative work.


Ancestral Puebloan Grooved Bone Tools: an Experimental Approach to Discerning Function
Theresa Emmerich, University of Exeter

Pointed bone tools exhibiting horizontal grooves across the lower shaft, are frequently found in Ancestral Puebloan sites in the American South West. The function of the tool and the cause of the grooves has been a topic of debate. This presentation details the research into three possible causes of this grooving, based on materials and products produced during the time period in which these tools appear. An evaluation of the efficacy of these tools in combination with microscopic use-wear analysis is used to propose a likely cause for groove formation. Further support for the proposed theory is offered by highlighting a technology shift which accounts for the absence of these tools in earlier contexts, and their abundance in later sites.


Research Perspectives and Public Reactions from Experiments in the Combined Use of 3D Prints and Traditional Crafted Replicas
Linda Hurcombe, University of Exeter

The Touching the Past project, funded by the AHRC, explored a variety of haptic experiences in museums but 3D prints provided particular benefits for the public and research alike.  In most museums, presentations of archaeological artefacts are dominated by displays behind glass; vision dominates the sensory experience. The emotional connections built by more multisensory engagement with artefacts offers a better appreciation of the ancient objects and an enhanced museum visit.  Museum presentations benefitted from sensory engagement and direct authenticity in relationships.  The latter was achieved by a process termed 'borrowed authenticity'.  The solutions and ideas have been tried out in 'touching the past' events at Kirkwall Museum, as part of Orkney Science week and the National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh and also formed part of workshop activities under the EU funded project, Openarch. These events have sought to generate public interest in the research and been a source of experimental trials to investigate public reactions to replicas.  However, they have also provided a means of communicating between craft specialists and researchers, and they have informed the craft specialist at many levels along the way, and provided new information to researchers.  In experimental archaeology, the value of reconstructions has long been recognised as both a research act and powerful presentation tool. The crafting of a traditional replica drew on some of the details of the 3D print to assist in making the large and small decisions of any craft process.  This led to small details being scrutinised providing new information to visitor and researcher alike.  The project has moved from ideas to proof of concept trials and contributed to several three-month exhibitions in the UK and abroad with project objects now being placed in a variety of heritage settings.



Bronze Casting - Fergus Milton

Processing Wool & Spinning - Barbara Klessig MA, Humboldt State  University

Processing Hides - Theresa Emmerich PhD, University of Exeter

Cordage - Prof. Jonathan Thornton, Buffalo State University

Reconstructing Beaded Fabric - WCU Students under guidance by Prof Dr  Jane Eastman, Western Carolina University

Games - Neil Peterson, Wilfrid Laurier University 

Atlatl Competition - Tim Messner PhD, SUNY Potsdam 

Flint Knapping - Doug Meyer BA, The Schiele Museum