You are on page 1of 10

Experiencing Archaeology

by Experiment
Proceedings of the Experimental
Archaeology Conference,
Exeter 2007

edited by
Penny Cunningham, Julia Heeb
and Roeland Paardekooper

Oxbow Books
Published by
Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK

Oxbow Books and the individual authors, 2008

ISBN 978-1-84217-342-8

A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library

This book is available direct from

Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK

(Phone: 01865-241249; Fax: 01865-794449)


The David Brown Book Company

PO Box 511, Oakville, CT 06779, USA
(Phone: 860-945-9329; Fax: 860-945-9468)

or from our website

Printed in Great Britain by

Short Run Press

Introduction v
Penny Cunningham, Julia Heeb and Roeland Paardekooper

1 Flint Tools as Portable Sound-Producing Objects in the

Upper Palaeolithic Context: An Experimental Study 1
Elizabeth C. Blake and Ian Cross

2 Analytical and Experimental Approaches to Carving Technology

during the Cypriot Middle Chalcolithic Period 21
Elizabeth Cory-Lopez

3 Experimental Archaeology within the Heritage Industry:

Publicity and the Public at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village 37
Mary Ellen Crothers

4 101 ways to skin a fur-bearing animal: the implications

for zooarchaeological interpretation 47
Eva Fairnell

5 The Nature of Scientific Experimentation in Archaeology:

Experimental Archaeology from the Nineteenth to the 61
mid Twentieth Century
Carolyn Forrest

6 Experiment and Experience Practice in a Collaborative Environment 69

Cordula Hansen

7 Exploring the Materiality of Prehistoric Cloth-types 81

Susanna Harris

8 Using Experimental Archaeology to Answer the Unanswerable:

A case study using Roman Dyeing 103
Heather Hopkins

Penny Cunningham, Julia Heeb

and Roeland Paardekooper

The term experimental archaeology is a convenient way of describing the collection of

facts, theories and fictions that has been assembled though a century of interest in the
reconstruction and function of ancient remains John Coles (1967, 1).

There seems to be a growing interest amongst archaeologists to re-create past artefacts

and actions at a 1:1 scale in order to answer questions and gain new insights that
would otherwise remain hidden. This interest became apparent at the Experimental
Archaeology Workshop that took place on the 9th November 2006 at UCL in London
(organised by Asmus, Marii & Pryce). The papers presented there managed to illustrate
how valuable experimental archaeology can be as a research tool. However, there
seemed to be a certain amount of confusion about the terminology used as some
experience-based projects were also described as experiments.
An archaeological experiment must answer a specific research question. It should
have a clear statement of the aims and/or hypothesis, as well as the materials and
methodology used so that it is repeatable. All variables should be discussed and
as many as possible should be controlled (Outram 2008; Kucera 2004; Reynolds
1999; Trachsel & Fasnacht 1996). However, one of the most important aspects of
experimental archaeology is that the data derived from experiments is related back
to the archaeological record (Outram 2008; Lammers-Kesers 2005). Without this feed
back process, the results will be meaningless. Basic principles like those described by
Kelterborn (2005) are encouraged.
This does not mean that projects that cannot be described as experiments are not
important to experimental archaeology in general. In our opinion, the experiential
element of pre and pilot experiments are just as important as experiments that are
more scientific as they give an added human aspect to the experiments (see Richter
1992 for a description of the formation and testing of hypothesis in experimental
research). A problem during a pilot study, for example, has the potential to open up
an entirely new research avenue, or change how we think about material culture.

Authors addresses: PENNY CUNNINGHAM, JULIA HEEB and ROELAND PAARDEKOOPER, University of Exeter,
School of Geography, Archaeology and Earth Resources, Department of Archaeology, Laver Building, North
Park Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 4QE.
vi Penny Cunningham, Julia Heeb and Roeland Paardekooper

Whilst carrying out experimental archaeology, we will inevitably gain our very own
experiences. These are modern day experiences and effectively tell us nothing directly
about the past. Although during an experiment we might be making more mistakes
than we realise, in the end, the understanding of materials, techniques and (social)
structures we gain deepen our understanding of the processes involved and of how
people might have been engaging with their environment.
To explore these and other issues further, a similar event to the 2006 UCL workshop
was held at the University of Exeter on 17th and 18th November 2007. As the University
of Exeter is currently the only university in Europe offering an MA in experimental
archaeology, Exeter seemed a suitable place to hold such an event.
The call for papers for the Exeter conference identified a number of key themes
that was felt worthy of further discussion:

1. Explore the scope of experimental archaeology and distinguish between full

experiments, pilot experiments, pre-experiments, experiential activities, public
demonstrations and hobby projects.
2. The role of experimental archaeology in academic research.
3. Improving ways of promoting experimental archaeology in academic
4. Improving communication between academic experimental archaeologists and
crafts people.
5. How to communicate experiments to the academic community and to the

Contributors, both for the conference and this volume, were asked to present
papers that dealt with these theoretical issues as well as practical case studies. In total,
12 papers, encompassing a variety of topics dealing with one or more of the above
themes, were presented at the conference. As a means of establishing a way forward
for experimental archaeology as a widely used research methodology, several recurring
issues that emerged from the question sessions after each paper and those in the call
for papers, were discussed in a closing round-table discussion.
One of the first issues that emerged during the round-table discussion, was a division
between the delegates regarding the question, what constitutes an archaeological
experiment?. For some, the term experiment should be used only for experiments
that take a clear scientific approach. For others, the nature of the experiments depended
on the question asked and they recognised that for some questions, a purely scientific
approach was not appropriate. Furthermore, by taking a purely scientific approach, one
might miss the humanist and/or social aspect of the past, isolating the experimental
data as simply a set of results. In contrast, others questioned whether experiments are
an appropriate method to explore social aspects of the past.
The consensus during the round-table session was that both the experimental and
experiential elements are valid although it is important to state clearly if the project
was a scientific experiment, or not, when presenting a report or publication. There
is, of course, always an element of experience in an experiment, but not always an
experiment in an experience. A further issue discussed was whether experimental
Introduction vii

archaeology should be considered a sub-discipline within the wider discipline of

archaeology. The papers presented at the conference, and within this volume, clearly
demonstrate that experimental archaeology takes an inter-disciplinary approach. In
addition, experiments often form just one aspect of a research project. Therefore, it is
not necessary to isolate experimental archaeology from the rest of the discipline. On
the contrary, there needs to be a better level of integration and an increased awareness
of the use of experimental archaeology as a valuable methodology to answer specific
archaeological questions.
What became clear during the conference is that the term experimental archaeology
encompasses a great variety of practical approaches to archaeology. These include
controlled experiments, the phenomenology of objects and the experience of taskscapes.
This diversity is probably one of the reasons why experimental archaeologists some-
times feel that they are not being taken seriously by mainstream academic archaeology,
which seemed to be a recurring issue in the discussion. The most important point to
stress is that one should be honest about stating the form and nature of any activity
carried out in the name of experimental archaeology.
There were some calls for a code of practice or guidelines regarding the methodology
of experimental archaeology. These would, however, mainly apply to controlled
experiments, and for these there are already guidelines and principles available (see
the bibliography). Similar issues apply to the publication of experimental archaeology.
We need to encourage and facilitate the academic publication of results through
either a journal or website and an annual conference on experimental archaeology. By
presenting some of the papers from the Exeter conference (Forrest, Hansen, Harris,
Cory-Lopez and Hopkins) and papers by other conference participants (Blake and Cross,
Corthers and Fairnell), this volume can be viewed as beginning to address the issue
of communicating experimental archaeology to the wider academic community.
All the papers in this volume address some of the themes that arose from the
conference. Hansen, Blake and Cross, and Hopkins all take a multi-disciplinary
approach to their experiments. Through a series of acoustical and use-wear analyses,
Blake and Cross explore whether traditional stone tool types (Aurignacian-type
blades) from the European Palaeolithic may have been used as sound tools. Hopkins
investigates Roman dying techniques based on archaeological evidence from Pompeii,
Italy. Her experiments involve the use of system theory, finite element analysis and
ergonomics to understand not only the dying process, but also its economic role within
Pompeii. Both Hopkins and Blake and Cross use methods that are commonly used in
other disciplines (engineering and music) along with archaeological data to inform
their experiment methodology and as a means of addressing research questions.
As an art practitioner, Hansen comes from a non-archaeological background, and in
her paper demonstrates the value of the experiential element that accompanies most
archaeological experiments. In addition, she highlights the significance of conducting
regular and longterm experimental projects that allow research questions to be
developed in more depth as the experimenter gains knowledge and experience of
the processes/materials experimented with. We also learn how this long-term project
has greatly benefited from regular dialogue between academics and craft specialists.
As academics are often not skilled enough to carry out meaningful experiments, we
viii Penny Cunningham, Julia Heeb and Roeland Paardekooper

learn that any dialogue and cooperation with skilled specialists can only enrich the
results of an archaeological experiment.
By taking a phenomenological approach to her experiments, Harris paper takes
the experiential element in a new direction and explores how we can investigate
past human experience through experiments. Harris uses a series of questionnaires
to explore how modern people experience a number of materials, including leather,
linen and wool, with the results used to understand prehistoric cloth types. Similarly,
Fairnell uses her skills and knowledge as a taxidermist to inform a series of pilot
skinning experiments that explore the relationship between cut marks and skinning.
We can clearly see that both papers mark the beginning of some interesting research
and are looking forward to the next instalment. In addition, we can see how including
an experiential, or phenomenological approach, does not detract from the experiments.
An issue also voiced by Mathieu (2002, 23) who includes phenomenological studies
in the scope of experimental archaeology.
A more traditional, or scientific, set of experiments by Cory-Lopez (we can also
add Hopkins and Blake and Cross as scientific experiments) is present in this volume.
Cory-Lopez used the theory of Chine Opratoire to unravel both operational and
social aspects of stone carving in the Cypriot Chalcolithic period. Cory-Lopez, Hopkins,
and Blake and Cross, outline clear hypotheses, methodologies, results and how their
experiments answer specific archaeological questions.
An important aspect of experimental archaeology is its role in presenting
archaeological knowledge to the public. Crothers looks at the issue of presenting
archaeological experiments, largely in the form of house (re)constructions, to the public.
Crothers demonstrates how experimental archaeology can be used to increase visitors
understanding of archaeology as a whole. In addition, she highlights the important
relationship between academics and craft-specialists in communicating the value of
experimental archaeology to the public.
Forrest presents the history of experimental archaeology and takes the view
that experiments have always been part of archaeology since the very beginning of
the discipline. In addition, Forrest comments on the relationship between amateur
archaeologists, often seen as only providing an experiential element and academics,
who carry out scientific experiments. Thus, an artificial dichotomy between amateurs
(in the genuine meaning of the word including craft specialists) and professionals is
created within the field of experimental archaeology. She concludes by recommending
a greater depth of dialogue between both amateur and professional archaeologists,
an issue that also appears in many of the other papers (for example, Crothers and
Hansen). Furthermore, the valid contribution that specialists can make to archaeological
research needs to be recognised. This call for collaboration is also mentioned in the
introduction to the recent World Archaeology volume on experimental archaeology
(Outram 2008, 5).
All the papers in this volume clearly demonstrate that if we view experimental
archaeology as comprising a whole array of different practical approaches and create
a greater depth of dialogue between archaeologists, crafts people and other specialists,
we can only enhance our understanding of the past. In addition, by opening up
dialogue between academics and other specialists we have a fantastic opportunity to
Introduction ix

promote experimental archaeology as a truly interdisciplinary research methodology,

which has the possibility of answering many questions, and formulating new ones
all the time. This volume can be seen as one method of approaching the problem of
promoting experimental archaeology within the academic community and beyond.
We, the editors, hope that this will be the first of many publications on experimental
archaeology. In addition, on the 15th and 16th November 2008, a third Experimental
Archaeology Conference is to be held at the University of Edinburgh.
We would like to thank the 12 presenters very much as well as the 70 participants
and authors of the articles presented in this volume. Without the help of the Department
of Archaeology of the School of Geography, Archaeology & Earth Resources of the
University of Exeter as well as Oxbow Books and the encouragement of our colleagues,
this publication would never have seen the light of day this fast.
We wish experimental archaeology, in all its aspects, a great future.

The editors, Midsummer 2008

Coles, J. M. (1967) Experimental Archaeology. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,
Volume 49, 19661967, 120. Edinburgh.
Kucera, M. (2004) Das Experiment in der Archologie. In M. Fansa (ed.), Experimentelle Archologie
in Europa, Bilanz 2004, 713. Isensee Verlag, Oldenburg.
Lammers-Kesers, Y. (2005) Scientific experiments: a possibility? Presenting a general cyclical
script for experiments in archaeology. EuroREA 2/2005, 1824. Hradec Krlov, EXARC.
Kelterborn, P. (2005) Principles of experimental research in archaeology. EuroREA 2/2005, 120122.
Hradec Krlov, EXARC.
Mathieu, J. R. and Meyer, D. A., (2002) Reconceptualizing Experimental Archaeology: assessing
the Process of Experimentation. in J. R. Mathieu (ed.) Experimental Archaeology: Replicating
Past Objects, Behaviours and Processes, 7382. Oxford, BAR.
Outram, A. (2008) Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology 40(1), pp. 16.
Reynolds, P. (1999) The nature of experiment in archaeology. In A. F. Harding (ed.), Experiment
and design: Archaeological studies in honour of John Coles, 157162. Oxford, Oxbow.
Richter, P. (1992) Experimentelle Archologie: Ziele, Methoden und Aussagemglichkeiten. In
M. Fansa (ed.), Experimentelle Archologie, Bilanz 1991, 1949. Oldenburg, Staatliches Museum
fr Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte.
Trachsel, M. and Fasnacht, W. (1996) Zur Situation der experimentellen Archologie in der
Schweiz. In M. Fansa (ed.), Experimentelle Archologie in Deutschland, Bilanz 1996, 95106.
Oldenburg, Isensee Verlag.