Experimental Archaeology: Techniques and Technologies

Posted on November 11, 2016


Archaeology, one part art and one part science, add and stir until you have a reasonable idea of what was happening in the past. One of my favourite techniques for doing this is experimental archaeology- the art of using science to determine how people did things. This is a session we filmed at EAA for this Friday’s publication of conference videos:

Session Abstract: This session proposes presenting research of diverse aspects of experimental archaeology, prehistoric skills and techniques in the scientific research, various forms of education and its use in tourism industry. Main focus is on analysing various craft technologies, their development, and diffusion, as well as detecting ways of cultural interaction. All range of materials and items is welcomed.

Saturday, 3 September 2016, 14:00-18:30
Faculty of Philology, Room A7
Author – Rimkutė, Virginija, Vilnius, Lithuania (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Tomsons, Artūrs, Latvian University, Riga, Latvia
Keywords: craft techniques, experimental archaeology, scientific research, education, tourism

Testing twined clothing in Mesolithic


Author – Rimkutė, Virginija, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania (Presenting author)
Keywords: experimental archaeology, Mesolithic, twined clothing

In 2008–2010, some experiments, testing possibilities of (re)constructing twined clothing, were held. They were based on a find from the middle–late Neolithic settlement of Šventoji 2B (Lithuania), dated back to ~4000–2900 BC. The found two specimens were made of lime bast. They were compared with other extant European twines of similar or close periods. Three pieces of rectangular shape were produced, in order to test some technical and functional questions.
In 2012, it was decided to come back to one of the objects, which had inspired some construction and wearing possibilities of the (re)constructed twined clothing. It was an engraving on the aurochs bone, depicting five anthropomorphic figures, which was found in Ryemarksgård settlement (Denmark) and dated back to ~8000 BC. A set of photos, testing various variations of wearing the three pieces of clothing, was taken. There were tested more than 25 wearing possibilities, both male and female. Then it was tried to find out poses and actual pieces of clothing, which would best match the depicted figures. According to the congruous silhouette and constructional lines of the clothing, it was presumed, that most of the figures wore a rectangular long cloth (“a cloak”), just in 3-4 different ways. Some of the figures possibly wore a shorter rectangular cloth (“a skirt”) underneath. Repeating parallel lines of the depicted clothing clearly indicate twining, and actual qualities of the (re)constructed twines do confirm the indication. Thus, it is highly possible, that twined clothing was produced and worn by some Mesolithic communities, i.e. much earlier than the dates of the extant finds had allowed presuming.

Research, experimentation and outreach in the early Neolithic site of La Draga (Banyoles-Spain)


Author – Antoni, Palomo, Universitat Aut noma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Buch, Montserrat, Arqueol tic, Banyoles, Spain
Co-author(s) – Barceló, Joan Anton, Universitat Aut noma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
Co-author(s) – Piqué, Raquel, Universitat Aut noma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
Co-author(s) – Terradas, Xavier, Institució Mil i Fontanals, CSIC, Barcelona, Spain
Keywords: Experimentation, Neolithic, Outreach

The exceptional preservation of organic material in the early Neolithic site of La Draga (Banyoles, North-east of Iberian Peninsula) has allowed undertake lines of research little developed previously in the region. The research project carried out at the site of La Draga involves experimental archaeology as a methodological tool in order to characterize the technological procedures and for testing the functional hypothesis of tools. Data drawn on these investigations are the foundation stone for the pedagogical project of La Draga, mainly based upon hands experience. These outreach activities are held in the Archaeological Park of the Neolithic Settlement of La Draga, where early farmers dwellings, tools and agricultural plots have been replicated following the results of the archaeological research. In this paper some examples of the interaction between experimental research, digital technologies and outreach activities are presented.

Prehistoric drilling and bead manufacturing: Experimental approach and cognitive insight


Author – Dr. Gurova, Maria, National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria (Presenting author)
Keywords: drilling, experiments, prehistoric beads

Two categories of early Neolithic objects are recognized on the Balkans as having been involved in prehistoric drilling activities: beads and other decorative and prestigious items made of bone, shell, pottery and various minerals, and toolkits of flint micro-borers. This paper discusses experiments in drilling different materials undertaken with the aim of testing several practical issues. A series of flint micro-borers were produced and used for manual and mechanical drilling (with a pump drill) of various samples (mainly prepared thin plates) of minerals and rocks, ranging in hardness (on Mohs scale) from 3 (marble, limestone, calcite) to 6.5 (amazonite, nephrite). Biominerals were also used in the experiments: aragonite (shells) and apatite (bones). The initial attempts at bead production involved the manufacture of 16 delicate beads from 5 different materials using fine sand and water abrasion. Though not conclusive, the experimental work is instructive in many of the parameters, procedures and technical details of prehistoric drilling and bead manufacturing. The experience gained has led to a more holistic interpretation of archaeological drilling toolkits, as well as a better appreciation of the particular skills and know-how of the prehistoric jewellery makers.

Aspects regarding the production of Eneolithic pottery based on an experimental archaeological study


Author – PhD Ignat, Theodor, National History Museum of Romania,
Bucharest, Romania (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Opri, Vasile, National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest, Romania
Co-author(s) – Laz r, C lin, National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest, Romania
Keywords: Eneolithic, Experimental, Pottery

In this paper, we will present the results of five-year Experimental Archaeology Project on making Eneolithic pottery, based on our research in the Kodjadermen-Gumelnita-Karanovo VI tell settlement from Sultana-Malu Rou, south-east Romania. In our work, we have experimented with different hand-making techniques such as building the vessels from one lump of clay, coiling and also molding. Experimenting with the molding technique came as a necessity in our effort to understand the presence of large and shallow plate-like vessels (sometimes larger than 50 cm in diameter), in the pottery assemblages characteristic of these past communities. To understand better the making pots process, we have also tested a series of hypotheses regarding the types of clay, temper, modeling, burnishing, decorating, drying and firing.
Our work is backed up by petrographic and chemical analysis which not only helped us identify the local clay source as the raw material used by the Eneolithic potters but also gave us a more precise recipe for the mixture of clay and temper. The data collected over these years now help us to refine observations when studying new assemblages, thus leading to a better understanding of the pottery resulted from the excavation, and the people who made it. This work was performed through the Partnerships in Priority Areas Program – PN II, developed with the support of MEN -UEFISCDI, project no. PN-II-PT-PCCA-2013-4-2302.

The swatch of antiques bronzes


Author – PhD student Devogelaere, Jonathan, Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France (Presenting author)
Keywords: Antiques bronzes, Colours, Swatch

As part of my thesis, entitled “The colours of bronze ceremonial furniture in the Graeco-Roman world, 200 B.C.E – 200 C.E.: from technical characterization to symbolic values”, I have developed an experimental archaeology project to create a swatch of the variegated colours of antiques bronzes, and to restore the original colours of Graeco-Roman bronze furniture. I intend to change the presumed image of ancient bronze as green, looking rather for evidence of polychromy and a spectrum of copper alloys. This swatch combines the technical processes of the lost wax method and the addition of polychrome bronze surfaces (via patina and inlay). I intend to use this study as a repository both for my research and for other studies related to bronze production. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, lead may also be added. The objects examined in this study have a variable percentage of metals, and because of this the colour of the alloy differs. The colour of the alloy can be maintained by polishing but it is also possible to give a patina to the surface of the bronze with a reagent. Other metals and alloys (copper, silver, gold, Corinthian bronze) can be inlaid by damascene or by plating to create polychrome decorations. Unfortunately, the archaeological material in copper alloys suffers the effects of time and deposition, which may lead to corrosion and discolouring of the surface, often green or brown. Archaeological bronzes also may suffer from overly aggressive restorations which scour the original surfaces or cover them with a layer of paint imitating green corrosion.
The platelet samples of swatch have been analysed to determine their elemental composition and their patina, so as to compare them to the archaeological material. Initial results suggests that the colours of bronze luxury furniture vary greatly, and that the spectrum of colours is a product of the composition of bronze alloy and the techniques used in finishing the surface, either polishing or patina application.

Teaching Experimental Archaeology at Vilnius University


Author – Rimkutė, Virginija, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Co-author(s) – Luchtanas, Aleksiejus, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania (Presenting author)
Keywords: experimental archaeology, higher education, teaching

Vilnius University is the oldest institution of higher education in Lithuania, founded in 1579. Since 1940’ies, the teaching of archaeology has started. At present, at the Department of Archaeology of the Faculty of History, the studies of archaeology are organized in three cycles: undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate.
Teaching of experimental archaeology for students of archaeology was started more than ten years ago. Students get acquainted with some basics of experimental archaeology during the first year of their undergraduate studies. A full course of experimental archaeology (6 ECTS credits) is taught during the first year of archaeology graduate’s programme. The course consists of theory of experimental archaeology, discussions and numerous workshops. The workshops are lead by experimental archaeologists and ancient technology experts, in cooperation with craft and experimental archaeology organizations (workshop gallery “Amatų gildija”, workshop-living museum “Senųjų amatų dirbtuvės”, club for craft reconstruction “Dvaro meistrai”, experimental archaeology club “Pajauta”), as well as some museums (Archaeological and Historical Museum of Kernavė, Open-Air Museum of Lithuania at Rumšiškės). The studied periods vary from Stone Age to Late Middle Ages, so thus wide is the range of materials: bone/antler, flint, stone, fibres, plants, textiles, leather, food, non-ferrous metals, ceramics, etc. The course ends up with an exam, which contains a presentation of a particular committed archaeological experiment. Actual topics do vary each year, according to the interests of the students, and usually are related with their MA theses. Usually, this course is chosen by a group of 8–15 students.
As the result, students get both theoretical knowledge and some basic practical skills for using experimental archaeology as a research method in their MA theses or, later, in their doctoral dissertations. Also they use their skills at their work as ancient technologists and educators at living archaeology events and historical museums.

Six years of experimental traseology at Klaipėda University: accomplishments and future prospects


Author – PhD Rimkus, Tomas, Institute of Baltic region history and archaeology, Klaipėda, Lithuania (Presenting author)
Keywords: Experimental archaeology, Stone Age – Early Bronze Age, Use-wear analysis

In Lithuanian archaeology experimental-traseology method currently is a very fresh research area. Very first rudiments of this method originates in the last decade of the 20th century, when with the assistance of use-wear method in foreign laboratories, West and East Lithuania Stone Age sites flint material were analysed. Later, this method was applied for a several Stone and Metal periods flint material functional analysis, which due to a lack of technologies and specialists in Lithuania, was also studied in foreign laboratories (Russia and Poland). Since 2010 experimental-traseology studies were launched at the University of Klaipėda (Lithuania).
Systematically studies in this institution are orientated on Stone and Early Bronze Ages economies research. In this laboratory, more than 100 units of experimental tools data base are in store, which helps to determine authentic archaeological tool functional dependence. This paper seeks to represent during the period of six years obtained data of experimental- traseology research of Stone and Bronze Ages flint tools, and to summarize executed experimental results. The research includes archaeological data from major Stone Age and Early Bronze Age settlements and cemeteries from West and South Lithuania sites.

Experimental archaeology in Latvia: some aspects possibilities for the future development


Author – Dr. Tomsons, Artūrs, Latvian National History museum, Riga, Latvia (Presenting author)
Keywords: education, experimental archaeology, reconstruction

The presentation is dedicated to main stages of the development of experimental approach and applying its methodology in the archaeology of Latvia. Presentation examines main stages of development of the scientific thought and various expressions both in reconstructive experiments and interpretations, both in future possibilities of using it in future scientific research as well as a poweful tool in education of archaeology students and tourism.

Microwear analysis on early medieval combs


Author – Pil, Nathalie, Vrij Universiteit Brussel, Gingelom, Belgium (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Tys, Dries, Vrij Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Keywords: bone antler, combs, microwear

The typological study of bone or antler combs can give useful information in their chronological and regional diversity. Macroscopic research and chemical analyses on the other hand help us to identify aspects such as the origin of the raw material, the native aspect of the combs as well as their trade value. The possible use of different tools in early medieval ages is well documented through literature. However, much less attention went so far to questions as what tools and techniques were applied on individual combs as well as questions about their use.
Through microwear research, an attempt is made to reconstruct the production of the comb, as well as its possible life biography. This microwear method was originally, in 1933 by Semenov, applied on lithic objects, but later it was also used on other materials, such as bone and antler. However, the application of early medieval tools on antler with the aim of making combs was not conducted yet. The method contains three stages. First, starting from a functional hypothesis, an experimental program is established. In this stage combs are processed respecting both the type of raw materials and technical transformation sequences. Secondly, usage traces, developed on the experimental samples and archaeological samples are recorded with low and high power magnification. Finally, the traces on the experimental and archaeological objects are compared. The interpretation of the production techniques in chronically and regional different contexts can so confirm or refute typological subdivisions. The maintenance of local techniques can be explored, distinct ruptures in used techniques may be associated to other context-based roles, as social, economic and ideological meaning of a material.
The method will be developed to ‘read’ and detect these production techniques and use wear markers of the combs. The aim is to develop a technique that, combined with typological, scientific and context-based research, can investigate in how far these combs reflect aspects of identity.

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