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Experimental archaeology employs a number of different methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches in order to generate and test hypotheses, based upon archaeological source material, like ancient structures or artifacts. It should not be confused with primitive technology which is not concerned with any archaeological or historical evidence, living history or historical reenactment, which is generally undertaken as a hobby, for entertainment or to demonstrate a romantic atmosphere of a specific (pre)historic era.

One of the main forms of experimental archaeology is the creation of copies of historical structures using only historically accurate technologies. This is sometimes known as reconstruction archaeology. However, the product of experimental archaeology is data, not the constructed item itself.

In recent years, experimental archeology has been featured in several television productions, such as BBC's "Building the Impossible" and the Discovery Channel's "Secrets of Lost Empires". On television shows, the serious scientific benefits of the techniques are somewhat lessened by imposing strict deadlines on the team.

Examples

A good example is Butser Ancient Farm in the Englishmarker county of Hampshire which is a working replica of an Iron Age farmstead where long-term experiments in prehistoric agriculture, animal husbandry and manufacturing are held to test ideas posited by archaeologists. In Denmarkmarker, the Lejre Experimental Centremarker carries out even more ambitious work on such diverse topics as artificial Bronze Age and Iron Age burials, prehistoric science and stone tool manufacture in the absence of flint.

Other examples include:



Variations

Other types of experimental archaeology may involve burying modern replica artefact and ecofacts for varying lengths of time to analyse the post-depositional effects on them. Other archaeologists have built modern earthwork and measured the effects of silting in the ditches and weathering and subsidence on the banks to understand better how ancient monuments would have looked.The work of flintknappers is also a kind of experimental archaeology as much has been learnt about the many different types of flint tools through the hands-on approach of actually making them. Experimental archaeologists have equipped modern professional butchers, archers and lumberjacks with replica flint tools to judge how effective they would have been for certain tasks. Use wear traces on the modern flint tools are compared to similar traces on archaeological artefacts, making probability hypotheses on the possible kind of use feasible. Hand axes have been shown to be particularly effective at cutting animal meat from the bone and jointing it.

Notes

  1. Experimental archaeology is "Within the context of a controllable imitative experiment to replicate past phenomena in order to generate and test hypotheses to provide or enhance analogies for archaeological interpretation" (Mathieu, 12)


References

  • Ascher, Robert (1961): Experimental archaeology. in: American Anthropologist (Menasha) 63, 4: pp 793-816.
  • Ascher, Robert (1970): Cues 1: design and construction of an experimental archaeological structure. in: American Antiquity (Washington) 35, 2: pp 215-216.
  • Coles, John Morton (1979), Experimental archaeology, London a.o.: Academic Press, ISBN 0-12-179750-3 / ISBN 0-12-179752-X, 274 pp.
  • Ingersoll, Daniel W., Yellen, John E., Macdonald, William (editors), (1977), Experimental archaeology, New York, ISBN 0-231-03658-2, 432 pp.
  • Mathieu, James R. (editor), (2002), Experimental archaeology, replicating past objects, behaviors and processes, BAR International Series 1035, Oxford, ISBN 1-84171-415-1.
  • Reynolds, Peter J. (n.y.): The Nature of Experiment in Archaeology.
  • Stone, Peter; Planel, Phillipe, (1999), The Constructed past. Experimental archaeology, education and the public, Routledge: One World Archaeology Series, ISBN 0-415-11768-2, 296 pp.
  • Tringham, Ruth (1978), Experimentation, ethnoarchaeology, and the leapfrogs in archaeological methodology. in: Gould, Richard A. (editor): Explorations in ethnoarchaeology. Albuquerque, pp 169-199.
  • Verhoeven, J.D., Pendray, A.H., Dauksch, W.E., (1998), The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades, in: JOM, 50 (9) (1998), pp. 58-64.


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