Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Experimental archaeology is the attempt to recreate or use ancient structures or artefacts in order to learn more about ancient technology based on (primarily) archaeological source material. This can provide important information for archaeologists and can be a good way to test a hypothesis or an interpretation. It should not be confused with historical reenactment, which is generally undertaken for entertainment, rather than to examine ancient technology.
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. A good example is Butser Ancient Farm in the English 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 Denmark, the Lejre prehistoric farm 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:
- Attempts (so far unsuccessful) to transport large stones like those used in Stonehenge from their probable original location in Pembrokeshire to the site on Salisbury Plain, using only technology that would have been available at the time.
- The reconstruction of part of Hadrian's Wall at Vindolanda, carried out in limited time by local volunteers.
- Greek triremes have been reconstructed by skilled sailors from plans and archaeological remains and have been successfully tried out at sea.
Other types of experimental archaeology may involve burying modern replica artefacts and ecofacts for varying lengths of time to analyse the post-depositional effects on them. Other archaeologists have built modern earthworks 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. Hand axes have been shown to be particularly effective at cutting animal meat from the bone and jointing it.
- Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire, UK
- The Lejre Centre, DK, the major example to many archaeological open air centres
- EXARC, the European network of Open Air Museums and other facilities envolved in Experimental Archaeology.
- EXAR the European Association for the advancement of archaeology by experiment
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