Experimental Archaeology


Experimental Archaeology is the carefully controlled replication of ancient processes and behaviors during the use or manufacture of material culture. It would include flint knapping – the making of stone tools that are similar to ancient ones – and then using them for butchering an animal, chopping down a tree, or using sickle blades to harvest grain. After using such replicated tools, the microscopic wear patterns can be analyzed and compared to ancient tools, in order to determine whether they were indeed used for such specified activities. Spear points have been made, mounted, and used with atlatls, to determine how effective they would have been as hunting tools. My own experience involved the reproduction of micro-flakes, manufactured while re-sharpening a tool. My work showed that they occur during pressure flaking, but also as a result of light tapping. The latter was used in a Roman watch tower for the manufacture of threshing-board flints.

Experimental archaeology has also been used for building catapults and measuring the size and weight of missiles that could be flung with them; for storing grain in pits to see whether the pits actually preserved the grain; for using ancient farming techniques to determine what the growing problems and the harvest yields were; for manufacturing large stones, such as were found in imposing ancient monuments and trying to determine how they were transported over substantial distances, and then laid exactly into place. The western [Wailing] wall and southern wall on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem contain a corner stone which measures five meters on one side, twelve meters on the other, and is approximately one meter high, weighing an estimated 125 tons. Any number of ships and boats have been reconstructed from ancient drawings and plans and tried out at sea, one of them being the Kon-Tiki, built by Thor Heyerdahl. Kilns have been built for the reproduction of ancient pottery vessels, but also for many experiments in metal smelting, including the making of various coins.

Replicated artifacts have been buried for certain periods of time, or trampled to find out what the wear patterns were from cultural and natural causes. Walls and fortifications have been built, many from adobe or mudbrick, to find out what the weather would do to them, or how effective they would be in a siege.

Experimental archaeology is not a historical reenactment in order to romanticize a documentary TV program. It is utilized to test serious hypotheses that have been generated by serious scholars.