Lab 1 -EXARC Study- Ellie Simon


Summary of what experimental archaeology entails, the articles I found interesting, and two article reviews.

After scrolling through all of the articles tagged “experimental archaeology,” I found that the latest era that was focused on was the late middle ages, and a few on the so-called “newest/newer era.” The overwhelming majority of the articles were focused on western, European countries (and some from the Middle East/cradle of civilization)  as well as on the Paleolithic (pre c. 8800 BCE) and the Iron Age (c. late 11th century BCE – 1 BCE) and the ones in between those. This is somewhat unsurprising: while there is a growing interest in non-Western, non-hegemonic countries many of the world’s time and resources have been poured into the West, and experimental archaeology seems not to be an exception to this (or at least judging from EXARC). I would like to ask Jake why there is such a big focus on older history, and not so much recent history.

Many of the articles are focused on the Chaîne opératoire, is a tool that involves analyzing a technological procedure and dividing it into sequential phases, with the intention of acquiring a better understanding of which parts of the artifact serve what purpose and in what context/for what need they arose. This approach is reminiscent of both experiential history–theoretical– and experimental archaeology–tangible and scientific, which is unsurprising, since they work in tandem a lot of the time. The articles from EXARC follow a general pattern: there is a small artifact–scarab, seed, pot–recovered by an archaeologist, and their team begins forming questions about this item’s place in, for example, a chain of operation, or its function in its own right. Then, once a feasible theory about the purpose/use of the artifact is formed, then archaeologists attempt to reconstruct the setting in which the artifact was used, or the artifact itself. Artifacts don’t have to be small objects, like pottery or jewlery, but can also be larger huts, kilns, or entire areas that can also be reconstructed. All in all, I gleaned that experimental archaeology is extremely multidisciplinary, for all of the articles that I looked at had a member from different disciplines, such as a geophysicist or a landscaper or a conservation activist. 

The topics that I find interesting are the ones that involve the preparation and consumption of food. Papers with titles that I want to read are ones that describe an agricultural artifact from the past, like seed shells, which can tell us about the diet of ancient people and how much food they consumed from each food group. I believe this indicates a pattern of interest in the ways in which animals and plants were manipulated to make life easier and survival more simple. I think this interest might come from being interested in doing a diachronic study of food in Greece, and, importantly, elsewhere, to see what continuities in diet there have been over time, and how we evolved into a world that prioritizes fast food. 

  1. Pit Preserve from Ida – on the Problem of Charred Seeds from Prehistoric Pits

This article had a very helpful introduction where they give background information on the significance of pit preserves as vestiges of the diet of prehistoric humans. They then talk about the reasons for the study, and what interested them enough to conduct the study, which is helpful to hear for someone who sometimes has a hard time coming up with a research question. I also liked how the author talks about and explains smaller archaeological theories that otherwise would not have made sense to me. For example, it’s a common misconception that all people use piles/heaps of some kind to dispose of trash, but that’s not necessarily true. It was promising to see that they proved their initial hypothesis that high amounts of cereal shell grains meant a high grain diet, and that they cannot be certain that the correlation was as simple as that. The materials and methods section made very clear what was going on in the experiment. However, one thing that I would have liked to know is how cultural resource management was involved, and if any local or native people of the location of the study were consulted. The same goes for the paper below. 

  1. Experimental Archaeology of Iron Age Firing Structures from the Western Mediterranean

I really enjoyed reading this paper! The language was, for the most part, straightforward and would be comprehensible to a larger audience. The authors clearly laid out their variables and what they were testing, as well as what they were trying to accomplish with their project. I liked how the authors laid out exactly what the experimental aspect of experimental archaeology was. It was interesting to read about how they cooked legumes and animal bones to replicate what might have been cooked in these ancient kkilns during the iron age, and how not all of the kilns needed to use a source of fuel to get water to boil. I think they could have done a  better job at the end when discussing the results and the larger implications. It seemed kind of unprofessional to not have gotten all your results in before you begin the publishing process, although I’m not sure if that happens a lot. I wish they would have conveyed a bit more colloquial language and excitement about the project. The paper could have benefitted from a discussion section. I think overall the paper could have used more of an introduction to the sentence, so work on your formatting. 

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