Over 10 and 11 January I and around 70 other participants enjoyed EAC14, the eighth UK Experimental Archaeology Conference, in wet and woolly Oxford.
Co-ordinated by Chelsea Budd and Christophe Snoeck, ably supported by a team of student volunteers and the EXARC team, the conference was really interesting and great fun. There was a generous mix of papers, workshops, museum visiting (we couldn’t miss some of Oxford’s amazing collections!) and down-time over lunch – and especially dinner, in the pub, catching up with friends and making new ones.
I found five of the fifteen papers especially interesting and useful. Martin Smith from the University of Bournemouth described his research to test the efficacy of polyurethane bone substitutes in ballistics experiments. I liked this because it’s so important to question the strengths and weaknesses of the analogies that we use in archaeology (Wylie 1985). This is true of ethnographic analogies that might be called upon to discuss past cultural or social behaviours (like comparing Madagascan standing stones erected for the ancestors, to Stonehenge, for example)(Parker Pearson and Ramilisonina 1998); as well as the materials, tools and actions we use in archaeological experiments. So it was great to hear from a researcher who is investigating the quality of analogy.
Related to Martin’s paper was the presentation by Meaghan Dyer on her Master’s work with Linda Fibiger at the University of Edinburgh. I met Meaghan briefly in December last year but hadn’t had the chance to find out more about her work as I shivered on the Marlborough Downs filming on a tv shoot. Meaghan has been using the self-same polyurethane bone substitutes to research aspects of inter-personal violence in the early Neolithic.
Not that I have anything against flint – it’s very useful – but I always enjoy hearing and talking about non-flint stone technology. Elise Morero presented her team’s research into Bronze Age stone vase manufacture in the Eastern Mediterranean. It struck me that the lapidary techniques involved have much in common with methods and tools used to work precious stones (as opposed to striking those stone types that will flake, like flint), having seen the hollow forms and rock crystal on display at the Museum of London’s Cheapside Hoard exhibition. Elise concentrated on the hollowing technology; I would love to have heard about the techniques for shaping the outside of the vases, which may have involved turning. I do like a good lathe!
Enora Gandon of the Institute of Archaeology Jerusalem gave us an excellent demonstration of one of the great strengths of experimental archaeology; that the results of projects using this methodology can play a role in the development of theoretical perspectives that are appropriate to the archaeological record (Bell 2009). Brendan O’Neill from University College Dublin gave us a master-class in project design – and another non-flint stone project, looking at felsite on Shetland. These two papers described projects that are great recommendations for the use of experiment in archaeology. And in relation to my interest in sarsen stone, I found Brendan’s paper very instructive and can’t wait to read the results.
The workshops offered the opportunity to follow up with some of the presenters as well as learn more about other topics. Rachel Hopkins, who is a member of Wolfson College, wowed us with medieval shoe-making and I for one could have spent all of the workshop time learning from her. As it was, I came away knowing how to “thread” a boar’s bristle needle (which I used back at home to re-string my amber bead necklace:
It wasn’t only me who had a great time in Oxford – EAC15 will be in Dublin, we’re all looking forward to it already…
Bell, M. (2009) “Experimental Archaeology: changing science agendas and perceptual perspectives.” In Allen, M., O’Connor, T. and Sharples, N. (eds) Land and People: papers in memory of John G. Evans Oxford: Oxbow pp31-45
Parker Pearson, M. and Ramisilonina (1998) “Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message” Antiquity 72(276):308-326
Wylie, A. (1985) “The Reaction Against Analogy” Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 8:63-112