2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Carolyn Forrest

From the 2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference, Exeter, 2007.

Where did it all begin? Experimental Archaeology from the 19th to the mid 20th Century

Carolyn Forrest MA,

University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland

 This paper will explore the early history of experimental archaeology from the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.  It will show that, far from being a product of the post-War ‘New Archaeology’, experimental archaeology has a much longer pedigree.  The development of the discipline of Archaeology in the mid 19th century will be studied, considering the context of theological and intellectual debate.  This will focus on an examination of the scientific methods and interests of the early amateur archaeologist John Lubbock, 1st Baron of Avebury and close friend of Charles Darwin.  Such work will be contrasted with an article written by Robert Ascher in 1961; one of the first to use the term experimental archaeology.  The paper will consider whether there has been a continuance of ideas and methods relating to the nature of experimentation in archaeology and to what extent this has been affected by changing social and academic influence.

This work is drawn from research being undertaken towards a PhD at the University of Aberdeen – “Experiment or Experience – The roles of scientific method and experiential activity in Experimental Archaeology and how they supplement our knowledge of the past”.  I am looking at the scientific role of experimental archaeology from the 19th century to the present; the types of experimental archaeology that have been undertaken and the contrasts between those who have participated in experimental archaeology in the past and those in the present.  I am interested in the idea that knowledge of the past can be gained through imitation, based on archaeological evidence, or hands on activity and how this ‘learning’ can be transferred to a wider audience as an exchange of kills or information.


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