2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Clara Masriera i Esquerra et al
Presenting archaeological heritage of the Bronze and Iron Age to the public: ruins versus reconstructions
Clara Masriera i Esquerra, Joan Santacana i Mestre & Ferran Urgell i Plaza
University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
This paper is the result of several years’ research into the excavation, study, interpretation, reconstruction and presentation of Bronze and Iron Age archaeological sites in Europe and specifically in the west coast of Mediterranean Sea. We present the case example of two reconstructed Bronze and Iron Age settlements; a state of the art of the Bronze and Iron Age reconstructed settlements in Europe and a visitor’s study comparing the communicative or didactic efficacy of those sites which were presented in a traditional manner and those which have been reconstructed.
Our research started with the excavation of an Iberian Citadel in the village of Calafell built during the Iron Age. After the excavation, the team planned to reconstruct part of the settlement “in situ” using the same tools and materials as the ones in the Iron Age. To interpret the site they use craftsmen, archaeological information and archeoethnological comparisons. The result was a 1:1 scale Iberian settlement visited by twenty thousand people per year.
After this first successful reconstruction, the same team excavates a Bronze Age settlement called “Barranc de Gàfols” in the southern part of Catalonia. With the aim to know, interpret and experiment how the Bronze Age architecture was, they built two Bronze Age houses with the whole information taken out from the excavation and using experimental archaeology methods.
To focus and define our approach, we chose first to establish which existing archaeological locations had been used to trace the course of European Protohistory, and then to investigate which of these locations were presented to the public on a 1:1 scale.
Running parallel to this was our plan to compare the communicative or didactic efficacy of those sites which were presented in a traditional manner – that is, through the preservation of existing remains without further direct intervention – and those which had been three-dimensionally reconstructed or replicated. Was this latter approach an effective means of achieving better public understanding of the period in question? Our field work focused on five archaeological sites from the Iberian period, all located in Catalonia. Four of these display preserved remains, while one is partially-reconstructed.
It may seem ambitious to attempt to analyse Bronze and Iron Age archaeological displays throughout Europe but our research objectives were quite modest from the outset. Our fundamental aim was to establish how worthwhile it was to carry out volumetric reconstructions of archaeological sites, in all their possible variations.
Our fundamental hypothesis was this: given that most people find it difficult to conceptualise physical space, a visit to a reconstructed archaeological site should help them to reach a better understanding of that space.
The results of our research clearly show, beyond any possible doubt, that people always learn from visiting reconstructed sites. In this regard, significant differences can be seen in the surveys carried out before and after the visit. The surveys from the preserved sites, on the other hand, not only show no evidence of learning having taken place, but actually raise the possibility that such visits increase confusion: in other words, that people understand less as a result. This is a surprising finding, going far beyond the range of our initial hypothesis: the idea that a visit to an archaeological site could actually lead to decreased levels of knowledge and understanding had never occurred to us.