3rd Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Roeland Paardekooper
From the 3rd Experimental Archaeology Conference, Edinburgh, 2008
Desk work, field work, then what? Where experimental archaeology becomes public archaeology
Roeland Paardekooper MA
Secretary of EXARC, postgraduate student at the University of Exeter
Through experiments, one gathers knowledge: data one can learn by heart, but as well knowledge gained by experience. Transferring this knowledge into a report is far from easy, many aspects are not transferrable by written text or photographic images. Experiencing is a key method of learning as well as transferring knowledge to others. The value of such experience is heavily dependent on the context, including other information carriers.
If an experiment is to have value, quite a bit of deskwork needs to precede the actual execution of the experiment. One aspect is that of finding references to previous similar experiments. Publications of experiments are shattered across thousands of articles. The result are new experiments where archaeologists reinvent the wheel because they simple have not been able to find preceding similar experiments. The solution might be in using the internet better as well as in a more formal infrastructure for scientific experimental archaeology. Publications alone condense only a part of the knowledge gained with experiments.
For many experiments, archaeological open air museums can serve as open air laboratories. They can, however have some more advantages to archaeology. Usually, the archaeological open air museums have the contacts to the right materials and craftspeople one needs for (eccentric) experiments. But the advantages for archaeologists in these museums are manifold. Tomas Johansson was an early advocate of these museums and was one of the founders of the international association of those museums, EXARC. Those museums benefit of regular contact with the archaeological discipline
First time experiments usually are that costly or elaborately prepared, that a transfer of knowledge to colleagues can only be restricted to the team involved. After a few attempts, one will have learned the techniques necessary to execute the experiment, but mastering it up to a reasonable level requires repeating. This repeating than can be used to transfer more knowledge than just what can be documented.
So, after the deskwork and first field work, there is a third step to take: repeating the experiment and communicate about it while experimenting. Again, archaeological open air museum can offer the right context. In some cases, the demonstrating of an activity has become more important than the experimental side of it. Archaeologists can benefit from these museums. It are easily accessible heritage centres, well prepared for such informal education of the general public. Informing the public is a need for archaeology and in doing so, support for the discipline itself will grow.