5th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Roeland Paardekooper

From the 5th Experimental Archaeology Conference, Reading, 2011.

Developing scientific approaches in experimental archaeology, any possibility?

Roeland Paardekooper
Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter

The amount of archaeological experiments done and documented is very large and goes through all ages, materials and techniques. Over a period of 150 years, well structured experiments have given food for thought about performance in the past. Archaeology has learned, experimentation evolves. In the 1960s, one could proudly state to “have built a Stone Age house”, now we know, a (re)construction alone is no experiment. Comparability and repeatability of experiments are important hallmarks of good experimentation — and thus we are able to move beyond “first time” experiments.
Experiments usually do not satisfy scientific purposes only or even if they do, they do not involve archaeology only — it is interdisciplinary and requires looking broader, using more sources. The award of experimentation is that it teaches us methods and techniques by means of which we can better understand the archaeological record. An experiment nowadays doesn’t come alone anymore. Archaeological experimentation has become part of a toolkit of methods to extract knowledge from the archaeological record concerning objects, behaviour and processes. However, a scientific approach in experimental archaeology, just like in mainstream archaeology, will not provide us with certainties about the past. If done right, experimentation can and will advance archaeological science.

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