6th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Rowena Banerjea et al

Identifying formation processes in the archaeological record using experimental geoarchaeology

Rowena Y Banerjea(1), Wendy Matthews(2), Alex Brown(2), Michael Fulford(2) & Amanda Clarke(2)

1 Centre for Sustainable Heritage, University College London, UK
2Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, UK

This paper was developed and published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Both experimental archaeology and geoarchaeology have an important role to play in our understanding of the formation processes in the archaeological record. Understanding formation processes and post-depositional alterations within the archaeological record is crucial for archaeologists’ interpretation of stratigraphy and the material culture within archaeological deposits. Experimental archaeology enables targeted examination of, for example, activity areas, specific depositional processes and chronological timescales. Geoarchaeology enables archaeological sediments to be examined at high resolution. Geoarchaeological fieldwork at experimental sites and micromorphological analysis of occupation deposits from experimental buildings has produced important information and observations concerning: the variety of depositional pathways of materials into deposits; the formation processes of different deposit types; and post-depositional processes within roofed and unroofed spaces. The observations from experimental sites were used to assist with interpreting archaeological results from Insula IX at Silchester, UK.

Experimental field observations and micromorphological analysis have identified: depositional pathways of materials, such as rock fragments, building materials, artefacts and ecofacts coming into buildings; transportation routes and cycles of materials within buildings and key areas within building for the deposition of activity residues. Micromorphological analysis of experimental occupation deposits has identified localised distributions of activity residues including eroded building materials and assemblages. Experimental archaeology at Butser and Lejre has made key observations concerning post-depositional chemical alteration, trampling, and mesofaunal bioturbation and the impact of these on different geological substrates and timescales in the life-history of buildings.

There are striking similarities in sediment attributes between the experimental and archaeological deposit types from Insula IX at Silchester, indicating that experimental data should be broadly applicable to archaeological settlements in temperate environments. The application of micromorphological comparatives from experimental archaeology has enabled a greater degree of certainty to be applied to micromorphological results from archaeological materials from Silchester. Experimental research has enabled questions concerning formation processes in the archaeological record to be addressed in two different geological settings, on chalk at Butser, and on Glacial till at Lejre.

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