9th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Molloy and Wisniewski

Look with your eyes, not with your hands? Combining 3D visualisation and kinaesthetic methods for understanding use-wear on prehistoric metalwork

Barry Molloy and Mariusz Wisniewski

University College Dublin

Since the beginnings of Experimental Archaeology, there has been an uneasy tension surrounding the role of the investigator. The scientific ethos of the New Archaeology tradition sought to adhere to laboratory standards, including the strict repeatability of experiments and use of deductive methods in which the archaeologist was (in theory) an external observer of phenomena. In contrast, the interpretive movement of the 1990’s emphasised the individual as a fundamental foundation for understanding past societies, along with inductive and context-driven approaches to understanding the material conditions of life. The implications for experimental archaeology were profound. The influential position established by Coles at the height of the New Archaeology had sought to extricate the investigator as marginal or irrelevant to experiments, but we came to face a dilemma about how to think of individuals or biographies of things if we are restricted to observing people-less phenomena (Doonan 2013).

Using the case of prehistoric metalwork, we will argue that experimental research can benefit by incorporating the experiences of investigators using kinaesthetic methods. Specifically, this addresses the changing state of knowledge of experimenters through repeated engagement with material culture – both ancient objects and modern replicas. Drawing on use-wear analysis of Irish Bronze Age axes and swords as a case study, our purpose is to examine how
use-wear can illustrate patterns of practice involving metal objects and in turn how these reveal aspects of the dialogue in design choices between craftspeople and artefact users. We do this by combining analyses of ancient use-wear, 3D visualisations of these, and experiences obtained inductively through experimental work with modern replicas. Particular emphasis is placed on the way we can use new visualisations of artefacts to enhance experiential learning, and the role of reflexive approaches that draw upon metric, digital and experimental methods for research and dissemination alike.

Coles, J. 1979. Experimental Archaeology. London

Doonan, R. 2013. “Recovering value in experimental studies of ancient metallurgy: a theoretical framework for future studies?” in Dungworth, D. and Doonan, R. (eds) Accidental and experimental archaeometallurgy, Gateshead: 17-24


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