9th Experimental Archaeology Conference poster – Mowat and Whately
The Hatra Ballista: a Case Study in Experiential Learning and Experimental Archaeology at the Undergraduate Level
Alistair Mowat (University of Manitoba) & Conor Whately (University of Winnipeg)
The pedagogical value of experiential learning is well-established, and has long been embraced in any number of academic fields, though rarely in Classics or Classical Archaeology as taught in the classroom. In the broader realm of archaeology, however, it is a cornerstone of the discipline and fundamental to its training; innumerable excavation and
survey projects boast undergraduate level field-schools, and laboratory experience is essential to students of bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, and many other sub-disciplines. Classical archaeology students in North America have limited access to material evidence and study collections, but experimental archaeology can help provide experiential learning opportunities in this field without necessitating international travel. Nevertheless, courses offered in experimental archaeology at the undergraduate level are comparatively rare, and rarer still in the context of Classical Studies. And yet, experimental archaeology can provide an effective framework for intensive undergraduate research.
The case study presented here focuses on an undergraduate thesis that involved constructing a large scale model of the Hatra Ballista, a 3rd century CE piece of stone-throwing torsion artillery excavated at Hatra, in modern day Iraq. In spite of the limitations of scope, funding, and time inherent to an undergraduate project, the experimental approach enabled a suitably narrow focus and a clear definition of purpose of the sort frequently lacking in research at this level. Furthermore, the undertaking of this sizeable reconstruction project furnished considerable insight into the problems of expert craftsmanship, manpower organization, and especially resource management and procurement in the ancient world. In terms of pedagogical benefit, the student also gained experience in grant application writing, accounting, curation, wood and metal working, 3D modelling, academic presentation, and public outreach.