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18 September 2014
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Getting Involved: Archaeology Now

By Barrie Andrian
New tools, old methods

Image of man using ember and tinder to create a flame
Firemaking tools - a blend of the old and new ©
Not all reconstructions are created using replica period tools. Often trials are carried out with these tools, such as at Flag Fen in Peterborough and at the Scottish Crannog Centre in Kenmore, while the bulk of the work is completed using modern hand tools. This practice is usually dictated by lack of time or resources, but it may be viewed by some as compromising the experiment of reconstruction.

We can never guarantee, in any case, that the methods we use to build are those employed by our ancestors, but the experiment is valid as long as we work within their means. We can still get an indication of the likely workforce required for example, and we can still learn a great deal about construction techniques and performance or weathering over time. We can also use the finished product to raise awareness about a particular tradition or culture.

'Experiments do not always go to plan, and we learn best from what goes wrong.'

Experiments do not always go to plan, and we learn best from what goes wrong. At Flag Fen, a reconstruction of a small Bronze age roundhouse was thatched using turfs. It turned out that the roof leaked unless the turfs were placed over a lining of straw or other thatching materials.

Several years later, the multi-period park at Archaeolink near Aberdeen made a similar mistake, and had to re-thatch one of its heather-covered roundhouses. One of the reasons for establishing better international experimental archaeology networks is to learn from each other so that we don't all have to make the same mistakes. It is as important to learn about failure as it is to see success.

Published: 2005-06-21

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