Experimental archaeology is that branch of archaeology where archaeologists deal with the practical interpretations of the ancient societies of the past by analyzing and observing how societies in ancient history formed and developed gradually with time. Experimental archaeologists attempt to work and manufacture a replica of the old society of the past based on the discoveries they discovered from the lost sites and can test or re-test the theories related to past remains. They do research based on certain things like the material remains of the past, lost society formed in a controlled environment, various artifacts, and so on.  Experimental archaeologists mainly believe in experimenting with anything related to the past be it the ancient society or the material remains. Based on the uses of primitive technology, archaeologists observe and interpret every unique detail related to the ancient past. This branch of archaeology is a part of historical research and the chemical and physical processes that shape the present world is the same as those of the past. It is basically the historical reconstruction of history that will help the archaeologists to find out how the ancient people lived and what are their primary forms of occupation and methods of living. Experimental archaeologists are expected to delve into the depth of the ancient remains of the past and find out all those missing pieces that will help more in the understanding of the concerned site from the past era. Archaeologists basically recreate the exact ancient conditions using only the material remains of the past culture. This method of experimental archaeology uses a variety of techniques and methods and the prime focus is to develop an idea and test its authenticity. The best research mainly involves both controlled and natural experimentation of the past to provide a sound and better understanding of individuals and the interaction they develop within their realistic scenarios.

Experimental archaeologists
Archaeologists experimenting with burning coal

Some examples of Experimental Archaeology

Experimental archaeology can be better understood by the following examples mentioned below:

  • Buster ancient farm

One of the earliest examples of experimental archaeology is the Buster Ancient Farm which mainly recreated the buildings based on UK archaeology to test the construction sites and the uses of materials of the past. The site features a working Stone Age farm, a Bronze Age roundhouse, an Iron Age village, a Roman villa, and Saxon long halls. This experiment is done in the Buster Farm which made experimental archaeology an important discipline to be followed while studying archaeology.

  • Lejre land of Legends

Another important example of Experimental archaeology is the Lejre land of Legends, an open-air museum in Denmark. This site also features buildings from past eras like Stone Age, the Iron age, the Viking era, and the 19th Century and mainly deals with experiments related to prehistoric life and technologies. Prehistoric life has vast differences from the present time, therefore showcasing them in a museum will be a new and innovative thing for the viewers who visit the place. 

Different kinds of experimental archaeology

Experimental archaeology can be categorized into different kinds and each of them is different from the others. 

  • Building reconstructions in open-air centers

Experimental archaeologists most importantly deal with the past so that they can do a proper experiment on the material remains as well as the society. Reconstructed houses and buildings can be seen as one of the common results of past experiments done by experimental archaeologists. And these reconstructed buildings are mostly made based on the personal experiences of the archaeologists who dealt in detail with the artifacts and societies of the past era which is mainly done by collecting all the necessary data related to the past.

  • Educational programs for children

Experimental archaeology is often used to describe what is known as Museum education. The employees of the museum carry out certain educational programs for the children which help them to make a pouch, cut a spoon, or sail a canoe. These are not experiments as such but rather the activities that they offered to the children make them well aware of the past life and the society where the pre-historic people stayed.

  • Living history

Experimental archaeology can also help in demonstrating the actual past by creating a connection between the textbooks and reality, between knowledge learned by heart and knowledge gained by experience. Besides the educational programs held for school-going students, also at special events, actors are hired to perform and give demonstrations related to crafts, cooking, and arts which will be basically dealing with the atmosphere of the Stone or Prehistoric ages. It all happens in the present time but is inspired by the past. And the is one of the major sources of inspiration which not only reconstructs the past but also helps people to live the past.

  • Trying out a new technique 

Experimental archaeologists have used various types of techniques while experimenting with the past and many times they tried a certain new technique which helps them to learn more about the qualities of past artifacts that one cannot even imagine. With this experience of the past, one might be able to imagine more about the people living in the  Iron Age world and also the society that formed and developed during the past years. Materials and techniques are used while dealing with the past and in the reconstruction process that takes place in the present day.

  • Scientific experiments

Scientific experiments are very much important in knowing the actual truth related to a past life. Using the scientific method while experimenting with past remains like artifacts, weapons, potteries, etc. can be the best way to go beyond assumptions, realities, and possibilities. Experiments related to the past can definitely recreate the exact replica in the modern day by using scientific technologies that help not only to demonstrate the past history but also to live them in their present day. 

 Experimental archaeologist
Archaeologists building furnaces and smelting iron

What does an Experimental archaeologist do?

Experimental archaeology is a branch of archaeology that basically deals with the reconstruction of the past by using the ancient remains of artifacts and other materials found in the past. Therefore, experimental archaeologists often experiment by replicating ancient structures or artifacts using materials, tools, and techniques that were possibly used by past people. This form of experimentation is also known as ‘replicative experiment’ because here the primary focus is always placed on the consistent replication of the material remains of the past.  Experimental archaeologists recently made use of scientific experiments because using the scientific framework for archaeological experimentation will throw a greater focus on the design and control of experiments for testing specific hypotheses about past activities. So, experimental archaeologists always make use of innovative techniques which can help them in recreating the past in a new way. They discover the past remains by visiting the archaeological sites and analyzing them and beginning their experiments as to how these material remains may have been formed by the ancient people of the past. Therefore, these archaeologists believe in introducing certain experiments that can replicate past life by demonstrating them in a new way.

Future of experimental archaeology

Experimental archaeology is an important branch of archaeology that not only deals with the archaeological remains of the past but also replicates them into real-life structures in the present day. So, definitely, the future of experimental archaeology is very bright and challenging because modern issues also existed in the past: environmental disasters, economic crises, and cultural integration. So, one should try to look for the solutions that people used in the past and learn from them. In the future experimental archaeology can also help in avoiding many types of natural problems like floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. if we study them properly and know what exactly the past society looks like and how they lived among all the ups and downs that they faced then because, during the ancient times, there are no modern facilities of the hospital, drainage system, sanitation, and so on. So, living their life by replicating not only will help us to know their lifestyle but also will helps us to adjust to circumstances that are beyond one’s control. Therefore, one can say that the future of experimental archaeology is definitely outstanding as this branch of archaeology helps people to live and learn from their past ancestors. Experimental archaeology, therefore, can be understood as that branch of archaeology that focuses on the living replication of the past by analyzing and observing the past remains of the artifacts and using them in present-day structures and buildings. 

Shramana Sarma Roy Content Writer Intern



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