Experimental tree felling with reconstructed adzes of the Linear Pottery culture for the analysis of stress marks on the adze blades and ghost lines on the tree stump and the timber in comparison with marks on archaeological finds
Creating a wall of mud in the Viking style.

Experimental archaeology (also called experiment archaeology) is a field of study which attempts to generate and test archaeological hypotheses, usually by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats. It employs a number of methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches, based upon archaeological source material such as ancient structures or artifacts.[1]

It is distinct from uses of primitive technology without any concern for archaeological or historical study. Living history and historical reenactment, which are generally undertaken as hobbies, are non-archaeological counterparts of this academic discipline.

One of the main forms of experimental archaeology is the creation of copies of historical structures using only historically accurate technologies. This is sometimes known as reconstruction archaeology or reconstructional archaeology; however, reconstruction implies an exact replica of the past, when it is in fact just one person's idea of the past; the more archaeologically correct term is a working construction of the past. In recent years, experimental archaeology has been featured in several television productions, such as BBC's "Building the Impossible"[2] and the PBS's Secrets of Lost Empires.[3] Most notable were the attempts to create several of Leonardo da Vinci's designs from his sketchbooks, such as his 15th century armed fighting vehicle.


Butser Ancient Farm

Butser Ancient Farm's reconstruction of a Stone Age house found in Hampshire, UK.

One of the earliest examples is Butser Ancient Farm, which recreates buildings from UK archaeology to test theories of construction, use, and materials. Today, the site features a working Stone Age farm, a Bronze Age roundhouse, Iron Age village, Roman villa, and Saxon long halls.[4] The work carried out at Butser has been instrumental in establishing experimental archaeology as a legitimate archaeological discipline, as well as assisted in bringing study of prehistory to the UK school curriculum.[5]

Butser still carries out long-term experiments in prehistoric agriculture, animal husbandry, and manufacturing to test ideas posited by archaeologists, as well as introducing visitors to the discipline.

Lejre Land of Legends

Another early example is the Lejre Land of Legends, the oldest open-air museum in Denmark.[6] The site features reconstructed buildings from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Viking era, and 19th Century, and runs experiments on prehistoric living and technologies.

Other examples


Experimental medieval forge

Other types of experimental archaeology may involve burying modern replica artifacts and ecofacts for varying lengths of time to analyse the post-depositional effects on them. Other archaeologists have built modern earthworks and measured the effects of silting in the ditches and weathering and subsidence on the banks to understand better how ancient monuments would have looked. One example is Overton Down in England.

The work of flintknappers is also a kind of experimental archaeology as much has been learnt about the many different types of flint tools through the hands-on approach of actually making them. Experimental archaeologists have equipped modern professional butchers, archers and lumberjacks with replica flint tools to judge how effective they would have been for certain tasks. Use wear traces on the modern flint tools are compared to similar traces on archaeological artifacts, making probability hypotheses on the possible kind of use feasible. Hand axes have been shown to be particularly effective at cutting animal meat from the bone and jointing it.

Another field of experimental archaeology is illustrated by the studies of the stone flaking abilities of humans ("novice knapper" studies) and of non-human primates. In the latter case it has been shown that, after human demonstrations, enculturated bonobos are able to produce modified cores and flaked stones which are morphologically similar to early lithic industries in East Africa.[19]

In popular culture

The subject has proven popular enough to spawn several re-creation-type television shows:

See also


  1. ^ Experimental archaeology is "Within the context of a controllable imitative experiment to replicate past phenomena in order to generate and test hypotheses to provide or enhance analogies for archaeological interpretation" (Mathieu, 12)
  2. ^ "Building the Impossible" – via www.imdb.com.
  3. ^ "NOVA Online – Secrets of Lost Empires". www.pbs.org.
  4. ^ "About Us". Butser Ancient Farm. Retrieved 2022-09-07.
  5. ^ Aston, Mick (2001-10-05). "Obituary: Peter Reynolds". the Guardian. Retrieved 2022-09-07.
  6. ^ "Sagnlandet Lejre (DK) | EXARC". exarc.net. Retrieved 2022-09-07.
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2012-09-05.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Koukarine, Alexandre; Nesterenko, Igor; Petrunin, Yuri; Shiltsev, Vladimir (1 November 2013). "Experimental Reconstruction of Lomonosov's Discovery of Venus's Atmosphere with Antique Refractors During the 2012 Transit of Venus". Solar System Research. 47 (6): 487–490. arXiv:1208.5286. Bibcode:2013SoSyR..47..487K. doi:10.1134/S0038094613060038. S2CID 119201160.
  9. ^ Marwick, Ben; Hayes, Elspeth; Clarkson, Chris; Fullagar, Richard (March 2017). "Movement of lithics by trampling: An experiment in the Madjedbebe sediments, northern Australia". Journal of Archaeological Science. 79: 73–85. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2017.01.008.
  10. ^ Driscoll, Killian (2010). Understanding quartz technology in early prehistoric Ireland (Thesis). University College Dublin.
  11. ^ Driscoll, Killian (2011). "Vein quartz in lithic traditions: an analysis based on experimental archaeology". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (3): 734–745. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2010.10.027.
  12. ^ Driscoll, Killian; Menuge, Julian (2011). "Recognising burnt vein quartz artefacts in archaeological assemblages". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (9): 2251–2260. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2011.03.028.
  13. ^ Driscoll, Killian (2011). "Identifying and classifying vein quartz artefacts: an experiment conducted at the World Archaeological Congress, 2008". Archaeometry. 53 (6): 1280–1296. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.2011.00600.x.
  14. ^ Driscoll, K; Alcaina, J; Égüez, N; Mangado, X; Fullola, J-M.; Tejero, J-M. (2016). "Trampled under foot: A quartz and chert human trampling experiment at the Cova del Parco rock shelter, Spain". Quaternary International. 424: 130–142. Bibcode:2016QuInt.424..130D. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.04.054.
  15. ^ "Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglo Saxon & Viking School Trips". Ancient Technology centre. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
  16. ^ Pollak, Sorcha. "Medieval hut at UCD burned down in 'arson' attack". The Irish Times.
  17. ^ "UCD School of Archaeology". www.ucd.ie.
  18. ^ "ExperimentArchaeolog (@EArchaeol) | Twitter". twitter.com.
  19. ^ Schick, Kathy; Toth, Nicholas; Garufi, Gary; Savage-Rumbaugh, E. Sue; Rumbaugh, Duane; Seveik, Rose (1999). "Continuing Insestigations into the Stone Tool-making and Tool-using Capabilities of a Bonobo (Pan panisus)". Journal of Archaeological Science. 26 (7): 821–832. doi:10.1006/jasc.1998.0350.
  20. ^ "I, Caveman | the Incubator". Archived from the original on 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-10-26.
  21. ^ "Watch Curiosity Volume 1 | Prime Video". Amazon.
  22. ^ "The Colony: About the Show : Discovery Channel". Archived from the original on 2010-07-23. Retrieved 2009-07-15.