The 8th annual Reconstructive and Experimental Archaeology Conference hosted by EXARC drew speakers and participants from many parts of the world. The REARC conference was once again hosted by Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, from October 18th to the 20th. Friday was reserved for the presentation of papers, by students and researchers alike, demonstrating the wealth of information and practical skills available within the EXARC community. Saturday was filled with numerous demonstrations in which the conference attendees could participate and museum visitors could watch and learn.
My presentation Of Boyling and Seething (Photo S. Stull).
The presented papers ranged from practical recreations like bird bone flute making and weaving reed beads to duplicate pottery impressions, to the use of recreated objects, such as determining if Ötzi’s tools were for hunting or for warfare, and the function of experimental archaeology within different types of classrooms. Some researchers presented a follow up on previous papers, like Neil Peterson with his ongoing Viking bead furnace project. Some might look for resources not yet found – the joy of Caitlin Gaffney after finding a possible source for a reproduction medieval knife to carve her bone flutes was absolutely contagious. And some were looking to network: David Spence asked for additional projects for his Experimental Archaeology in High School and left with numerous contacts and suggestions. Each and every paper had some unique view, some unusual bit of information – as the practical aspects of experimental archaeology requires a more interdisciplinary approach than traditional academics, conferences like REARC are essential. You just never know from what discipline, from which subject, the answer to the question you did not even realize you had could come from. I personally was amazed to find that the gist of my paper, to not take words at their literal modern definition, was independently repeated in another paper – to have my initial interpretation validated via an independent source right then and there.
Bill Schindler, experimental archaeologist and co-host of the National Geographic show The Great Human Race. I enjoyed our conversation over a craft beer at the hotel, and even taught him a thing or two about historic mead brewing.
The keynote speaker for this year was Bill Schindler, an experimental archaeologist with Washington College and part of the Eastern Shore Food Labs. His quite engaging presentation on Fusion: ancestral diets, modern culinary techniques, and experimental archaeology was well received, and left the audience with a number of questions to think on. This paper was perfect for our younger generation, our students, as they are now growing up in an environment which might be more hostile to them than they would surmise, and where their chosen area of research, experimental archaeology, could help shed light on where to go from here. The connection between human biology and our diet, and the impact industrialization has had on our health to the point where humans, and our pets, can be both obese and malnourished, is not only fascinating from an academic point of view, but pertinent to the survival of our species.
This years’ demonstrations were two part: the practice of throwing atlatl and observing and shooting early bows, combined with the technique of smelting tin and casting bronze and making Viking era glass beads. Unfortunately, while the weather was absolutely gorgeous on Friday, by the time Saturday came around it had changed to intermittent drizzle and rain. But that did not stop us from having a go at each of the stations, and appreciate the added value of tent coverings at the metallurgy and flamework areas. While I would have loved to try Ötzi’s replica bow as initially intended, Manuel Lizarralde did not feel comfortable to have it out in soaking rain as it was not yet waterproof. I did get to shoot a fire hardened black locust Native American self bow, weatherproofed with bear grease, and even hit the target center. Conference host Tim Messner enjoyed the primitive tattoo kit and extant stone tools the Native American interpreter brought to share – and almost talked him into a tattoo demo on the spot.
Fergus Milton, with help from David Spence, melting bronze to do a lost-wax mold casting later in the afternoon
At the station near the Blacksmith area we enjoyed Fergus Milton’s bronze casting demonstrations – with help on the bellows by David Spence – using a small furnace constructed on site from local clay, and aerated with a primitive leather-bag bellows. He began the day by smelting the bronze and preparing two molds, and poured the molds mid-afternoon. Several museum guests returned specifically to witness the casting, after stopping by periodically to keep an eye on the proceedings.
Making a glass Viking bead while Neil works the bellows (Photo by S. Stull).
At the same time Neil Peterson had his coal-fed bead furnace up and running for conference attendees to try their hand at making a Viking glass bead. His station was in continuous use throughout the day and many of the attendees left with a precious homemade bead in their pocket. Surprisingly, participants often had more trouble with the coordination required to operate the bellows effectively, than they had creating a simple bead.
To cap off this wonderful experience, the resident founders at Williamsburg had invited Fergus Milton for a special bronze casting demonstration Sunday morning at their shop. To experience the prehistoric process, so closely followed by the much more refined methods of the 18th century Geddy Foundry, was an appropriate ending to an otherwise perfect immersive weekend of reconstructive and experimental archaeology. We are ready to come back for more next year!
All photos credited to Susan Verberg, unless otherwise stated.
For details on the presented papers: https://exarc.net/rearc/archive/2018
Reprinted at: https://exarc.net/issue-2018-04/mm/conference-review-rearc-2018