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School of Human &

Environmental Sciences

Developing experimental approaches in
archaeology at Reading
What is experimental
All archaeologists study the fragmentary records of
past human activities, which have been formed and
modified over long timescales. Yet the traces we find
often relate to activities and skills with which we are
not familiar. These traces therefore need to be inter-
preted in terms of past ways of life and presented to
the wider public in an accessible, questioning and
engaging way.
Experimental archaeology has an important contribu-
tion to make to the achievement of both of these goals.
For example it may help us to understand how a build-
ing represented only by postholes was constructed,
while experimental replication helps us to understand
how things were made and used in the past. In partic-
ular the microscopic wear traces produced by known
experimental activities can be compared with those
found on ancient tools. Experiment also helps us to
understand how the archaeological record is formed:
how artefacts are transported by rivers, the changes
that take place when a soil is buried or an earthwork
weathers, and the inclusion of micro-traces in the
sediments of archaeological sites as a result of
specific activities.
Like all rigorous scientific methodologies, archaeo-
logical experiments seek to control variables in order
to make precise measurements concerning those
elements of particular interest or importance. For
instance, excavations may be conducted at defined
intervals to measure how an earthwork changes over
time. The key is that good experiments are those
which are carried out to test particular theories or
hypotheses about the past. They are one of the
ways in which archaeologists are developing more
explicitly scientific methodologies, appropriate to
understanding the particular characteristics of the
archaeological record.
In archaeology, experiments and hypothesis testing
seldom provide proof that one particular theory is
correct but they may very well enable that theory to be
accepted or refined pending further critical enquiry.
Good science is always questioning, always looking for
a better answer. Experimental sites can be an
important arena in which archaeologists can think
critically about the formation processes of their record
and put theories to the test in a way that also contrib-
utes to education and outreach.
Experimental archaeology Butser Ancient Farm

at Reading
Recent years have seen an increasing focus upon
experimental archaeology at the University of
Readings Department of Archaeology. Research by
Professor Martin Bell, Dr Wendy Matthews, Professor
Steven Mithen, and Dr Rob Hosfield, amongst others,
has utilized experimental approaches, with projects
exploring topics ranging from handaxe butchery to
the modification of buried soils. This research has Butser Ancient Farm was set up by the late Dr Peter Reynolds
involved a mixture of academic staff, doctoral research in 1972, near Petersfield in Hampshire. Since then it has
students and undergraduate students, with experimen- focused mainly on issues of Iron Age archaeology and has
played an important part in developing understanding of the
tal archaeology helping to engage dissertation students
construction of roundhouses, grain storage in pits, crop yields,
with practical and science-based archaeology. and weed floras, and has increased understanding of many
In 20079 the School of Human & Environmental other aspects of the archaeological record.
Sciences at the University of Reading is supporting Since Dr Reynolds death in 2001 Butser has continued to
develop, with the addition of a Roman villa created as part of a
a new project, Developing Experimental Approaches in
Discovery Channel television series. Butser has also been more
Archaeology, designed to explore ways of develop- influential than Peter Reynolds may ever have envisaged: many
ing experimental archaeological approaches in our of the comparable prehistoric experimental sites in Britain
research and teaching. The project is led by Profes- are based quite closely on the model he created at Butser. For
more information on Butser, including opening times, see:
sor Martin Bell and Dr Rob Hosfield and also involves
Rowena Banerjea, Dr Alex Brown, Professor Stephen
Nortcliff and Dr Wendy Matthews, drawing together
the Department and the Schools research expertise in Roman metal working, weapons and body armour
experimental archaeology. The project is also develop-
ing new inter-disciplinary links (including colleagues
from the School of Human & Environmental Sciences
at Reading, and other UK and European experimen-
tal archaeological sites), and conducting new pilot
research projects in experimental archaeology.
This booklet introduces aspects of the experimental
archaeology with which we are involved at Reading,
and offers our observations about how experiment
in archaeology may be developed more widely in
the future. Our purpose is to encourage a renewal of
interest and involvement in experimental archaeol-
ogy, and to stimulate students to think about possible
experimental questions and projects for dissertation
and doctoral research at both undergraduate and post-
graduate levels.

Dr David Sim is a skilled professional blacksmith and

archaeologist who did his PhD at Reading on Roman iron
working. He has carried out experimental studies of the
production methods and effectiveness of weapons such as
the Dacian battle scythe, and Roman armour. Dr David Sim
gives demonstrations of iron working at the Silchester field
school in July each year. For more information about the
field school and its open days see:

Experimental archaeology Mesolithic tools, foods and structures
Martin Bell & Steven Mithen
in teaching and learning Preparing the report (Bell 2007) on our recent cam-
paign of excavations on Mesolithic sites in the Severn
Experimental archaeological sites and Estuary threw up all sorts of questions about how
things were made and done in this period which could
projects offer ideal contexts for teaching
be partly addressed using experimental methods. We
and create excellent possibilities for subsequently organised a Mesolithic experimental
weekend at Butser, involving Reading students and
synergies between teaching and research.
volunteers in a mixture of teaching and research
The opportunity to observe examples of activities (below left). In our Severn Estuary excava-
buried soils formed over a known period tions we had found artefact distributions suggesting
the existence of small, circular tepee-like structures.
of time under known conditions has Our work at Butser showed that such a structure could
been especially invaluable to our MSc be erected in less than a day and could provide sleep-
ing accommodation for a nuclear family of 4 or 5. Our
Geoarchaeology students here at Reading,
excavations had also produced many heat-fractured
while experimental contexts focus the stones and we discovered that these provided a very
effective way of cooking a salmon. We also conducted
mind of the fieldworker on the formation
experiments replicating the wear traces left on bone
processes of the record under excavation. artefacts used to prepare hides and work wood: these
were helpful in interpreting the wear traces found on
our Mesolithic bones.
Although these were only small-scale, two day experi-
ments (which we would like to take further) the
exercise was extremely valuable, at a key stage in the
post-excavation process, for thinking through in a
practical way some of the problems of interpretation.
Experimental methods were also similarly important
in another of our Mesolithic projects: Professor Mith-
ens Southern Hebrides Project (Mithen 2001). Here a
series of experiments explored flint knapping, tool
manufacture and usages, and food preparation. Once
again the experimental results aided in the interpreta-
tion of the project: for example the hazelnut roasting
suggested that the most effective ovens are relatively
shallow pits (combined with limited roasting times),
and suitably small pits were identified at the site of
Staosnaig (below left). The manufacture of an
Obanian harpoon took a total of six hours, suggesting
that such items were curated, but also revealed that
the required techniques could be quickly discovered
and mastered with limited practice (arguing against
the need for specific antler craftsmen).

Experimental archaeology The role of spoken language in the learning of basic
knapping skills (Adam Donnelly)

and student research Handaxe manufacturing decisions as evident in re-

fitting sequences from replicated examples
Experiments can also form the core of first rate (Faye Nash)
student dissertation topics at all levels, promoting The following pages include short summaries of four
well-defined problems, providing opportunities to student projects in particular: experimental archery
combine field and laboratory work, and producing orig- exploring the effectiveness of later prehistoric arrow-
inal and innovative data amenable to robust graphical heads (Tom Williams); experimental use-wear analysis
and statistical analysis and interpretation. investigating the functions of Early Neolithic projec-
In the last few years there have been increasing tile points (Dr Sam Smith); woodworking experiments
numbers of experimental archaeological research with later prehistoric axes (Anna Ward); and experi-
projects undertaken by Reading Archaeology under- mental butchery assessing the impact of varying
graduate and postgraduate students. Recent and handaxe symmetry upon performance
current examples include investigations of: (Dr Anna Machin).
The geoarchaeological and forensic properties of pits
(Robert Power)

The effectiveness of later prehistoric arrowheads (Tom Williams)

A 2007/8 undergraduate dissertation by Tom Williams ratings, generating similar draw weights and charac-
(BA Archaeology, 20052008) used experimental teristics to later prehistoric bows. The target was a pig
archaeology to investigate the effectiveness of carcass (representing a typical later prehistoric hunted
different types of flint arrowheads from the Neolithic species), with each arrowhead type shot from each of
and early Bronze Age periods. The experimental the three longbows over 20 yards range. Arrowhead
research formed part of a wider investigation into accuracy (hit/miss) and penetration depths
later prehistoric arrowheads, including the form vs. were measured.
function debate and the potential of the individual The experimental results provided a number of valu-
types to function as effective projectile points. The able insights into each arrowhead type:
experiments specifically explored:
25 out of 82 arrows shot hit the target (30%
The penetration and accuracy of the arrowheads success rate)
The potential for re-use of the arrowheads and the Average penetration was 15.87cm
nature of their user-wear and damage
The barbed and tanged arrowheads were the most
The relationships between the effectiveness of arrow- effective (measured by accuracy and penetration)
head types and bow poundage across all three bows
The experiments used a range of replica arrowhead The experiments suggested that barbed and tanged
types knapped by John Lord (barbed and tanged, arrowheads were the most effective and represent an
chisel, oblique, and petit tranchet), hafted with optimum later prehistoric design. This supports the
bitumen and nettle fibre rope onto modern shafts concept of evolutionary development in flint arrow-
with modern fletchings (to reduce the number of head design and challenges earlier suggestions of the
experimental variables). The arrows were shot from non-utilitarian role of barbed and tanged arrowheads
three modern longbows with different poundage based on funerary associations.

Making and using stone tools (Sam Smith)

Sam Smiths doctoral research (20002006) undertook

a detailed study of chipped stone points from Early
Neolithic (c. 11,500 BP) sites in Southern Jordan. Tra-
ditionally, the function of many of these pieces had
been assumed to correlate with typological classes, for
example projectile points were assumed to have
been arrowheads.
The research tested this assumption through a micro-
scopic examination of tool edges, in an attempt to
ascertain their function. A key aspect involved a
programme of experimental replication of point
manufacture and use. Working with the skilled flint
knapper John Lord, Sam created several hundred
replica tools and used them for a range of tasks.
The experiments indicated that the wear traces found
on many of the archaeological projectile points were
actually the result of them being used as drill bits or
perforators. These conclusions facilitated a new under-
standing of this artefact type and have significant
implications for the interpretation of Early Neolithic
chipped stone assemblages.

Distinguishing axes through woodworking (Anna Ward)

Anna Ward prepared her 2006/7 undergraduate dis-

sertation on an experimental study of the facets left
on wood worked with replica later prehistoric axes of
flint, bronze and iron, combined with an analysis of
the woodchips and other debris produced by pointing
hazel roundwood billets using the different tool types.
Facets produced by using a bronze axe were closely
comparable to those on Bronze Age timbers from the
Severn Estuary.
Digital microscope photography was used to record
the facets produced by flake removals and metrical
analysis was carried out on the facet and chip dimen-
sions. The data produced was examined statistically
enabling Anna to accept the validity of the two
hypotheses posed at the outset: that both the facets
and debris produced by different types of axe can be
distinguished. This is important because wood worked
with particular metals (eg. copper or iron) is not infre-
quently attested well before the earliest dated use of
implements of those metals in specific areas. This
is presumably because of the curation and re-use of
materials: the wood evidence can thus provide a new
perspective on dates of material culture change
in particular places.

The implications of handaxe symetry for experimental butchery (Anna Machin)

As part of her doctoral research (20032006) Dr Anna

Machin sought to establish clearly the relationships
between the degree of handaxe symmetry and their
effectiveness as butchery tools, through large-scale,
controlled experiments.
The experimental methodology included a series of
quantitative and qualitative components:
30 fallow deer were butchered (ages and weights
were restricted to animals under 2 years old and 50
60 lbs to reduce carcass variability).
The methods used by each butcher (a professional
game butcher and a Palaeolithic archaeologist) were
distinct but internally consistent.
The handaxes were all capable of butchery (i.e. all had
a length of cutting edge) but all exhibited variability
in frontal and side symmetry (measured digitally after
Marshall et al. 2002).
Handaxe morphology and dimensions were The statistical analyses of the data suggested some
also recorded. influence of frontal symmetry upon handaxe
effectiveness. However, there are several qualifiers
The butchery sessions were videotaped and logged,
concerning replicability, outlier exclusions, and the
generating butchery timing data for each carcass and
strength of the observed relationships. The partial
the individual activities (e.g. skinning, filleting etc).
influences may reflect slight gains in efficiency linked
The butchers also thought aloud to produce a to the reduced amount of time it takes to locate a good
verbatim record, and scored each handaxe (e.g. handhold on a symmetrical handaxe following
weight distribution; ease of use). rotation, or that certain butchery methods render
The timing data were modelled to remove the impact symmetry advantageous.
of increasing butchery skills over the course of the In summary, factors other than functional considera-
experiments. Regression analyses and rank correlation tions for animal butchery may be playing a key role
were applied to the resultant data: in the decisions by hominin stone knappers to impose
There was only partial evidence that increasing high degrees of symmetry on some of their handaxes.
frontal symmetry increases the effectiveness (i.e.
reduced butchery times) of handaxes as
butchery tools.
These results were also mitigated by a series of
factors, including the removal of outliers from the
data-sets (Machin et al. 2007), and the limited replica-
tion of significant results (for the role of symmetry)
across the data sets for both butchers.
The majority of the variation in butchery time could
not be explained by any of the handaxe
morphology variables.
Although side symmetry was not statistically signifi-
cant for butchery, the verbatim record did refer to the
importance of cutting edge symmetry (e.g. the angle
Im finding really hard because its kind of asymmet-
rical) and other aspects (e.g. degree of refinement,
angle, degree of curve) which may contribute to the
unexplained variation.

Experimental approaches Archaeological buildings:
the Longbridge Deverill Roundhouse
and the formation of the Martin Bell
In 2006 the main roundhouse at Butser Ancient Farm,
archaeological record the Longbridge Deverill Cowdown roundhouse, began
to collapse. As it was dismantled we had the opportu-
nity to carry out the small-scale excavation of a trench
Recent research at Reading has highlighted
across the structure (below left). These excavations
the contributions which experimental enabled us to explore the hypothesis that the struc-
approaches can make to our understanding ture may have failed just 14 years after construction
because, due to timber availability when it was made,
of the formation and modification of the the inner post ring of this double ring roundhouse was
archaeological record, whether dealing of ash rather than oak: the latter would have lasted
longer. Notably, the two inner posts we sectioned had
with built structures (ranging from the rotted and cracked just below the ground surface.
construction and destruction of buildings The building was originally erected on the surface
to the sedimentary, micromorphological of a ploughed field without a terrace being created.
The floor had stones evenly dispersed through the
and biological evidence for human
top 20cm as a result of earlier cultivation, whereas
activities within them) or artefact scatters outside the building, where the surface had since been
vegetated, a 40mm thick earthworm-sorted stone-
associated with structures and
free horizon had formed over the previous 14 years.
activity areas. A central hearth created on the roundhouses ground
surface had been in very regular use over the 14 year
life of the building, and when sectioned it showed
remarkably superficial sub-surface traces of heat red-
dening. Charcoal was sparse and the maximum depth
visibly affected by heat was 130mm. The trampled
floor only retained its distinctive form where pro-
tected from the elements; where wetting and drying
occurred subsequent to the removal of the roof, earth-
worms had begun to appear and trampled floor layers
were indistinct after just a few weeks exposure.
Overall, many traces of the building such as the floor,
hearth, wattlework, and drip feature from the roof
produced only superficial traces which might not
survive over archaeological timescales, especially if
the site was subsequently cultivated. In May 2008 we
obtained a small number of comparable samples from
experimental structures at the Somerset Levels and
Moors Centre (these structures are based on buildings
originally excavated at Glastonbury Lake Village).

Life-history of buildings and Elemental enrichment in metal-working areas
site-formation processes The outputs of these experimental analyses are being
compared to multi-period archaeological sites, includ-
Wendy Matthews, Stephen Nortcliff, Alex Brown &
Rowena Banerjea ing Silchester and atalhyk.

Studies of traditional architecture suggest that archae- A wide range of interdisciplinary experimental and
ologists can readily identify activity areas and explore ethnoarchaeological research is being conducted by
the creation of social settings and the histories of the international team at the Neolithic site of atal-
events within buildings and settlements through hyk in Turkey in order to widen our knowledge
greater attention to the study of architectural surfaces of materials, architecture and environment. This
and micro-residues in sediments, where preservation work, conducted with the local community, includes
is sufficiently good. Microstratigraphic and micromor- construction of an experimental house (www.catal-
phological analyses enable high-resolution analysis of Such studies of traditional practices and
four independent lines of inquiry in the study of the knowledge are urgently needed in the face of rapid
life-history of buildings: urbanisation and environmental change. These are
particularly vital to our understanding of the inter-
The origin, manufacture and properties/affordances
relationships between different materials, activities
of building materials and surfaces on floors, plat-
and ecological zones over seasonal, annual, and longer-
forms, walls and, potentially, ceilings in
term cycles. Research at Reading has included study of:
upstanding buildings.
the properties, technology and life-histories of archi-
The impact of activities and natural agencies on these tectural materials and buildings; animal penning; and
surfaces, including impressions of mats and the sources and combustion of different types of fuel
floor coverings. for food preparation and cooking.
The multiple biographies of the mineral, biological
and artefactual micro-residues on surfaces through
in situ micro-contextual study of the traces of the
pre-depositional and depositional histories of each
component including: source material, abrasion, Thin section (B) from Building 2, atalhyk (A), showing plaster
floor (1) and fuel raked out: charred wood (2) and dung ash (3).
fragmentation and burning.
On-going post-depositional histories.
Recent geoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental
analyses have highlighted a series of major problems
in the interpretation of material assemblages, site-
formation processes and settlement space. Central to
these problems are the wide range of variables that
affect pre-depositional, depositional and post-deposi-
tional histories of micro-artefacts, sediments, plant
remains and organic matter, including: environment,
human agency, materials and timescales. A
Current research at Reading is seeking to identify
these variables and design research strategies for their
measurement and examination through inter-discipli-
nary and multi-proxy characterisation of experimental B
archaeological spaces and taphonomic processes. Our
experimental analyses are specifically focusing upon:
Improved interpretation of soil micromorphology on
archaeological sites by establishing key comparative
data sets
Taphonomy of phytolith and pollen assemblages
The nature and taphonomy of organic matter and
black carbon using 13C NMR and BPCA Black
Carbon analysis

Sampling buildings and activities In addition to the geoarchaeological sampling,
consultations with the Lejre staff documented the
at Lejre, Denmark
construction, repairs to, and decline of, the indi-
Rowena Banerjea vidual buildings and the duration and frequency
In August 2007, research student Rowena Banerjea of the range of activities which took place within
carried out fieldwork at Lejre Historical and Archaeo- them. The outputs of these consultations will assist
logical Research Centre, Denmark (www.lejre-centre. in formulating a framework for future experimental
dk) as part of the Life-history of buildings and site- archaeological research which analyses activity areas
formation processes project. Her work is generating and the formation processes of archaeological deposits
experimental data to compare with early Roman within buildings.
occupation deposits from Insula IX at Silchester
(Hampshire, UK).
The fieldwork samples targeted soil micromorphologi-
cal (Banerjea) and plant micro-fossil (Banerjea and Dr.
Alex Brown) assemblages, geochemical traces (Baner-
jea), and the nature of organic matter (Prof. Stephen
Nortcliff) in activity-related occupation deposits within
experimental archaeological buildings. Samples were
collected from two buildings within the reconstructed
Iron Age village: the disused ironworking forge (right)
and the peasants building. With the latter were
a disused cattle stable (in use 1965early 1980s), a
crop grinding area and a hearth used for heating and
Pollen, phytoliths and human activities
cooking. Building materials such as daub, thatch and
straw were also collected as reference materials. Rowena Banerjea & Alex Brown

Buildings within the reconstructed Viking village Pollen dispersal by wind and insects results in its trap-
provided an excellent opportunity to study the chang- ping within soils and sediments as they accumulate
ing use of space and spatial variations in occupation over time. Where pollen is preserved in oxygen-free
deposits, due to differing stages of building collapse. A (anaerobic) conditions, it can be analysed to recon-
sunken-shack (below left) previously used for goat and struct past vegetation and the activities of humans in
sheep penning and bone-working was sampled, with the landscape over a variety of timescales and, in this
roof failure resulting in soil development across half of research, to understand past rural and urban
the structure (below right). settlement ecologies.

The comparative analysis of experimental archaeologi- Phytoliths form in the cellular skeleton of plant tissue
cal samples, archaeological occupation deposits, and from the silica which is deposited while the plant is
external controls will provide valuable information alive. As plants decay the mineralised cells (phytoliths)
regarding the taphonomy of micro-refuse and plant remain in the soil, resulting in a localised distribution
micro-fossil assemblages in the archaeological record, which is particularly useful for identifying ancient
as well as increasing knowledge of the geochemical activity areas which have utilised plants. Experimen-
enrichment and behaviour of phosphate and heavy tal analyses play an important role in understanding
metals in activity areas (e.g. metalworking the depositional pathways and formation processes of
and stabling). pollen and phytolith records in modern occupation

deposits, as an aid to investigating traces of activities
in a diverse range of archaeological
settlement contexts.
Pollen samples have been analysed from Lejre and
Butser. At Lejre the Iron Age Zone building 2 and the
Viking Age sunken hut include stable areas for cattle
(IA zone) and sheep and goat (VA zone). High levels
of grass pollen were recorded in both samples, most
likely derived from grasses growing in proximity to
these buildings and blown through the entrances, but
it is also included in the animal dung (VA zone) that
litters the floors. Cereal pollen in Iron Age building
2 is most probably derived from hay used as cattle
fodder. The Viking Age sunken hut also produced two
grains of Cannabis pollen, derived either from a herb
patch 30m away, or resulting from hemp production.
Samples from the Longbridge Deverill roundhouse at
Butser include significant amounts of cereal pollen
(entrance and internal eaves samples), and are closely
related to areas of crop processing (entrance) and
storage of thatch and hay (internal eaves). The hut
floor is a compacted agricultural soil rather than a
prepared surface, so the cereal pollen may derive from Destruction by fire
agricultural activities prior to the construction of the
Karl Harrison
roundhouse. However, analysis of the floor sample did
not produce any cereal pollen, so it is probable that Karl Harrison is a part-time PhD student at Reading
the cereal pollen recorded elsewhere relates to specific who works as a professional forensic scientist. As
activities/activity areas within the roundhouse. This part of his forensic work he has had to investigate
is being tested through analysis of further samples burnt structures and develop an understanding of
within the roundhouse, from the buried soil exposed the sequence of events which produce the observable
beneath the boundary bank, and from external traces of fire. His doctoral research involves investigat-
control samples. ing the effects of fire on structures. Karl uses modern
fire science techniques to help interpret the evidence
Phytolith analysis will help to test the pollen observa-
of burnt structures in the archaeological record, and
tions, as this technique enables cells from different
archaeological approaches to stratigraphic excavation
parts of the plant to be identified (e.g. husks from crop
to inform the development of new methods for the
processing activities). Soil micromorphology and analy-
forensic investigation of fire.
sis of control samples will assist with understanding
the depositional pathways of plant remains in these Burnt experimental structures have been an impor-
various contexts, in particular when deciphering tant element in developing this approach, especially
assemblages that may consist of a mixture of residual a construction based on an Anglo-Saxon sunken floor
plant remains from falling thatch, animal dung, building at West Stow, Suffolk, which was recently
animal fodder and crop processing activities. burnt down, apparently by arson. Karl and a team
from West Stow were able to carry out one of the first
detailed recording exercises of a burnt archaeologi-
cal structure, which has enabled him to document a
detailed reconstruction of the course of the fire and
the physical effects of its various stages, including
modifications of the magnetic properties of the
adjacent soils.

(Left) Rowena Banerjea sampling the floor of the Longbridge

Deverill roundhouse at Butser for pollen and phytoliths.

Experimental earthworks The analytical properties of the buried soil are cur-
rently being investigated at Reading by Amy Poole and
Martin Bell Chris Speed as part of research into the chemistry
These experiments have played an important role in of buried soils. The surface of the bank showed the
developing our understanding of how soils and the early stages of soil development and humus incorpora-
biological evidence within them change as a result of tion and there were clear signs of calcium carbonate
burial. Other related research questions concern the leaching and deposition within the bank. The ditch
investigation of the decay and preservation processes sediments were markedly asymmetrical with a greater
affecting buried artefacts, and the processes of erosion volume of sediment coming from the outside than
and sedimentation affecting bank and ditch earth- from the bank side. This confirms earlier observations
works themselves. Of particular significance in this by Peter Reynolds and is the opposite of what archae-
area of research have been two linear experimental ologists normally expect. The probable explanation
earthworks: Overton, Wiltshire (constructed in 1960 concerns aspect and compass direction, emphasis-
on chalk) and Wareham, Dorset (in a sandy heathland ing the significance which Reynolds attached to this
environment). Professor Martin Bell has been responsi- parameter in his original design for the
ble for the most recent excavations of both of octagonal experiments.
these earthworks. Further work will be following up these investiga-
A second generation of octagonal experimental earth- tions with excavation of the octagonal earthwork (on
works were set up by Peter Reynolds in the mid 1980s. brickearth over clay) which Reynolds created in 1986
Those experiments were principally concerned with at the Roman Palace site at Fishbourne, West Sussex.
vegetation colonisation, weathering and sedimenta- This will provide an opportunity to observe, record,
tion in relation to aspect, hence the octagonal form. and analyse a buried soil of a type not previously inves-
Although relatively little has been published on the tigated experimentally, and to record the weathering
octagonal earthworks to date, we are now embarked and sedimentation process of the bank and ditch.
on a programme of excavations to look at the buried An earthwork constructed on Lower Chalk at
soils, earthwork erosion and ditch sediments at Wroughton, Wiltshire has also recently been investi-
these sites. gated by Emma Gilbert for her MSc Geoarchaeology
An earthwork on Upper Chalk within the present day dissertation. She compared the micromorphology,
Butser site at Bascombe was subject to small-scale exca- chemistry, land snails, and earthworm granules in the
vation by Reading students 16 years after construction, 20 year old buried soil with those in the present-day
in December 2007. The buried soil had been culti- unburied soil. Like Overton, Wroughton highlighted
vated up to the point of burial and was low in organic the significance of vegetation matt and soil chemistry
matter, making it unattractive for faunal activity, such for molluscan presence and survival, even on sites of
as earthworm sorting and mixing. calcareous bedrock: under certain vegetation condi-

tions, periods of stasis will be under-emphasised and
periods of calcareous subsoil disturbance over-rep-
resented in the molluscan record. This earthwork
research has emphasised the role of faunal agency,
particularly earthworms, in the formation of the
archaeological record, thus revisiting the pioneering
earthworm research of Charles Darwin which has
been a formative influence on the development of
experimental geoarchaeology.

Artefact scatters in slope environments

Rob Hosfield
A key branch of experimental archaeology has con-
cerned the modification of artefact scatters and
applications of the resulting data to taphonomic inter-
pretations. While an important element concerns the
fluvial transportation of lithic artefacts (e.g. Hosfield
& Chambers 2005), there is also the issue of artefact
supply from fluvial floodplain and valley slope sur-
faces into active channel zones. Recent research has
therefore been undertaken as a first step in seeking
to improve understanding of the potential time-lags
between artefact discard (behaviour) and their fluvial
re-deposition (assemblage formation).
This work is exploring the re-working of multi-period/
multi-material artefact scatters on low-angled slopes
within a lowland river valley environment. The experi-
ments were conducted at the University of Readings
farm site at Sonning, on the southern floodplain and
lower terraces of the Middle Thames. The experimen-
tal artefact sets included replica flint flakes, Roman
ceramic building material fragments, and Roman
pottery fragments, derived from spoil heap material
(at the Universitys Silchester excavations) and experi-
mental knapping programmes. The artefacts were
emplaced in October 2007 on a low-angled terrace
slope, which was a mixture of exposed plough soil and
low agricultural scrub.
Recording and monitoring of the artefacts between
October 2007 and February 2008 indicated no move-
ment of any of the scatters, despite varying climatic
conditions during this period and the range of artefact
sizes and weights. There was also very little evidence The low-angled experimental slope and an experimental lithic
of artefact fragmentation. scatter at Sonning Farm, Reading.
The results of this pilot experiment indicated the
potential stability of different artefact scatters upon
a partially-exposed low-angled slope surface during
interglacial-type autumnal and winter conditions at
50 latitude. Further studies will continue to explore Opposite page: Professor Stephen Nortcliff and Dr Wendy
Matthews discuss the 16 year old buried soil below the Butser
artefact movement in different climatic (e.g. per-
octagonal earthwork (left). The soil buried for 20 years by the
iglacial) and topographic (e.g. steeply angled slopes) Wroughton octagonal earthwork and investigated for Emma
settings, and over longer time-spans. Gilberts MSc dissertation (right).

New horizons and
Experimental crop growing
Emma Jenkins
The Water, Life and Civilisation projects crop growing
experiments are being conducted in Jordan in collabo-
ration with NCARTT (National Centre for Agricultural
Research and Technology Transfer). They are designed
to evaluate and develop Rosen & Weiners (1994)
proposal that the number of con-joined cells in multi-
celled wheat phytoliths can be indicative of irrigation,
by introducing additional variables into the experi-
mental design which Rosen and Weiner employed.
Three different crops are being grown: durum wheat
(T. durum), common barley (H. vulgare) and sorghum
(Sorghum halapense). In the first year of experimenta-
tion these were grown under four different irrigation
regimes: no irrigation (0% of the crop water require-
ments), sub-optimal irrigation (80% of the crop water
Garden Agriculture on Easter Island (Louise Jones) requirements), optimal irrigation (100% of the crop
water requirements) and over-optimal irrigation (120%
of the crop water requirements); in the second and
third year an additional sub-optimal category of 40%
was added.
The experiments are being conducted in three differ-
ent crop growing stations: Khirbet al-Samra is located
to the northeast of Amman and has an annual rain-
fall of approximately 150mm per year; Ramtha is in
Northern Jordan and has approximately 300350mm
rainfall per year; and Deir Alla is in the Jordan valley
and has approximately 250mm of rain per year.
Each plot measures 5m x 5m with a space of 1.5m
Recent and ongoing multidisciplinary research into garden
agriculture on Easter Island, in particular the use of rocks between plots. A drip irrigation system is employed
(both on the ground surface and as a lithic mulch), is and reclaimed waste water is used at Khirbet al-Samra
contributing towards ongoing debates into the adaptive and Ramtha whilst mixed water is used at Deir Alla.
responses to natural and/or anthropogenic environmental Water analyses were conducted before experimenta-
change, landscape management, and issues
tion began, showing that the water was within the
of sustainability.
Jordanian standards for use in crop irrigation. Meteoro-
Louise Jones MSc Geoarchaeology dissertation research
logical data are available for all three stations and soil
is using multiple geoarchaeological methods combining
pollen, phytolith and starch residue analysis to identify samples were taken from the plots prior to and during
the crop plants grown in archaeological gardens, with each year of experimentation. The experiments are
micromorphological analysis of the soils microstructure currently ongoing: for up-to-date news see the project
and inclusions identifying features not observable at the website:
macro-scale. By comparing samples from archaeological
garden sites located on exposed slopes (and subject to dis-
turbance from cows, horses, and people) with a restored
archaeological garden (surrounded by trees, containing
crop plants and protected from disturbance), this research
is examining differences in the archaeological record and
therefore key issues of preservation and interpretation.

The way forward original dissertation and doctoral research.
It is this objective of encouraging more experimental
Perhaps the most important role which experimental activity through sites such as Butser that motivated
archaeological sites play is educational and experien- the projects one day workshop (to be held at Butser
tial, helping school children and the public to think Ancient Farm in June 2008). The goal of the work-
about past ways of life in a tangible and accessible way. shop is to provide a context in which representatives
We are often told by undergraduates that their inter- from experimental archaeological sites can explore
est in archaeology was sparked by a visit to such a site. key issues for the future of experimental archaeol-
The prominence of experimental sites and activities in ogy: means by which experimental work can be
archaeological television programmes also highlights encouraged at heritage sites, developing contribu-
their key role in archaeological outreach. tions from academic research staff into experimental
projects, identifying and promoting opportunities for
The Developing Experimental Approaches in Archaeology
student dissertation research and field experience,
project has enabled us to take stock of the current
and exploring relationships between higher levels of
state of experimental archaeology in Britain and
experimental activity, the development of the sites,
to form the view that more needs to be done to
and the provision of funding. We hope that a key
encourage active engagement between the research
output of the workshop will be contributions to the
community and experimental sites. Experimental
development of best practice and the growth of benefi-
sites are of huge importance in terms of education
cial links between the experimental sites themselves,
and outreach but those running them are often con-
and a summary of the workshop discussions will be
cerned that the demands of these roles leave little
posted on our project website (post-July 31st 2008):
opportunity, or resources, for active experimentation.
Yet an active experimental programme is clearly an
important part of what makes these sites interesting
for children and the public alike. We feel that one Two papers summarising aspects of our current
solution is to encourage university and other research experimental research at Reading are also to be pre-
organisations to make more active use of the resource sented at the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin
represented by experimental archaeology sites. As we in July 2008 and we hope that these papers and the
demonstrate in this booklet these sites are excellent circulation of this booklet will also help to stimulate
venues for learning how to excavate, appreciating how international discussions concerning the way forward
the archaeological record forms, and carrying out for experimental archaeology.

References Contact details

Bell, M. 2007. Prehistoric Coastal Communities: The Mesolithic in Professor Bell, Dr Matthews, Professor Nortcliff, Dr Hosfield
Western Britain. Council for British Archaeology Research Report and Professor Mithen would all be delighted to talk to potential
No. 149. York: CBA. doctoral research students about possible PhD topics in experi-
Hosfield, R.T. & Chambers, J.C. 2005. River gravels and flakes: new mental archaeology (Bell, Hosfield, Matthews, Mithen) and soil
experiments in site formation, stone tool transportation and science (Nortcliff).
transformation. In M. Fansa (ed.) Experimentelle Archologie in For more information about our undergraduate and postgradu-
Europa, Bilanz 2004, Heft 3: 5774. Isensee Oldenburg: Verlag. ate degrees, please contact:
Machin, A.J., Hosfield, R.T. & Mithen, S.J. 2007. Why are some SHES Teaching Office
handaxes symmetrical? Testing the influence of handaxe mor- Geoscience Building
phology on butchery effectiveness. Journal of Archaeological University of Reading
Science 34: 883893. Whiteknights
Marshall, G.D., Gamble, C.S., Roe, D.A. & Dupplaw, D. 2002. Lower Box 227
Palaeolithic technology, raw material and population ecology. http:// Reading, RG6 6AB (10 January
2005). Tel +44 0118 378 7966
Mithen, S. (eds.) 2001. Hunter-gatherer landscape archaeology:
the Southern Hebrides Mesolithic project, 19881998. Cambridge: Tel +44 0118 378 6713
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Rosen, A.M. & Weiner, S. 1994. Identifying ancient irrigation: a
This document is Copyright University of Reading
new method using opaline phytoliths from emmer wheat. Journal
2008. It was designed by Frances Taylor and printed in
of Archaeological Science 21: 125132. June 2008 by Herald Graphics.

Acknowledgements to the butchers (David John and Dr
Matt Pope), Dr Gil Marshall (handaxe
We are grateful to Christine Shaw,
symmetry measures), Colin Grayer
Steve Dyer, Maureen Page, Simon Jay,
(Statistical Services Centre, University
Joyce Herve, and Dai Morgan-Evans for
of Reading), John Lord (the experi-
facilitating and encouraging our work
mental handaxe assemblage), and the
at Butser. We are also grateful for col-
British Academy (Small Research Grant
laboration from the Science Museum
SG-40888). Rob Hosfield would also
(Wroughton), Fishbourne Roman
like to thank James Lamburn (Sonning
Palace, West Stow Country Park, and
Farm Director, University of Reading)
Somerset County Council: Levels and
for permitting access to the Sonning
Moors Centre, and the atalhyk
Farm site as part of the experimental
Research Project. Rowena Banerjea
scatters work, and to Rebecca Kiff
acknowledges funding and collabora-
(Crops Research Unit, University of
tion with Lejre Archaeological and
Reading) for supplying data from the
Historical Research Centre, Denmark.
Sonning and University weather sta-
Thanks also to all of the Reading
tions. Images for Karl Harrisons
undergraduate and postgraduate
text supplied by West Stow Anglo-
students and other volunteers who
Saxon Village and St. Edmunds
have been involved in these experi-
Burough Council.
ments. Earlier work on the Overton
and Wareham experimental earth- The Developing Experimental
works was funded by NERC and English Approaches in Archaeology project has
Heritage. For their involvement in, been funded by the School of Human
and support of, the experimental & Environmental Sciences, the
handaxe butchery project, thanks University of Reading.

Reading Archaeology
For further details about the Developing
Experimental Approaches in Archaeology project
or other experimental archaeological work at the
University of Reading, please contact:
Professor Martin Bell (
Dr Rob Hosfield (
Department of Archaeology
University of Reading
Box 227
Reading, RG6 6AB
Tel +44 0118 378 7966