Experimental archaeology and its uses

Figure 1: Metal working in the Museo Archeologico Etnologico in Modena. Photo by Andrea Moretti. https://exarc.net/issue-2019-1/ea/experimental-archaeology-who-does-it-what-use

            Experimental archaeology is defined as a sub-field of archaeology research that uses many strategies to imitate past events and attempt to better understand what happened (Paardekooper 2019). While experimental archaeology does have its limits in not working with real artifacts, it does have the unique advantage of attempting to repeat the processes that occurred in the past and gain knowledge through data and experience.

            Traditionally, this sub-field was one of the aspects of archaeology that is conducted scientifically by developing a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and then analyzing the data to come to a conclusion. However, experimental archaeology has grown and taken on many forms now, such as being used as an outreach program. For example, researchers at the Stonehenge Visitor Center replicated a possible version of the creation of Stonehenge using wooden logs, ropes, simple mechanics, and community participation (Archaeology 2018) (Figure 2). Through this experiment, more questions about the creation of Stonehenge were developed, such as what were the environmental conditions when it was built? Researchers speculated that it could have been done when the ground was dry and hard, or the people may have dug the topsoil off to reach the hard and compact dirt. These hands-on experiences help inform the public of the importance of archaeology, while also bringing forth new research questions.

Figure 2: Imitating possible strategy for moving stones at Stonehenge Visitor Center. Photo by the English Heritage. https://the-past.com/feature/experimental-archaeology-at-stonehenge/

            Another example of experimental archaeology is the Butser Ancient Farm. The goal of this site is to study the agricultural and economic aspects of England during the period of 400 BC to 400 AD (Stone and Planel 1999). To better understand this topic, specific research programs cover different topics, such as experimental earthwork. Experimental earthwork is the study of replicating structures made from soil such as ditches, banks, and canals (Shaw 2007). In this specific study, a set of ditches and banks were recreated to see how they were effected by environmental conditions over intervals of four, seven, and ten years (Shaw 2007). Through this type of study, researchers can further understand how different layers of soil erode and settle over time. This allows them to identify what they are observing at a genuine site. Another benefit when modeling earthworks is understanding how artifacts are preserved in certain soil conditions. Through this work, archaeologists can recognize how much time it takes for certain materials to degrade and how quickly they need to excavate certain sites to preserve artifacts.

            Experimental archaeology has evolved to take on different forms with each having an important purpose. From social outreach programs to scientific studies, experimental archaeology is allowing archaeologists to better understand what they find and show the public the importance of their work.

Links of interest





Archaeology, Current. 2018. “Like a Rolling Stone: Experimental Archaeology at

            Stonehenge | The Past.” The Past. June 29, 2018. https://the-


Paardekooper, Roeland. 2019. “Experimental Archaeology: Who Does It, What Is the

            Use?” EXARC Journal, no. EXARC Journal Issue 2019/1 (February).



Shaw, Christine. 2007. “Site Publications.” Butser Ancient Farm Archive. 2007.


Stone, Edited Peter G, and Phillippe G Planel. 1999. “A Unique Research & Educational

            Establishment,” 10.

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