Experimental Archaeology

What is the Experimental Archaeological Working Group about?

Students and professors get together to share labor and ideas on various archaeological experiments designed to help us better understand our artifacts and sites.

For example, there is an on-going project by Dr. Bettina Arnold and PhD student Seth Schneider to recreate the kinds of ceramic vessels and decorative treatments used in Iron Age Germany. In fall of 2003 they led the rest of us in a pit-firing of several of these, with great success. The report of the firing, with images, can be viewed here. We hope to repeat the performance in the future with a set of vessels from various European prehistoric cultural contexts. Two recent Old World Masters thesis projects also had experimental components. Graduate students Jim Johnson (MS 2006) and Jackie Lillis (MS 2005) carried out experiments with bone and horn technology and the preservation and conservation of prehistoric textiles, respectively. They both worked on collections from the Swiss Neolithic Lake Dwelling site of Robenhausen, currently housed at the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM). MS student Daniel Dybowski will include an experimental component in his analysis of lithic material from various Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites in France and Switzerland, also at the MPM.

Dr. Bob Jeske, PhD student Dan Winkler and graduate student Dustin Blodgett (MS 2004) conducted heat-treatment experiments on local lithic materials. Dr. Bob is also interested in site formation processes, and has studied the effects of canines on archaeological sites. With the cooperation of the wolf team at the Milwaukee County Zoo, he has carried out observational studies of the Zoo’s wolf pack, including the mapping of wolf-dug pits with Kira Kaufmann (PhD 2005) and Sung Woo Park (PhD 2004) and the recording of wolf feeding and resulting scat residue with graduate student Roberta Boczkiewicz (MS 2004).

Students in Dr. Hudson’s Zooarchaeology class have studied the effects of horse trampling on bones (undergraduate Megan Madden), the dental damage that people and dogs do to bone (graduate student Jon Stroik [MS 2007]), how burning creates patterns on scapula that can be read as oracles (graduate student Brett Lowry [MS 2005]), and what bone looks like after it has gone through the digestive tract of a wolf (graduate student Roberta Boczkiewicz [MS 2004]).

In fall of 2003, we also started the “smashing pots” project, which is providing introductory archaeology classes with modern ceramic fragments to measure, while creating a database of controlled before-and-after volumes and metrics to help us evaluate the accuracy of our interpretations of the sherds.

What’s next? Come and help us decide. Everyone is welcome. Email jhudson@uwm.edu to get your name and email address added to our listserve, and receive information about upcoming events.

Recent Thesis and Disserations

McClendon, Barbara
The Sickle’s Edge: An Experimental Use-wear Approach to Investigating Sickle Deposition in Bronze Age Europe (MS, 2015). Advisor: B. Arnold.

Sterner, Katherine M.
Oneota Lithics: A Use-wear Analysis of the Crescent Bay Hunt Club Assemblage from the 2004 Excavations (MS, 2012). Advisor: Jeske