August 2, 2016

Studying archaelogy by making pottery the ancient way — at the University of Wisconsin.

With Professor Mark Kenoyer at the outdoor UW–Madison Experimental Archaeology Lab near Picnic Point:
The students had produced pottery using a variety of historic techniques and were preparing to fire it in a kiln Kenoyer built at the outdoor lab nearly 15 years ago. They were to load the kiln using traditional methods, seal it with clay produced on site and attempt to produce a fire without modern technology.

Alina Boyden, a graduate student who studies prehistoric projectiles in Stone Age Africa, volunteered to climb barefoot into a pit dug several feet into the ground and add water to the loess soil dug out from the pit walls. Using her feet, toes and a substantial amount of lower leg strength, Boyden mixed the water and soil into a thick, slurping clay....

28 comments:

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I'm guessing that there are a hell of a lot more students of archaeology than there are opportunities to actually do, you know, archaeology.

Curious George said...

Someday they'll be able to open their own Archaeology Stores!

EDH said...

"Sophomore Dies in Kiln Explosion"?

Oh My God! I just talked to her last week... She was going to make a pot for me.

Wilbur said...

There are limitless opportunities to do archaeology.

Opportunities that pay, not so unlimited.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Related: Primitive Technology Youtube Channel

I think this guy's in Australia somewhere--the videos don't have any dialog and you have to infer how long some of it takes, but really neat, impressive stuff.

Alexander said...

Alina Boyden, a graduate student who studies prehistoric projectiles in Stone Age Africa

That doesn't narrow it down at all. 1000BC? 1850AD? Last Wednesday? Who can say.

It's not like from Pretoria to Palestine, they aren't still chucking rocks.

Diamondhead said...

Sounds like a fun way to learn and is probably worthwhile experience for a would-be archeologist. One phrase stuck out to me: "a graduate student who studies prehistoric projectiles in Stone Age Africa." I don't think education need be purely about training for a job, but come on.

Fernandinande said...

Next they'll be making stone-age wallets.

n.n said...

There is a similar class for wine making. Probably grape juice, too.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

If I had a time machine, I'd get all the Neanderthal tail I could handle by teaching them how to throw rocks. Once they came to figure out that I'd outlived my usefulness, then I'd teach them the spear-thrower. After that, the bow and arrow.

And you know what they say, there's no tail better than . . . Neandertail.

rhhardin said...

Pots made beverage possible.

traditionalguy said...

This could come in handy along with Michelle Obama's gardening to allow some to survive in a pre-industrial civilization coming soon to the middle class thanks to the Gaia cult environmental ideology that wants a purified earth again for which we are expendable.

Jim said...

She can work at pottery barn to pay off those student loans. I studied ancient projectile science as a young lad.

PDM said...

Interesting, off-beat article and subject matter. Thank you, Ann.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Old news. Back in 1969 when I was in college and was an anthro/archeology major with a minor in ceramics (for the very reason that these students are studying pottery) we also had some courses in replicating old methods and prehistoric methods of pottery making, glazing, decorating etc. Raku firing and other non kiln methods. Very interesting, fun and a lot of hard physical work too!

I'm guessing that there are a hell of a lot more students of archaeology than there are opportunities to actually do, you know, archaeology.

Yup. That's why I didn't become an archeologist in the Yucatan. (That and all the insects that bite and crawl all over you and the searing sunburns from the hot Arizona sun! YUCK)

Hagar said...

About 1961 I wandered into Enchanted Mesa on East Central (Rte. 66) and saw a really nice black on black dinnerplate on top of a cabinet, so I took it down to look at it. It was priced at $1,200 (about 10 times that in today's money). Signed by Maria Martinez. I put it back very carefully.

Larry J said...

He sounds like an excellent teacher. The students get real, hands on experience, not just a bunch of lectures. If I were a student there, I'd seriously consider that class as an elective.

Bill Peschel said...

C'mon with the criticism. It's not like they're studying something truly worthless such as Gender Relations or earning an MFA.

This kind of hands-on work can be enlightening. I've been following on YouTube a series of programs on farming down the ages (Tudor Monastery Farm, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm) that does something similar. You get a real feel for how close people lived with life and death when you raise animals for their byproducts.

Rusty said...

That sounds like fun. I would have liked to do that.
When using a bow drill fire starter it helps to use a skate wheel to lean against. it doesn't transmit heat like a block of wood or a stone.

Gabriel said...

Experimental archaeology is about the closest anthropology gets to real science. It is limited though; that you found a way to replicate something another culture did, does not prove that they actually did it that way.

All in all though it's a worthwhile endeavor. Yeah, we all know there's not a lot of jobs in archaeology, but that does not mean the optimal number of jobs is zero, nor that no one should study it in college.

Furthermore, graduate students in archaeology are probably not taking out loans; research grants are funding their education, and subsidizing the teaching of other classes.

buwaya said...

I don't know whether such specialized studies are all they are cracked up to be.
In the old days these archaeologist wallahs did some branch of the liberal arts (Leonard Woolley, Arthur Evans, T.E.Lawrence) or no higher education at all (Heinrich Schliemann, Howard Carter).

Excellent, classic book ref - C.W. Ceram, "Gods Graves and Scholars" (1949)
Available (current editions) through the Althouse Amazon portal!

Joe said...

I love stuff like that, but always remind myself that the practitioners of the "old-style" were experts at it, which is often not fully respected.

One interesting side effect of experiences like this is that when things go wrong, they may reveal how things went wrong in the past. For example, someone may notice heat scorching and realize that a "design" on some old pottery wasn't a design at all, but a mistake!

n.n said...

In ancient times the apprentice learned at the master's feet. Today, it marks the apogee of social development in an academic's life. Someone has to squish the grapes for the supper's wine.

Rusty said...

Gabriel said...
Experimental archaeology is about the closest anthropology gets to real science. It is limited though; that you found a way to replicate something another culture did, does not prove that they actually did it that way.

I tried flint napping a couple of times. As it turns out the arrowhead is the easiest part of the arrow to make. The shaft and fletching take a lot of skill and patience.

Clyde said...

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard - It's All Going to Pot

Just because it seemed appropriate.

Cath said...

@Bill Peschel, I just watched an episode of Tudor Monastery Farm and loved it. This is the kind of stuff I need to get through this election season with sanity intact. Appreciate the recommendation.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

That lecturer on biological anthropology I've been listening to was, just this morning, talking about the evolution of the capacity for speech as evidenced by the size and configuration of the freaking holes various specimens have got at the base of the skull for all the differently colored electrical wires that come through, all of them bundled up with zip ties purchased from Home Depot.

Freaking amazing.

JAORE said...

I worked with a number of archeologists in my past (working) life. Most of those working in their field do so because the government (primarily the Feds) required clearances on projects. Those in the field sometimes referred to the various federal highway funding acts as the "full employment of archeologist acts".

In the last state I worked, if there were no federal funds you could plow through anything you'd like.