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Experimental Archaeology - Any Ideas??
Hey all,

I am going to be participating in teaching a small experimental archaeology course in a few months time - its the first time I've done it and only have a small amount of experience in actually reconstructing buildings, so its going to be m as much of a learning experience for me as the students.

We only have four days comprising of a few different sessions (5 or 6) to contribute and my idea was to build several four post hole structures - to show posthole construction (and deconstruction) techniques work as well as potentially the differences in the structures themselves. As I've not done this before I'm wondering if this is a little but ambitious and whether or not to go the whole hog and build structures from scratch or just do posthole patterns??

Any help / advice / ideas would be greatly appreciated!!!
Oh and by the a certain degree the budget is fairly large and I have about 5 or 6 groups of students at 6 students per group to help with the work...although not the same students all the way through
Have you read Iron Age Farm by Reynolds? That sets out a lot of information relating to four post structures and more.

Further more you say you have a large budget, have you looked at possibly hiring in a flint knapper to teach knapping, from that you could then make an axe, cut down a tree, and use that in constructing the four poster structure.

What are the aims of this course? Will you be eschewing all use of modern technology in carrying out the construction?
If you are set on going for built structures, the main factors are time and logistics.
Human resources are one aspect, but you may also want to consider raw materials and preparation times.
Given your budget can stretch, only produce key aspects of construction/material prep. with your students.
Buy in as many pre- prepared wooden stakes, beams and withies from a woodland management scheme as possible. They are out there!
If you have a good supply of materials pre prepared:
It will allow you to concentrate on constructing your building!
Lets face it this is where the most satisfaction for students and teacher will be gleaned.
I haven’t got to that one yet, had a good nose around the Buster website but not too many details on practical elements.

As for the budget, it is large but not under my control. My activity forms one of many over the long weekend which as of yet I'm unsure what will consist of. In the past they've done metal working, flint knapping, animal butchery, grain storage, weaving etc.

The aim of the whole exercise is to give brand new undergraduates the chance to first get to know each other but also understand some of the archaeological processes that they may have or will see in the future in their course. Therefore I don't have to stick to strict experimental l framework and I think chopping down trees might take too long!!
Is there any other good texts to look at for the more practical side of doing something like this or does that defeat the [purpose of it in the first place? Maybe I should be a bit more flexible?
Speak to these guys...

Reconstruction and education. Okay, the education is targetted at school age, but the concept is the same.
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!

If you want a good experiment involving posts and digging, you could see if sticking pairs of big posts in either end of an oval (sausage-shaped, actually) common postpit is quicker than digging 2 seperate postpits, my guess is that it is (having spent the last 30-odd years finding the easiest ways of removing landscape by hand), when the posts need to be stuck in 1m+ and 1-1.5m apart, so big enough to stand in the hole and work it alternately in each direction, and the slot only needs to be size of the post at each end - see the Marne Barracks, Catterick report (?PPS 2009 or 2010, not got it to hand)....ok, ok, so I've probably got the same thing on my site (also Neo) so have to declare a vested interest and would love some experimental evidence, and from your point of view it actually answers a specific academic question which makes the whole thing look good :face-approve:
So, you dig the equivalent of a military fire trench - (about 1.5 metres long and half wide) and dig the post slot at the ends - cunning plan!!
Thats what they seem to have done at Marne Barracks, two parallel rows of posts but in radial slots rather than parallel trenches or seperate postpits - probably makes the posts more stable, in 3 directions at least. Slots a bit short for a modern shovel but probably spot-on using ancient digging equipment, eg. cow scapula? Mine are probably re-cuts into an earlier continuous linear trench, but look remarkably similar (although I haven't got any post-pipes so can't prove that's what they are).

Archie - don't know what your subsoil is but you could also try out/compare different digging gear, eg afore-mentioned scapulae, digging-sticks, wooden shovels etc - might be fun/instructive activity for the students making them in the first place?

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