The 6th experimental archaeology conference was held on the 6th and 7th January at York University, Kings Manor campus. The conference was a two day event and consisted of a series of papers, workshops and discussions. One of the main topics, which were hotly debated by delegates, was the role of the experimental archaeologist as a means of bringing together the two realms of archaeology and science in an ever competitive world of multidisciplinary research. In the spirit of this an excellent key note speech was given by Matthew Collins setting the tone for the conference. Papers were also given by a number of York students including Cynthianne Debono Spiteri and a very well revived paper on replica Egyptian shields by William Stonborough.
The second day of the conference included two lively workshops; on butchery practices, by Krish Seetah, and ceramics, by Graham Taylor. Both workshops were intended to be a ‘hands on’ opportunities for delegates to gain experience as practitioners of experimental archaeology. The delegates therefore had the opportunity both to butcher small mammals and produce pottery from coarse ware clay, similar to what would have been available in the Neolithic.
Delegates engaging in experimental pottery production
There was also a multitude of posters at the conference coving a wide range of experimental topics. These were complimented by a gallery of photographs constructed by Rowena Banerjea which depicted the formation of the archaeological record through pictures, focusing on the role of experimental archaeology in enlightening our knowledge of formation processes. The gallery included photographs from the experimental earthwork project at Overton Down, experimental earthworks at Butser and the excavation of reconstructed roundhouses at both Butser and St Fagans.
Photograph gallery produced by Rowena
Delegates enjoying the poster presentation and photograph gallery
I would like to take the opportunity to thank my fellow committee members, Eva Fairnall and Lisa-Marie Shillito, for all of the hard work and dedication which went into organising the 6th Experimental Archaeology Conference. I would also like to say a special thank you to Alizon Holland for her tireless effort in helping with the financial and catering organisation. Last but not least I would like to thank those who volunteered to help out on the day which contributed significantly to the smooth running of both days of the conference!!! We are hoping to publish a special journal issue from the conference and will keep you all posted on progress.
Building the boat was an amazing experience….but we wanted to test it out! So we signed up for the Portsoy boat festival and precoded to have the time of our lives! For Katie and I the trip to Portsoy began with an epic mega bus trip from London to Aberdeen! for the bargain price of £1.50 each! From Aberdeen it was another bus ride followed by a taxi trip from a random village! To Portsoy, were we arrived in what was the middle of the night! As it was summer in Scotland we were far enough north to still have enough light to put up out little tent and get some down time before the festivities began!
The Portsoy boat festival is a celebration of traditional sea fairing and it was buzzing with excitement. The weather was fantastic with calm crystal clear waters in the harbour and a beautiful summer sun shining down on us. The boat had already been transported to the festival by Mark and his team from Archaeolink and we were ready to swing into action!
Archaeolink Neolithic boat moored in the harbour at Portsoy
Katie and I had also prepared for the event by painstakingly making some Neolithic style costumes to look the part!
Katie in her pig skin Neolithic costume! Well done Katie mine was made from some leather looking material from boyes!
We were also really lucky at the boat festival as we were joined by master coracle maker Dave Purvis who brought with him some spectacular modern and traditional coracles. And Kaite and I were straight on with our first lesson! Now paddling a coracle is a relatively easy thing, but there is a trick to it. Coracles are really stable as long as you don’t lean from side to side! Best to sit upright, paddle out the front in a figure of eight motion and only rock back and forth!
Getting the hang of it now!
Katie getting her first lesson from Dave
Modern coracles waiting to go out intot he harbour
Katie out in the saucer traditional coracle
Helen and Elenor taking the Coracle for a spin
Helen floating in the harbour in a modern coracle
After we’d mastered the coracles it was time to see if the large Neolithic boat that we spent all of Easter building could actually float! So we’re all loaded up, paddles in hand shoes off and headed out into the harbour! I’m pleased to say it did float and we made it round the harbour a few times! I’m not sure if we would have made it across the North sea or the Irish sea as we did have to have one sat in the back bailing out! One of the unexpected nice things about the cow skin of the boat is we took our shoes off to protect the boat and had a lovely fur carpet under our feat while sailing!
Off we go!
After our successful boat trip round and out of the harbour we managed to find ourselves some traditional Scottish smoked fish and sat by the side of the harbour in the sand enjoying a very sea side meal. One of the lovely things that came out of our trip to Portsoy was the enthusiasm for the coracles that was generated by seeing us take them out round the harbour. We soon had lots of families and children coming up to us and wanting to have a go at sailing them round the harbour. The kids really enjoyed it and it created a wonderful atmosphere. We had a ‘safety coracle’ out in the deeper water keeping an eye on people and making sure that no one left the safety of the harbour. A great time was had by all!
One of the best things about the festival was the relaxed atmosphere, traditional Scottish music floating over the port, still waters, beautiful weather, friendly people and free time on the water. It was lovely to feel close to nature and very close to how our ancestors would have travelled around the waters!
End of the festival after having a great time!
The first step to covering the boat was to get the basket out of the ground and tidy up its edges!
Pulling the boat slowly out of the graoun
Turning the boat over for the first time
Adding supporting beams and edges to the boat to give it strength
Adding a few seats for the rowers
Lifting the boat back onto stilts to be covered
Traditional boats were covered in animal skins that were applied white they were still wet, fresh from the body! they would then shrink during the drying process to create a hard water tight covering for the boat. The cow skins that we used were washed and cleaned prior to handing. How many cow skins does it take to cover a Neolithic boat?
The larger skins had to be sown together using traditional methods, but first the smaller skins had to be cut into strips so that the skins could be tied onto the boat.
Katie Marley cutting strips of cow hide
Katie Marley modeling some lovely cow hide strips
The next step was to stitch the large cow hides together to make enough to cover the whole boat.
Two cow hides being stitched together
Blanked stitch was the method of choice
And in some cases the hides were quite touch to get through! I can imagine Neolithic people needing some quite strong needled to get through it.
Now it wasn’t easy getting those cow hides to come together! We had at least one needle go through a finger! and a had to take turns getting the stitching done. At first the cow hides were also quite smelly (not in a bad way but smelt a bit like a butchers!). Luckily the smell clung to everything so you soon got used to it!
Now to cover the boat!
Skins going on the boat
Sewing up the last bits and pieces
Master coracle maker, Peter Falkner, myself, the lovely Katie and Ellen
Part three? what we did when it was finished!
It was approaching the 2006 Easter break and me and my fellow undergraduate friend, Katie Marley were about to set off on an epic adventure into the Scottish wilderness. Well to an archaeological prehistoric park at Oyne, Archaeolink! Our mission, to build a replica Neolithic boat to find out what it would have taken to make a boat that could have brought Neolithic farmers into Scotland.
Meet the team! Ellen, David, Peter Faulkner (master Coracle maker), Katie and me
The idea behind the project was to make a willow and hide boat that would have been big enough to carry cargo over to Scotland during the Neolithic. Although there is no direct evidence that Neolithic people would have used this type of boat, as it would only have survived in areas where there is exceptional organic preservation, we wanted to see if it could have been a possibility. Now apart from the wonderful Peter, the rest of us had no experience in making coracles! so it was a great learning experience for us! The first task was to trim the willow that would be used to make the boat.
Katie Marly getting to grips with trimming the willow
Helen Williams getting the hang of it!
Next job – making it pointy!
A coracle (which is what our boat was based on) is basically a very large basket covered in hide and sealed with tree sap and tar to make it water tight. The next step was then to weave the structure of the boat, basically into a very large basket!
The boat begins!
Pointy sticks in the ground!
Master Coracle maker who guided us through the whole process!
One to work….five to watch!
Masters at work!
The rest of us get stuck in!
Making the shape of the boat
Bending the stems over!
Looking a bit more boat like now
Making the bow
All hands to the pump to get those last thick willow stems to stay in place!
Ready for the skins!
View from inside the boat at dusk
Part two….covering the boat!