Thursday, February 02, 2012

Videos as visual aids in presenting experimental archaeology

For reasons that should become clear fairly soon, I've had experimental archaeology videos on my mind lately. In many cases, actually seeing segments of an experimental study play out can convey so much more of the experience itself than summary tables and graphs, which really take the human element out and often don't do justice to some of the phenomena observed as they unfold.

I saw a couple of good example of this last semester, during the student final project presentations in my Lithic Analysis seminar. In part because UC Denver doesn't have a lot of collections available for students to analyze and in part because of my hyping the approach, there was a groundswell of interest in experimental archaeology projects. Two of those resulted in presentations that used video to drive home key observations: The first was a really stark contrast between how groups of male and female knappers communicated during communal knapping sessions. In that one instance, the ladies talked quite a bit, while the men hardly spoke to one another. It's one thing to describe this, but showing the two videos back-to-back really underscored the deafening silence of the guy group - almost everyone in the class remarked upon it.

The other presentation, by one of our grad students, incorporated video of chert and flint nodules being exposed to heat in a replicated prehistoric kiln to study the mechanism of pot lid fractures. The study ended up yielding little usable data because the high heat of the kiln simply cause the nodules to shatter almost on exposure. Again, however, it was one thing to say this in the presentation, and quite another to actually show footage of the nodules literally exploding (complete with the camera holder ducking out of the way in one instance) to highlight just how dramatic the process actually was. It also quite strikingly drove home the point that kilns may not have been the best manner to heat-treat rock in the past!

Especially given how affordable and increasingly user-friendly movie-making software and equipment is becoming, I really can't imagine why an experimental archaeologist would not film given experiments. Even more, after these presentations, I can't imagine some of these videos not being incorporated in professional presentations of these studies, even though I have to say that I haven't seen much of them at, say, the Paleos or those sessions of the SAAs I usually attend.


terryt said...

"The study ended up yielding little usable data because the high heat of the kiln simply cause the nodules to shatter almost on exposure".

No need for a kiln. When I was much younger our family lived on a rocky farm with a lot of gorse growing on it. My father often used to burn the gorse. Flakes would often peel off the volcanic boulders, and they usually had very sharp edges. Just placing rocks in an ordinary cooking fire would probably produce the required flake tools.

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Terry - this sounds very likely, but the poor student was simply trying to see whether or not high heat in kilns could be used to heat treat lithic raw material to make it easier to flake... given that it shatter into many small, amorphous pieces, she wasn't really able to test the idea, and on top of that the chunks were too coarse and brittle to even use as is. She was pretty bummed out, but her presentation was one of the more, er, lively ones, especially with the videos in it... had kind of a archaeo-CLoverfield to it! :)