“Objects have stories, lives, biographies”.
From their makers to breakers, their takers and then re-remakers, the stuff that once decorated a much older and different world from ours had owners. Owners that gave them a purpose. They were used, traded or passed on until they became broken, lost or discarded. And when an archaeologist finally takes it from the earth, these things enter a second life. One with a very different purpose, destined to fulfilling a modern curiosity and displayed in ways that would perplex their makers.
Since I was a boy I have often found myself in a stifling museum; my coat hanging across one arm, eagerly peering into some glass case and standing back only to let the condensation before my nose dissipate. ‘what are you?’, I would ask. ‘who made you?’, and ‘Why’?
Often, you can see what an object was made from; stone, metal, wood or clay. From its shape and style we can guess its function or even how it was used.
What you can’t do, is touch it. Feel it. Own it and know it, inside out. The senses we have in common with our ancestors are now our most useful tools. And vital to an holistic understanding of the past.
In September 2015 a small group of students at University College Dublin, had the opportunity to explore the ancient past in a way that right now other archaeology students simply cannot. Over the course of two weeks, at our Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Ancient Technologies located on campus, these few students went on a journey through craft and technology; from stone to clay, fire, wood and textiles.
In what was once described in ExArc Journal as a ‘whirlwind of activity’, I saw for myself the museum glass being slowly removed and replaced by ownership and understanding; stepping into the display case and experiencing each hidden element of every little life.
I hope you enjoy this selection of photographs. Remember to follow and share – and stay tuned for more updates from
ArchaeoFox: Exploring the World Through the Past/
Scoring a pot with Flint
Some pots ready for firing
Our Professors here understand more than any, that Experimental Archaeology means getting your feet dirty!
The base of a clay oven in production.
Many hands make light work, especially with ancient technoologies
First time turning clay in the hands.
lining the base of a clay oven with stones.
Even when when not excavating, some relationships remain strong!
Always a whirlwind of activity at UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology
After taking over 3,000 images this semester, I can’t find a single photo where someone is not smiling!
Stephen is always watching 🙂
Appreciation for the final touches, delicately present themselves only after each student takes a pride in a pot they made; not something you get at an average museum.
Macro shot of the sand particle in the we included in clay
A view of my apartment block on Campus at UCD, with a full view of the experimental centre.
With every touch, we slowly bridge the gap; removing that museum display case glass to touch the very matter of ancient worlds.
It seems everything needed to build a ceramic workshop is right at our feet!
The Mesolithic house watches the girls through the trees as they retrieve the grass we will use to make a clay oven.
No pain, no gain.
New meets old in this one
A Portrait of My colleague, IRC and fellow PhD Scholar, Brendan O’Niel
Even the little fellas are busy at work here at UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology
A Student shapes a piece of clay for the first time, connecting with the past through his hands.
Prof. Aidan O’Sullivan at UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology
Everything starts with a ball
Grinding an edge, to make a stone axe
An old exam table still gets used in our centre, some souls die hard.
Brendan Passes on some tips about handing clay
PhD Scholar Bernard Gilhooly shows the difference between steel, bronze and stone when chopping wood.
The Arch30500 Experimental Archaeology and Ancient Technologies students of 2015