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Blogging Kalamazoo Session 339: Archaeology and Experiment: Moving beyond the Artifacts

Saturday, May 11, 2019 - 08:07

Saturday 10:00

Sponsor: AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Inter­disciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art; EXARC


Working with Craftsmen: The “It Depends” Dilemma

Christina Petty, Univ. of Manchester

General topic is the necessary ambiguity and variation of practice in crafts, making clear and objective description of the functionality and logistics of object production. “Expert” knowledge is highly reliant on expertise, but in trying to evaluate historic practices, one must know not only the physical requirements of the practice, but the range of individual expertise of the practitioners. Experience with modern standardized materials and techniques is misleading when trying to understand historic practice.

[This is largely a personal philosophical exploration of issues from a subjective point of view and with a very informal chatty style. I may have made it sound more structured than the paper itself. It also fails to recognize the likely differences between the expertise range among modern craftsmen versus the likely range or practice/experience among historic people practicing those same crafts as a lifelong economic profession. Range of variation among modern craftspeople may be important for creating estimates for experimental projects but may not be useful for trying to project historic practice.]


Experiencing Viking Age Spinning Technologies

V. M. Roberts, York Univ.

Opens with a similar theme: individual expertise may vary, but in a historic economic-career context, producers tend to be consistent with expertise known to their market.  Using a social anthropology approach to analyzing spinning techniques by experienced researchers and practitioners. Discusses “bodily knowledge” for techniques like spinning (I’d call it kinesthetic knowledge). Effects of repeated physical practice on the body, even to the point of being interpretable from skeletal remains. “Technologies are ...communities of practice....” But we can’t access historic communities of practice except by how they are reflected in the surviving work.  His research was based on recursive interviews with a small group of practitioners, following up on recurring topics to explore subjective concerns from within the practice. Conclusions can be non-intuitive, e.g., that spindle weight is irrelevant to thread size, any thickness of thread can be spun on any weight of spindle. Communities may have beliefs about whether heavy or light spindles are better for a particular weight of thread, but these are in conflict between different communities. Points out that the accumulated weight of thread on a spindle will typically be larger than the weight of the spindle itself, therefore the spinning of a consistent thread must be independent of spindle weight. This suggests that attempts to correlate spindle whorl size/weight/material with particular types of thread production may be produce conclusions more in line with the investigator’s beliefs about practice than about historic reality.

[This was also a somewhat informally structured paper.]


Modeling of the Thermodynamic Properties of Interior Processes within a Barrel Smelter Using Measurements of Exterior Temperature Gradients

Robert Gissing, Conestoga College

[This paper did not appear.]


The Making and Breaking of Moulds: An Experimental Approach to Non-Ferrous Metalworking in Sweden

Rachel Cogswell, Univ. College Dublin

Topic is experimental work on Vendel-era bronze casting. Two basic types of mould creation: direct matrix by pressing the object into the mould, or lost wax where the object is created in wax and the mold created around it then the wax is removed. Working with a site with a large number of mould fragments for making clasp buttons (4-8th c. Sweden). Object is used for fasten cuffs, legs of breeches. These items are highly detailed and three dimensional, requiring a multi-part mould. Due to physical structure, lost wax is more likely as an approach. Beekeeping wasn’t prevalent in that era and area., but there is evidence of beeswax in gravesites. Her research project was to investigate whether multi-part or lost-wax moulds better fit the available evidence. Possibly hybrid technique using tin models where the basic shape is created by a standard method (ensuring regularity) then elaborated in the details. Various experiments for multi-part moulds had issues especially for such a small object (e.g., different parts of the mould shrinking in different ways). Wet clay worked best for multi-part moulds. Experiments with multi-part versus lost-wax suggested that the latter was more efficient with respect to time per object. So do broken moulds match the archaeological evidence? The lost-wax moulds tended to shatter, while the multi-part ones fractured along the construction lines (I think she indicates this is more characteristic of the remains?). (I get the impression that the multi-part moulds are created in pieces while wet, then assembled, then cast while still wet. So still single-use.) Both methods had loss of decorative elements. The multi-valve approach sometimes had flashing that must be removed.  Overall conclusions: multi-part moulds seem likeliest but this is a skilled procedure for consistent success. Suggestions for further research to pin down details and remaining questions.

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