December 30, 2015

Not strictly archaeology, but. . . .

Filed under: Experimental archaeology, Historic — acagle @ 4:20 pm

Building the Great Cathedrals

NOVA’s program on Gothic cathedrals is worth watching. It’s largely Cathedrals 101 — I didn’t see much that I hadn’t learned of as an undergrad in 198*mumble* — but there were a few items I hadn’t seen before, like the Big Fix to the Beauvais cathedral and its attendant problems. Plus a couple of nice recreations. They also have a bit on the Guédelon project which I’ve posted about before.

September 27, 2015

Beer: Is there anything it can’t do?

Filed under: Alcohol, Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 6:29 am

Staten Island Students Brew Chicha Beer To Learn About Ancient Peruvian Migration

Chicha was an important element of the ancient Moche diet, but as with most alcoholic consumption through time, it also helped cement social alliances. ”People drank prodigious amounts of chicha at social events,” Gagnon and colleagues write in a new article in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. By one estimate, the average ancient Moche person drank 2 liters of chicha daily, and even more during feast times. ”The production of chicha was a site of power negotiations at the local level,” they explain, and chicha production is often identified by archaeologists based on their finding of special vessels for fermentation of the drink.

Brewing a drink like chicha is relatively simple: take water and sprouted corn, boil for hours, cool, strain, add yeast, and let ferment for a few days. But what excessive drinking of chicha does to the human skeleton is much more complex. Our bodies contain a lot of oxygen in several different forms or isotopes. The relative abundance of oxygen isotopes in our skeletons is mostly due to what we drink. So a person who lives in one place during childhood, when their teeth and bones are forming, will have an oxygen isotope ratio related to the groundwater in the geographical area. Testing skeletal tissue for oxygen isotopes is one way that bioarchaeologists can discover whether a person was local or a migrant to an area. Brewing water results in evaporation, so the oxygen isotope value of the brewed beverage is different from the water that went into it. Since the ancient Moche were drinking more chicha than groundwater, though, this almost certainly changed their oxygen isotope ratio.

So it really wasn’t (at least based on Kristina’s summary, I didn’t go to the paper yet) about the beer process, it was about isotopes for a change. I’ll need to read the article, but I’m wondering how widespread the chicha consumption was across the population. One would think that it or some form of it would be common through all classes as it usually is, functioning as something of a dietary staple.

September 21, 2015

Real paleodieting

Filed under: Experimental archaeology, Paleodiet — acagle @ 7:09 pm

Archaeologists Recreate 4,000-Year-Old Hittite Feast to Better Understand Their History

One way to study ancient civilizations is to find out what they ate. Cuisine tells a lot about the climate, culture and preferences of the eaters. But instead of trying to reverse engineer the food of a culture based on the effects that can be read from ancient bodies, or merely translating old recipes, some researchers decided to actually prepare ancient foods.

An article at Daily Sabah explains how Aykut Çınaroğlu, a professor of archaeology at Ankara University in Turkey teamed up with chef Ömür Akkor to prepare a meal that might have appeared on Hittite tables 4,000 years ago. Akkor explains that the meal was based on information gleaned from ancient tablets found in Alacahöyük, an important ancient settlement.

Decent experimental archaeology, I think. This is one area you can do that pretty well, since cooking can be repeated over and over so you can get a better feel for how to do things. One trick is getting the correct ingredients since many of the ancient varieties are no longer around.

May 7, 2015

Experimental archaeology done right

Filed under: Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 11:26 am

I may have linked to this before at some point, but here’s Messy Nessy’s article on Building a castle the old way:

But it wasn’t enough just to use medieval construction techniques, materials and tools. For Michel Guyot the project had to go full on “Game of Thrones”, from the period costumes, diet and lifestyle adopted by the builders and craftsmen to the “horses-only” policy used for transportation around the site.

Why? That’s a perfectly reasonable question. It all boils down to a rare practice called “experimental archaeology”, which is pretty much the only way to truly understand and investigate how they did things back then.
. . .
It’s a hands-on approach of rediscovering old forgotten skills and learning exactly how to use them rather than merely relying on theories.

I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to go full-blown medieval, with appropriate dress and diet, although you would get an idea of the sorts of problems you’d get using undernourished people. But the fact that they’re doing this over a long period of time gives them the opportunity to tinker with different techniques that can really only be gained with long-term experience. You’ll never completely recreate what it was like without resorting to physical abuse of the workforce — it was medieval times, after all — but I think it gets you closer to learning the technical skills and strategies employed than trying to do a single task in a week or so.

February 11, 2015

Sort of not archaeology but sort of yes

Filed under: Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 8:06 pm

You’ve probably all seen this by now: Danish archer performs amazing historical bow and arrow tricks


(more…)

January 21, 2015

Experimental archaeology I could get behind

Filed under: Alcohol, Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 8:25 pm

How to Recreate a Sloppy Ancient Greek Drinking Game

More than 2,000 years before the invention of beer pong, the ancient Greeks had a game called kottabos to pass the time at their drinking parties.

At Greek symposia, elite men, young and old, reclined on cushioned couches that lined the walls of the andron, the men’s quarters of a household. They had lively conversations and recited poetry. They were entertained by dancers, flute girls and courtesans. They got drunk on wine, and in the name of competition, they hurled their dregs at a target in the center of the room to win prizes like eggs, pastries and sexual favors. Slaves cleaned up the mess.

It wasn’t exactly like our modern wine, there wold be some unmixed junk near the bottom that elites wouldn’t drink, so what better way to dispose of it? God, I can just imagine the scene at the end of the night. . . . .

September 21, 2014

Good for the coming zombie apocalypse

Filed under: Experimental archaeology, Historic — acagle @ 2:20 pm

Or just a regular apocalypse: Medieval Weapon Finds Modern Appeal

Longpoint, held in July, is one of several annual tournaments around the world, manifestations of renewed interest in what enthusiasts call historical European martial arts, or HEMA. It includes events like grappling — similar to Greco-Roman wrestling — and several types of swordfighting. But the focus is on the most iconic medieval weapon, forged from cold, lustrous steel: the longsword.

“The longsword specifically is just very accessible,” said Pettersson, a management consultant from Gothenburg, Sweden, “because that is what the old masters wrote about the most. It was called the ‘queen of weapons’ in the old days.”

Embedded video which is worth watching.

I linked to something like this a couple of years ago, not sport-fighting like this but someone who had studied the old manuals and developed the techniques. I think this is neat. Be nice if it really developed some and we ended up with gear something like fencing where one could tell from embedded sensors the type of hit that was landed, etc. Not sure it would really get us all that close to actual historical combat techniques being rediscovered — and seen — because taking the lethality angle out of things (mostly) will still develop different techniques. If you look at the video there you can see that they’re really not doing any sort of theatrical sword play; it’s much faster and looks more like actual fighting.

I’m guessing this may end up being really useful for the film industry. Get people with motion capture suits on and let them fight like they would be for real and battle scenes on-screen would be much more realistic.

March 9, 2014

Experimental archaeology update

Filed under: Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 5:56 pm

Desert Fox

That is my second batch o’ beer. The first one turned out. . . .okay. So far one bottle has been great, and two have been meh. That was the Mr. Beer quickie started set. For this one, I went to a home brew store and got the raw ingredients: malt, grains, hops, etc. Much more involved than the last one but it seems to be working. I’m still very much in the learning stage so I made mistakes but I’m hoping the recipe is reasonably robust. It’s a bitter ale.

I was going to make a mead but it requires several months of sitting before it’s really drinkable, or so they say. That seems odd to me as it was probably one of the earliest true ‘beers’ to have been made, if the archaeology is to be believed, so one might think they’d make it to drink right away. Or maybe not, perhaps it was made to drink much later? Easy recipe, mainly just honey and yeast.

I haven’t gotten much of the science yet. Measuring alcohol content and such. I decided to learn to do it first. So far I’m making about 2 gallons at a time which would take me months to drink so I’m giving samples away. Still fascinating to go through the process of making a psychoactive beverage out of grains and junk.

July 14, 2013

Worth watching

Filed under: Car Lust, Egypt, Experimental archaeology, Media — acagle @ 4:02 pm

Building Pharaoh’s Chariot

3,600-year-old reliefs in Egyptian tombs and temples depict pharaohs and warriors proudly riding into battle on horse-drawn chariots. Some historians claim that the chariot launched a technological and strategic revolution, and was the secret weapon behind Egypt’s greatest era of conquest known as the New Kingdom. But was the Egyptian chariot really a revolutionary design? How decisive a role did it play in the bloody battles of the ancient world? In “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot,” a team of archaeologists, engineers, woodworkers, and horse trainers join forces to build and test two highly accurate replicas of Egyptian royal chariots. They discover astonishingly advanced features, including spoked wheels, springs, shock absorbers, anti-roll bars, and even a convex-shaped rear mirror, leading one of them to compare the level of design to the engineering standards of 1930’s-era Buicks! By driving our pair of replicas to their limits in the desert outside Cairo, NOVA’s experts test the claim that the chariot marks a crucial turning point in ancient military history.

Should be able to watch it online here. I saw it the other day and it was actually pretty good. Better than the normal “experimental archaeology” programs that try to do a major project in only two weeks, these guys took a couple of months. It was a good mixture of analyzing epigraphic evidence with some actual chariots from Tutankhamun’s tomb along with an expert who had experience building ancient wheeled vehicles. They didn’t hew exactly to ancient techniques, but close enough that they could get a feel for the problems involved. Most interesting was the design of the spokes.

UPDATE: Now showing in Car Lust.

June 19, 2013

And speaking of alcohol. . . . .

Filed under: Experimental archaeology — acagle @ 7:08 pm

For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archaeology

The beer was full of bacteria, warm and slightly sour.

By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales.

But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon.

A good use of experimental archaeology, although they note in the article that they’ll never know if they’ve gotten it “right”, since there isn’t any way (right now) to test it against the actual beers, but also because there was no doubt a great deal of variation in what they were producing back then because it was mostly small-scale: it doesn’t keep well so it’s predominantly a point-of-produce consumption product. Wine, however, was portable and that’s the primary reason it was traded so widely around the Mediterranean.

I was thinking of the ‘beer as instigator of agriculture’ idea and I don’t think it necessarily has to be the driver for agriculture per se, but it could certainly have spurred greater intensity/efficiency of production because all food surpluses could go to making beer.

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