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October 2012: 1st Exeter Dialogue with Science Workshop

Saturday, 6 October, 2012 to Thursday, 11 October, 2012
Dr Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 

The first Exeter dialogue with science workshop was very successful. Participants from Finland, Holland, Italy and Wales joined Exeter postgraduate students and staff for exchange of information, practice, and the pedagogies of experimental archaeology. The workshop ran from the Saturday evening until the Wednesday evening, with an optional site visit to National Museum of Wales St Fagans on the last day.

Participants met for the first time on the Saturday evening and were taken for a meal on Exeter's historic cathedral green a short walk from the Hotel because the organisers realised that some of the participants had travelled a very long way. Everyone was up early the next morning to leave the hotel at eight o'clock to travel two hours by road to the Port of Falmouth, where a Bronze Age boat is being reconstructed within the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The project is part of the knowledge transfer grant funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and involves three archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology, Robert Van de Noort, Anthony Harding and Linda Hurcombe. The project is using replica Bronze Age tools to reconstruct a sewn plank boat from 2000 BC. Workshop participants were able to see a large scale research and presentation project in action, and discuss with the professional shipwright, Brian Cumby, and the Museum curator, Sarah Riddle, the principles and methods of the project. In the true spirit of OpenArch the participants were all able to have a go at using the Bronze Age tools on green oak and were involved thereafter in making ash paddles which will be used when the boat undergoes sea trials. This was a great start to understanding the principles and practice of experimental archaeology that characterise the dialogue with science. Everybody left Falmouth tired but with a lot to think about and with the ice well and truly broken.

Monday saw a series of short but intense presentations from Exeter staff and postgraduates on the principles and pedagogies of experimental archaeology. This was followed by a flint knapping session which allowed participants to improve their skill and to think about some of the principles raised in the morning sessions. The final session of the day collected ideas on the kind of projects participants wanted to undertake. Exeter postgraduate facilitators took these ideas and worked on getting some relevant examples and reading material from the library ready for the next day. Meanwhile the visitors went to Topsham to visit a very traditional English pub, the only one officially visited by the Queen!, then for a meal on the quayside at the Lighter.

Tuesday saw a split start in the morning. Roeland, Linda, Alan and Bruce met with several people from the Exeter research support teams from the College and research Accounting. Meanwhile participants were at the Museum, and doing more flint knapping. Then Alan and Linda gave an overview of writing experiments as aims, methods and objectives and ways of thinking through what recording systems would be needed. This was followed by a a practical session where staff and postgrad facilitators worked with participants to develop their ideas on paper. .

After lunch there was more chance to read about some of the topics identified by the participants and develop ideas further with help provided. Then we switched to some more practical work where various stations of activities were set out so that participants could talk to people with artefacts, examples and analyses to hand on a variety of experimental archaeology topics .

Bruce gave the department research seminar which warmly welcomed our visitors to the department. The evening meal was in a room at the Olive Tree where the puddings and guess the flavour of the ice-cream was a great activity.

Wednesday saw the group return to campus to explore how to write up experiments and deal with different kinds of recording methods. The kinds of journals and the different write up styles needed were discussed by Linda and Gill and Miska gave an example of the how she wrote up some of the Kierrikki experiments on the OpenArch website. This was useful as a concrete example of somebody from one of the centres doing a write-up for the project and assessing the key tasks and the time taken to put the information into the system. Participants also had a chance to explain more about the kinds of experiments undertaken at their centres and raise awareness of opportunities for students and exchanges. After lunch the development of ideas for experiments and writing them up carried on. As the last act of the afternoon participants and students were invited to use post-its to comment on what to keep about the workshop, what to change or add, and what to drop. Lots of positive comments thanks.

There was a final meal together at the Mill on the Exe although some participants had to leave that evening.

The final optional site visit on Thursday was to Cardiff to see project partner St Fagans. Steve Burrow kindly showed the group around and explained the exciting new plans and the issues of maintenance of roundhouses.

This was an excellent 1st workshop which resulted in some ideas to explore and work on further.


the arrival in Exeter
workshop on boat
Monia at work with wood
and flint stone
lessons at the University
amazing amber
greetings and friends
Dr Gill Juleff discussing how experimenting...
Notes of the meeting
Dr Linda Hurcombe presenting
Miiska Sliden (FI) explaining about her...