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Exeter Dialogue with Science Interactions

Friday, 20 November, 2015 to Thursday, 31 December, 2015
Dr. Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
25 participants

There have been running projects related to woodland management and resources, and basketry and plant use over the course of the Universities involvement in Openarch. In the closing phases of the Openarch project Exeter University has reviewed some of the ongoing projects and their development.

Linda Lemieux: Basketery, Plants and Cordage

These included the workshop with Linda Lemieux and the discussion with Jasna Lesjnak about esparto techniques. This led to Linda Hurcombe’s participation in the Esparto workshop in Calafell Spain on 23rd and 24th of November 2015 which Linda Lemieux was unable to attend. On the 20th of December the two Linda’s met at Linda Lemieux’s workshop on Dartmoor UK to go over several aspects of the cordage and basketry work. Linda Hurcombe outlined and showed examples of esparto crudo (raw) and esparto picado (retted and beaten) work. Some of the open work resembles Perigordian basketry styles which Linda Lemieux had examples of in her workshop and direct comparisons were able to be drawn. Linda was also interested in the basketry handbags produced by the esparto teacher Simone Simmons as seen on her website. A discussion on the saleability of various items followed. We discussed the technologies and processing techniques across the whole range of soft and harder plants covering, rush, esparto, sedges, iris, straw, bast fibres, and links between different technologies and styles, for example, with the Irish straw work. The preparation of materials for these kinds of techniques allowed finer products or more robust products to be made and offered a great deal of variation which, it was realised, would make some forms of cordage and basketry more susceptible to decay processes in the archaeological record.

We moved onto discussing the cordage issues and the variety of these. Several different crafts people were using several different cordage techniques at the Heritage Crafts day and Linda Lemieux had been particularly keen to learn the 9 element round plait/braid technique. This is such an unusual technique that as well as the example she made on the day, Linda Lemieux now also has an example unfinished so that she has a way of reminding herself of the construction method. It is these kind of statements that show the complexity of learning and the need to embed this physically with practice as well as simply learning the technique as a single event. Simone Simmons had made interesting statements about how she learned esparto techniques from older members of her community and the amount of time it had taken her to master these. There were certainly aspects of the esparto technology that were harder to understand as well as execute.

Further discussion centred around rushes and reeds for constructing bundle boats and rafts. Discussions were had about the issues of tool use, the use of dry or fresh material, the initial experiments on the kinds of cordage suitable for this craft and the amount of materials necessary to support the weight of one person. Take up of water and the softening of the bundle structure due to this were part of this review. Further work this upcoming summer was discussed in outline taking account of the performance of the experimental bundle craft in the water during the Mesolithic living project. The wicker style frame of the cowhide covered boat was compared with coracles and the Irish Curraghs. Techniques such as waling were discussed as a way of strengthening parts of the boat and curvature to even out stresses without adding extra weight to the frame. As an experienced coracle maker and user Linda Lemieux’s insights were invaluable.

Dave Budd: Woodland resources and Technologies

Dave Budd combines blacksmithing with charcoal making, woodland management and green woodworking and has been giving advice on aspects of some the experimental work undertaken by the University for many years. On the 20th of December Theresa Emmerich Kamper met with Dave Budd at his workshop to review some of the experiment results and prospects for further collaborative work for the upcoming summer.

Bark products have been used extensively in experimental work and discussions with Dave covered the use of metal tools for debarking, examples of which are present as St. Fagans. Discussions included various aspects of different charcoal and wood varieties and burning temperatures in relation to birch tar extraction experiments undertaken over the course of the Openarch project. As these experiments mean to continue into the summer of 2016 measuring tools were discussed as a way to document and better understand why or why not each round of experimentation succeeds in producing an appreciable amount of tar. Less usual parts of the birch tree such as root balls for use in tar production were also discussed. The role and production of charcoal in early periods and it’s applicability to the birch tar experiments was touched on, as was the usefulness of birch bark grown in different habitats and at varying latitudes, and elevations.

Forrest management in relation to coppicing during the Mesolithic for projectile shafts such as arrows, darts and spears was reviewed. This was a topic of discussion at the meeting in Kiel earlier in the fall. Plant materials were collected for projectile shafts and the initial processing done with stone tools as part of the use wear experiments. Juncus, a soft rush was looked at as a more unusual woodland product in relation to plant based clothing systems which made up part of the research agenda during previous Dialogue with Science Roadshow visits.

Fibres, Textiles and Looms

Over the course of the Openarch project the department has developed its capability to produce textile work. It now has an extra warp weighted loom supplemented by a modern four shaft loom which allows more student projects to be developed. Replication work has included rooing and cutting sheep fleece at Foteviken, and working with the expert weavers, spinners and dyers, Ida Demant and Anne Batser at Sagnlandet Lejre. In particular replicating work with Soay sheep wool with full processing from raw to a sample of finished textile. This is linked in with ‘Touching the Past’ the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project and in particular with 3D prints of textiles and textile impressions. This was also part of the work in collaboration with the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, UK with saw the White Horse Hill material replicated and displayed as part of the special exhibition of the extraordinary find. The small section of the nettle and hide work fabric and the animal hair and tin stud braided arm or wrist band have contributed crafted replicas for exhibition purposes of objects which are totally unique in European Prehistory.

Skins and Skin processing

In the closing phases Theresa Emmerich Kamper made a series of visits developing some aspects of work with skin processing. In Northampton she made contacts with the University, the teaching tannery and Museum of Leathercraft discussing her work with them and discussing the work of the Openarch project and experimental work undertaken by the University with a goal of possible of future collaboration. There are particular difficulties in the scientific identification of traditional small scale tanning in early periods and this was basis of much of Theresa and the Universities research work regarding skin processing. Commercial and sustainable sources for some tanning materials and the differences between a variety of barks as well as powdered bark vs chips were further topics of discussion. The way that these variables affect the extraction of the tannin from the bark into solution and the rate of uptake of the tannins by the skins was also reviewed.

During the summer Roadshow event at the ATC the staff showed a lot of interest in skin processing and it was agreed that Theresa would return and give a more intensive and in depth course on the subject. This took place December 17th – 18th 2015 and was attended by 10 ATC staff and volunteers. Further collaborations will be explored on February 23rd as ongoing cooperation directly arising from interactions during the Openarch project. Following on from the ATC event further skins were sourced which proved to be of a superior quality to what had been acquired previously.

During workshop 4 ‘Hide Working’ and during the Dialogue with Science Roadshow events over the summer it was noted that many open air museums need access to, and advice on, this specific skill set. In addition, the sewing techniques to make clothing from the resulting skins which are relevant to the AOAM’s time periods might also be helpful. Experiments are ongoing which bring theory and practice together concerning traditional tanning and scientific investigations in this area.

GoPro and flint knapping

The use of a GoPro video system was suggested during brainstorming over the course of Morten Kutschera’s visit in November 2015. After additional discussions with Professor Bruce Bradley about the usefulness of this device as a tool for teaching point of view knapping a GoPro was purchased. Initials trials of the equipment were undertaken in December 2015 and resulting videos are forthcoming.

Making the most of flint from EXARC Net on Vimeo.The key issue for many archaeological open-air museum staff wanting to learn flintknapping is access to material and access to basic skills. As part of the University of Exeter activities within the OpenArch project we have looked at practical ways to help with flintknapping skills. These have involved several phases of knapping activities. Credits: Linda Hurcombe, Morten Kutschera, Matt Sweiton. Matt Sweiton was an MA in Experimental Archaeology at the University of Exeter who took part in many OpenArch events. He has a particular interest in flintknapping and in developing his own skills and those of others. As part of his work with AÖZA Matt went through their waste pile of flint and split exhausted cores, making the material useful for taking off more flakes. The video, made at the University of Exeter outlines this technique.