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Exeter Dialogue With Science Roadshow: Archeon

Friday, 23 October, 2015 to Monday, 26 October, 2015
Dr. Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
11 participants from the University of Exeter; interacting closely with 19 Archeon staff members, other openarch partners, volunteers, and the visiting smelting group. ~1,000 visitors

A trip to Archeon Experimental Park in the Netherlands was arranged for 5 Master’s and 4 PhD students and Drs. Gill Juleff and Linda Hurcombe from the University of Exeter, UK. Emily Pike, a special needs teacher in the UK, also joined the group after travelling to Archeon independently. This weekend had a dual purpose designed to firstly engage the students in the Dialogue with the Visitor seminar at Archeon and also to develop the Dialogue with Science Roadshow themes. Students were integrated into various aspects of the park activities, which span an incredible range of periods, themes and practices in an immersive way. The goal was to encourage the students to think about how they might interact with the public and communicate the ongoing research and activities conducted on site.

The metallurgical aspects were prevalent in the interactions, especially considering the specialisms of the PhD students (Matt working with bronze, and Katie and Ethan working with iron), but students were involved with the Mesolithic period activities and gathering valuable use-wear data on the tools being used for a variety of tasks. Roughly two students engaged in each period spread across the Mesolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking eras. The immersive nature of the park meant students had to abandon modern clothing and technology, dressing in period appropriate attire (for which special thanks must be given to our wonderful guide for the weekend – Anique Hamelink!) and utilising skills, crafts, and tools of each era. As part of this, and in aid of developing interactions with the visitors, the students were encouraged to establish a persona through which they would communicate the transmission of craft skills with both the public and fellow demonstrators.

Bronze Casting (by M Knight)
Matt Knight and Donna Thompson, spent the weekend working and learning in the bronze casting workshop and Bronze Age settlement within Archeon. Archeon has the immense benefit of having a long-practicing and very skilled experimental Bronze Age bronzesmith: Wÿnand Simons. The first day was an opportunity to discuss the aspects of bronze smithing and casting with Wÿnand while also making and firing clay crucibles by hand in preparation for a casting on Sunday. Key elements of the casting processes and the general Bronze Age in the Netherlands were discussed and were particularly relevant to ongoing PhD research, which increasingly has a European-wide focus.

The public were present throughout the weekend, which encouraged the demonstrators to utilise different methods for communicating ideas about Bronze Age life, including encouraging adults and children alike to wear replica clothing and try out moulding clay and working the organic bag bellows on an unlit fire pit.

Sunday was spent preparing for a casting operation, involving heating clay equipment (moulds, crucibles etc.) and using the bellows to get the fire hot enough for casting. This again attracted much public attention and culminated in the production of a replica bracelet by Lucia Ros. It was good to see the shared excitement this generated for her, the students, staff and public.

It became easier over the weekend to establish a dialogue with the public as students became more integrated in the Bronze Age personas and found increasingly creative ways to transverse the language barrier. An incredibly informative experience!

Iron Smelting and Smithing (by K Bonnet and E Greenwood)
Kathryn Bonnet and Ethan Greenwood spent the weekend between the Iron Age and Viking areas learning and helping to teach the public the processes behind the production of iron in antiquity. As it was a special event weekend at Archeon, showcasing a variety of metal working processes and skills, a team of iron smelters and smiths had come from, Ijzertijd Boerderij Dongen to show their expertise in the Iron Age section of Archeon and a Blacksmith Łukasz Szczepański, from another Openarch partner, Fotevikens Museum, showed his talents in the Viking section. Each day there were multiple opportunities to discuss key processes and techniques which was invaluable to both participants ongoing research in the field of metallurgy. Moreover, the chance to follow the process of smelting step by step on both Saturday and Sunday, was a great opportunity to see the physical processes that are so commonly described in textbooks, and to see first-hand the tools and raw materials that are utilized.

It was a busy weekend at Archeon so communication with the public was of utmost importance and was accomplished in a variety of different ways. The team from Ijzertijd Boerderij Dongen, which consisted of John Dankers, Michael Jepson, Sebastion Engels and Hans de Vos, had a bloomery furnace running each day which allowed the public to view first-hand how iron was produced in the Iron Age. Thanks to a small glass window the visitor could see into the centre of the bloomery furnace and see the high heat being produced by the bright yellow white colour. On Friday they were still building the furnace for the smelt to be held over the following two days, which gave a look at the steps needed before the smelt even begins. Materials such as clay to build the furnace, and ore and charcoal for the smelt had to be prepared before a smelt can even begin.

Once the public had seen how iron was produced, they could then watch a blacksmith forging iron into such products as fire strikers, which are used to strike flint to create sparks for starting a fire. The public could also get involved by pumping the bellows to keep stoking the heat in the forge furnace. The task of explaining the process to the visitors, provided a way to better understand the process ourselves. At the beginning communication was tricky due to the language barrier. However, as the weekend progressed and with the help of Anique Hamelink, our guide and mentor for the visit, communication became more efficient.

In the Viking village once again the processes and amount of work that goes into smithing before forging actually begins was observed, while working with another blacksmith, Łukasz Szczepański, from the Fotevikens Museum. The preparation of the forge itself which was of clay which was shaped into two small parallel arched walls. In one of the walls a small hole was left near the base into which the tuyere fits and then the bellows. Many tools needed to be positioned at the ready such as, a great variety of hammers and tongs, large amounts of charcoal for fuel which had previously been crushed into small even sized pieces, and of course an anvil which was luckily provided by Archeon. At the Viking village again communication with the visitors was key, and in addition to this aspect both participants were able to spend time working the bellows for Lukasz.

Additional Activities:
Though there was a focus on bronze and iron smithing during the weekend, other activities also included Viking glass bead making, and activities in the Mesolithic area which centred on use-wear analysis.
Nicola Strange, an MA student, took on an independent project to process acorns into meal. There was a large crop of acorns at Archaeon and ten kilograms were collected by one person in two hours. Exeter students and Archaeon staff worked together to process some of the acorns, experimenting with potential prehistoric techniques. Acorns were lightly roasted by the fire, shelled and ground into meal. The meal was leached in ceramic pots heated by the fire, in order to remove the tannins which cause a bitter taste and gastrointestinal upset in large quantities. After many changes of water, the acorn meal was ready to eat; a nutritious, local additive to stews, soups and biscuits. Alan Burchell (MA student), built a clay kiln and used it over the course of the weekend to demonstrate the intricacies of Viking style glass bead production. In the Mesolithic area Alice La Porta (PhD student) and Tom Raisen (MA student) focused on taking casts of use-wear from interesting fibre processing tools, and tools used on ochre and for hide working. Forms were filled out for each tool collected or cast each evening recording what it was used on and how. All students were able to tour the site seeing the reconstructed houses, but the chance to see the Mesolithic house in the midst of being built was invaluable.

Dialogue with the Visitor:
In addition to being the ninth stop for the Dialogue with Science Roadshow, a Dialogue with the Vistor Seminar saw both students and staff members participate in talks geared toward gaining a better understanding of how to engage with and provide information to visitors. These included a talk by Wiel van der Mark, Archeon’s Barber Surgeon, in the atmospheric medieval house where you were surrounded by relevant objects which were used to inform the discussion. This was a fascinating display of natural and crafted remedies for everyday ailments, some of which could be traced back to prehistoric periods. Many participants chose to visit the tinsmith for a fascinating discussion on tin casting and the role of pilgrims badges. Others chose to learn various means of presenting the complex technique of smelting iron to the visitors. The sessions where the public were engaged were often very busy and intense, and gave the Exeter participants a better understanding and appreciation, of the roles of open air museum staff members and the key issues in public interactions for them as researchers. In the evenings the group sat down as a group in the Roman villa and put their thoughts down about what they had learned over the course of the two days.

Sometimes special needs groups visit the museum. Emily Pike (special needs teacher in the UK) was able to explain some of the key issues for successful interaction. Each child will have unique issues but, for some dealing with transitions and new experiences is a challenge. A numbered or coloured system, using pictures of the places to be visited, can be useful because it explains to the group a sequence of activities and what will happen. This same flip chart style sequence can let them know where they are and what is coming next. The light/dark/fire contrasts will attract some and the sounds and smells can be important as well as some of these things can trigger an intense beam of attention

The large variety of opportunities and experiences offered and participated in over the weekend meant the students were able to engage in several different aspects and crafts from throughout history, while also developing a relationship with the public. All involved were able to take full advantage of the expertise available at Archeon and it will be invaluable when they come to developing their own ideas and crafts at the University of Exeter, as well as engaging with students, staff and members of the public in the future.


Thinking up personas and getting dressed!
Bronze casting being explained to the public.
Donna, Lucia and Matt preparing for casting.
Matt preparing for casting with bronze tools...
Lucia's first successful casting!
Iron smelting in the dark with the team from...
Katie documenting the team as they further...
The Ijzertijd Boerderij Dongen smelting team...
Łukasz from Fotevikens museum demonstrating...
Ethan assisting Łukasz in the Viking age...
Felipe and Alan making beads in the Viking...
Demonstrating bead making to the public.
Processing accorns.
Shelling accorns.
Nicola grinding acorns into meal.
Nicola and Gill processing flax fibres.
Nicola demonstrating flax fibre processing...
Lucia, Alice and Tom dressed for the...
Alice speaking with visitors.
Alice explaining stone tool use and use wear...