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Experimental Action: Rush Cutting with Linda Lemieux

Tuesday, 7 July, 2015
Linda Hurcombe
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
4 participants from the University of Exeter, plus Linda Lemieux Audience: the plants harvested will be used at the Mesolithic Living Project, AOZA (now known to be 8,000+)

On the seventh of July University of Exeter Team members met up with local expert basket maker Linda Lemieux to harvest Bullrush (Scirpus or Schoenoplectus lacustri.) at her rush bed on the Somerset Levels. At the Exeter Dialogue with Science Workshop 4 focussing on learning the craft skills of Basketry and related plant management, participants from Exeter, St Fagans and Calafell had the chance to use these plants as well as others. At this time the group harvested willow as February was part of the right season for this task which needs to be undertaken when the willows are dormant. Rush, in contrast, is traditionally harvested in June and early July when the plant is well grown. Since there are faw fewer basketmakers who manage rush beds rather than willow beds so it was good to get this follow up opportunity to develop skills in managing this importnant plant as part of a craft survival. Back in Exeter we followed Linda Lemieux’s advice on drying the rush carefully - the whole of the level two corridor smelt of ‘river’ for a while – and then the rush were bundled up ready to be used in AOZA. Extensive use has been made of these plants for cordage and weaving material around the world in the areas in which it grows. It has also been used to construct rafts and boats which vary considerably in both shape and size. The goal of the rush cutting was to harvest enough material to construct a small boat. The building of the rush boat would take place during the Mesolithic Living Project in late July and August which was hosted by the Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen in Albersdorf, Germany. In an effort to make efficient use of the teams’ time, half of the bulrush was cut using traditional metal tools and the other half using stone tools. The stone tools would later be added to the use wear collection being accumulated over the summer. This also gave Alice La Porta a chance to test out some adhesives in advance of her projectile experiments also scheduled for completion during the Living Mesolithic project.

In addition to collecting a boats worth of rush, the team were taught rush bed management skills, traditional collection techniques and coracle boat handling. The later took a bit of getting used to and fostered a healthy respect for those individuals who at one time used coracles as part of their everyday lives. Many thanks to Linda Lemieux for providing this great opportunity.

Linda Hurcombe
Theresa Emmerich Kamper
Alice La Porta

University of Exeter, Department of Archaeology


Cutting rush with stone tools.
Loading the coracle with rush.
Linda Lemieux demonstrating the proper use...
Drying rush in the department hallway.