Posted by: Brian | January 24, 2011

Experimenting in Archaeology

Jim Jones explaining pottery making techniques

I am teaching my experimental archaeology class again this January.Winter term at Hamline is a month long, intensive course. We spend 3 hours a day, 4 days a week in class – the perfect format for experimental archaeology. The first two weeks we concentrate on learning (or at least experiencing) some basic ‘ancient’ technologies. We started with deer legs – butchering them with stone tools and acquiring useful raw materials – bone, sinew, and skin. Next was chipped stone tools – always a difficult skill to learn, followed by pottery-making, and slate grinding.

Eric flintknapping (with some of the tools he made)

Matt using a mussel shell to thin his ceramic vessel

I’ve been assisted in teaching pottery-making and flintknapping skills by Jim Jones, an Anishinaabe tribal member and NAGPRA specialist with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. Jim is a fantastic teacher. His many stories add a lot of insight into what we’re doing and what we’re trying to understand. I think all my students will remember his story about being chased by a bear.

Jim demonstrating his technique for shaping a coiled pot (Pete Palma watching).

Dave Tennessen led the ground slate experiments. We’re trying to understand the use of slate points in the Gulf of Alaska prehistory – particularly in contrast to chipped stone points. The students had to replicate a late style, Koniag endblade as part of Dave’s research. Dave wants to explore the issue of form and precision in slate manufacture.

Dave Tennessen instructing Bailey on ground slate techniques

Today we’re going to Como Park where we’ll fire our clay pots and then shoot our slate points into stuff to test their durability. After Como Park the students have to design and undertake their own experiments. They have some cool project ideas so I’ll post on these results next week.

More photos can be found on my Flickr page.



  1. Thanks for posting this – my daughter is in this class and loves it! She has told us quite a bit about the class and the projects, so it was fun to see photos and hear more about it.

    • I have a blast teaching this class because of all the enthusiastic students like your daughter.

  2. Dig your blog. You made it onto the list of the top 30 archeology blogs of 2011 at Congrats!

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