Experimental Archaeology is a recent addition to the research landscape at Ness Botanic Gardens, but it is having a significant impact at southern end of the grounds. Dr Peter Hommel (Lecturer in Archaeomaterials, Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology) is leading the development of the first Experimental Archaeology Research and Teaching Hub (EARTH) at Ness with the support of the University’s Alumni and Friends.
This Hub combines two enclosed areas: The larger of these, in which you can now see a number of structures, is currently being used for a project led by Dr Sally Hoare, which examines the burning properties of wood and the use of fire in prehistoric dwellings. The smaller hub is a teaching and research space for ancient technologies where students and staff are currently investigating ceramic cooking technologies to investigate questions about the form of early ceramics in hunter-gatherer societies, the isotopic behaviour of tin in the process of production, and the role of dung in the Eurasian Bronze Age.
During lockdown, this space has been used to provide virtual technological demonstrations to undergraduate students and provided one of the few opportunities for on campus education for taught Masters and Research students. But EARTH is a critical part of the department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology’s wider education and outreach programme and will be used as an active base for public activities and events dealing with heritage, science and the study of the past.
Roman Kiln experiement
A fully functional replica of a Roman pottery kiln was successfully built and pots made at Ness Gardens by a team of students from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology (ACE) under guidance from Graham Taylor of Potted History UK.
The kiln is located near the Ness Henge and it is the first step in establishing a partnership between Ness Botanic Gardens and ACE as a centre for staff and students to carry out a variety of projects in experiential and experimental archaeology and develop opportunities for public engagement.
The kiln is based on information gained from the excavation of such kilns at archaeological sites across the north of England. The body is constructed entirely from a mixture of materials found on site: clay, earth, plant matter such as straw and a few old bricks for stability. A small fire is then lit in the Fire Box allowing hot gases and flames to pass through into the combustion chamber then up through the ware chamber. Starting slowly and steadily building up the fire, the pots are brought up to a temperature of between 800 and 1000°C.
This type of kiln would have been used by potters working in this region, to manufacture coarse wares such as Black Burnished Ware and Gray Ware cooking pots, indented beakers, plates, bowls, flagons and so on.
Bronze Age wattle and daub fence experiment
The archaeological (ACE) department's most recent forray into the past at Ness has seen them erect a wattle and daub fence in the same style and using the same construction methods as seen across archaeological sites during the Bronze Age in Northern Europe.
The aim of this project, which is still ongoing as of 2020, is to create a site for students and staff to test ancient construction methods in the field and get a sense of the materials and practices involved in such undertakings.
Alongside the Wood Henge and Roman Kiln, the wattle and daub fencing is visible down near the marshlands, just past the wildflower meadow, and is certainly worth a visit if you haven't discovered this hidden gem.
Our oldest feature of experimental archaeology at Ness is our Wood Henge site which may be known to some of our more frequent visitors. Built by Dr John Hill in 2008, the henge represents a 1:3 scale replica of the layout of Stonehenge during the third phase of its construction, adapted to align with the local landscape. Henges were a relatively common type of ritual site in the Bronze Age, from the Middle East westwards across the Meditteranean as far as the Iberian peninsula and the British Isles. Wooden henges do not survive in the archaeological record due to the taphonomic decomposition of organic materials like wood, which are carbon-based and only survive on rare occasions such as in oxygen-deprived locations such as bogs or under ice.
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