EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY VERSUS LIVING HISTORY
I have alluded before to my belief that Experimental Archaeology and Living History are similar—often complementary—but separate pursuits. Let’s look a little bit closer at the two pursuits.
Experimental Archaeology “attempts to generate and test archaeological hypotheses, usually by replicating or approximating and the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats”
Living History is creating an illusion in which “people to simulate life in another time.”
In the one, we are doing things in the way that they were done in the past. In the other, we are displaying to the public the results of those labor or displaying how it was. In that last case, we might be combining the two pursuits, but that is not necessary. In the first case, you can wear what you want; in the second, you can use an accurate replica made with power tools. Or you can demonstrate a procedure for MoPs—or to fellow reenactors at BUFU events—using period tools and technology.
For some people doing living-history, experimental archaeology is essential to the experience. They are trying to duplicate the feelings and technologies of the past so they can better appreciate living in the past, and all I know, period clothing might be essential for some experimental archaeologists as well. After all, they cannot know the restrictions on and limitations of movement unless they are wearing the clothing from the time!
In the end, experimental archaeology is in many minds, just a version of plain archaeology, while living history—because of many practitioners—is not considered to be a valid pursuit at all. As a practitioner and adherent of living history, you can well imagine that my interpretation is somewhat different!