I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

IF AT FIRST…

It is called “experimental archaeology,” not “I got it right the first time because I’m so Damned good archaeology.” The process goes beyond merely experimenting with new methods but looking at the construction of objects.

I am a woodworker. Whenever I start a new project, attempting to reproduce on some manner, an historical artifact from the Viking Age, I assume that there are going to be problems with the first attempt. I often make it out of cheap pine or scrap wood rather than any other expensive wood. And I assume that I am going to be learning something about how to better put it together.

Anyone who is not taking notes of how the project was done and what material were used is being a fool. Write down what actions were taken, what materials were employed and how much material was used. Sometimes the excitement of doing something and doing something successfully—or the exasperation and frustration of doing something unsuccessfully—can lead you to forget important details about the process.

Making mistakes when first doing a project can often be more illuminating and more educational than doing it right to begin with.

When doing an experimental archaeology project, it is of course best to do all the proper research beforehand. Uncover any suppositions about how something was done in period and then design—perhaps on paper, on your computer or even if your head if you trust your memory—the exact method you would use when going about the reproduction. One of the worst thing you can do is to see a photograph—sometimes not even a good photograph—of an artifact and then sit down with a scrap of lumber and attempt to recreate that artifact without making any plans, without thinking about it and without making any plans about it at all, so confident in your ability—as taught by modern methods, which are in may minds superior to any medieval technology—that you do not do any planning or thinking!

A major difficulty, which is not usually mentioned or debated, is when the first attempt is so successful. You are overjoyed and perhaps over-confidant, but the next attempt is not nearly so successful. 😦

This is not to say that your first attempt at reproduction will be unsuccessful. It will probably be a learning experience and in the end greatly educational. You might very well have to discard this first project, which is another reason to keep it cheap!

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