The Experimental Archaeology Course
These pages tell you about the 4-day Experimental Archaeology Course, which takes place towards the end of your first week studying for an undergraduate archaeology degree at the Institute of Archaeology UCL.
(Despite many attempts to adopt a more accurate name, everyone who has ever been on it, refers to it as "PrimTech".)
At the end of induction week, all first-year students spend four days on the Experimental Archaeology course, held in Sussex, organised jointly by the staff of the Institute and the Society of Archaeological Students (SAS). This provides an informal context for students to get to know one another, as well as the officers of the SAS and members of staff. This course has now been running for many years, and we hope that all students will enjoy it, and gain as much from it, as their predecessors have done.
The course is run in fields on the West Dean Estate. One field is used primarily for camping, cooking and eating, while others are used for a variety of activities. There is a hut where refuge can be sought if it is really raining.
Objectives of the Course
Over the four days of the course, students take part in a number of activities that are designed to be informative about activities undertaken by people in the past. These are likely to include:
- flint knapping;
- copper smelting;
- pottery making;
- working with wood;
- building structures;
- processing and cooking foods.
By looking at the remains left behind at the end of these activities we also hope that students will start to develop a better understanding of the archaeological record, and what archaeologists can expect to be able to tell from it about the behaviour of people in the past. All the activities that students take part in are designed to provoke discussion concerning the nature of archaeological evidence, particularly in reconstructing the types of activities that have taken place.
We hope that students will find their few days in Sussex interesting. Many of the concepts discussed in this course will crop up time and time again throughout your time at the Institute of Archaeology, for different periods, different parts of the world and for different materials and processes. We hope that students will find the Course a useful introduction to such concepts; we also hope that everyone will enjoy themselves.
The Institute recently held a mini "PrimTech" in Gordon Square Gardens as part of its 75th anniversary activities. View images of the event here»
This course is assessed through a brief (1000 word) illustrated account of one or more experiments or activities that the student undertook during the course. It counts as 10% of the final mark for course ARCL1006: Introduction to Archaeological Methods and Techniques. It should be written in the student's Field Notebook and handed in to Judy Medrington, in room 411A.on the 4th floor of the Institute, not later than 5 pm on the Friday after the course finishes.
Students should describe exactly what they have done and what they thought the activity or experiment would tell them about people's activities in the past. They should consider the questions that experimental archaeology tries to answer.
- Have they been experimenting with particular materials?
- Did the experiment answer the initial question or did it raise further questions?
- If they have been experimenting with processing or cooking foods, how much time and effort would have been put into these processes if one were really subsisting on these foods?
- What evidence might be left in the archaeological record that would give an indication of what had been done?
- If the experiment failed, describe what might have been the problem and how one might change the experiment if it was to be conducted again.
Students should think about the broader aims and objectives of experimental archaeology and how what they have written fits into them.
Transport to and from the site will be by coach from the Institute, so students need not worry about transporting their equipment, you will also be provided with fairly basic but nonetheless nutritious and substantial amount of food (most of this food is vegetarian, and we will strive to accommodate any specific dietary requirements). We cannot predict the weather, but you should be prepared for typical British cold and wet weather as well as some sunshine. This means that you will require a range of equipment for your time in the field, and it is important that students bring with them all the items listed below.
- tent: if it will be used in the future for back-packing, the best choice is a good 1- or 2-person mountain tent - these are both portable and designed to cope with bad weather. Otherwise a 2-person dome tent is easy to put up and provides more vertical space. Tents should have at least a 3-season rating (to cope with the English weather). If it is not possible for a student to obtain their own tent, please write, or telephone Judy Medrington before 14 September.
- warm sleeping bag: (synthetic fillings are cheaper and dry more quickly if it gets wet). If necessary, blankets should be brought as well.
- insulating mat for under your sleeping bag, such as a Karrimat.
- waterproof clothing (e.g. Barbour-type or Goretex jacket, and waterproof over-trousers).
- waterproof footwear: heavy wellingtons or walking boots.
- plenty of warm clothing (include spare thick jumpers and socks!).
- warm / waterproof headgear.
- mug, bowl or plate, knife, fork, spoon, lunchbox and waterbottle.
- torch, alarm clock and penknife.
- several large dustbin liners, (useful for protecting sleeping bags and clothing from the rain).
- supply of pens/pencils - the course is assessed and students are expected to make notes in their Field Notebooks, which will be marked shortly after the course.
This may sound a lot, but all these items will be useful for future fieldwork. If a student is not an experienced camper, they are strongly advised to consult the Institute's Survival Guide for Archaeological Fieldwork which gives useful advice on equipment, clothing, etc.
Fieldwork often involves some inherent hazards, and common sense should be
used at all times. Students should make sure that they have been vaccinated
against tetanus. If they have not had a vaccination against tetanus
in the last 10 years, they should have a booster.
If a student has a medical condition or other good reason which they think will prevent them from attending the course, or if you have any major concerns you would like to discuss then they should inform Judy Medrington as soon as possible.