In May 2010 the Egypt Centre together with Kasia Szpakowska organised a conference which aimed to bring academics and craftspeople together to explore aspects of ancient Egyptian technology through experiment. You can now buy the book, click here for more information.
This conference was streamed with the help of Swansea University Research Institute for Arts and Humanities.
You can see a programme by clicking here
You can download the speaker’s presentations as podcasts by clicking on their names below:
The experimental work of F.C.J. Spurrell: faience, glass and beads
The Horn Bow – Egyptology’s Problem Child
Finds of bows made from oryx horns are known from the subsidiary tombs at Abydos , yet many Egyptologists have doubted their functionality. This paper aims to explain the construction of the horn bows, present the various arguments against it being a functional weapon and present the insights gained in the reconstruction of such a bow.
From the Meadow to the Em-baa-lming Table: Experimental Archaeology and Mummification.
This lecture (and limited demonstration) will provide a brief, general introduction to the ideas behind Experimental Archaeology and its application to Egyptology. This will be illustrated by a group of experimental mummifications of animals carried out recently at the American University in Cairo, as well as a modest demonstration on choice cuts of meat from a local butcher.
Please note: Some of the images in this presentation are graphic.
The aim of this innovative workshop is to demonstrate the role of experimental archaeology in conducting research. We will use exact replicas of four so-called wooden ‘pleating boards’ surviving in museums in Turin, Florence, and London, together with different qualities of linen dating from the time of the Second World War. Our practical attempts will enable us to contemplate just how the Egyptians created their famous pleated diaphanous garments. The results are guaranteed to be surprising!
Practical Dressmaking for Ancient Egyptians: Ancient Sewing Techniques and Replica Clothing Construction.
Ancient Egyptian Woodworking
A practical demonstration and short illustrated talk of those woodworking tools used by ancient Egyptian carpenters. A discussion of the tool marks that can be identified on woodwork including attempts to turn wood using a simple replica lathe similar to that illustrated in the tomb of Petosiris.
Flintknapping scenes from the Beni-Hasan tombs viewed and interpreted by a contemporary flintknapper.
Two flint knapping related scenes are known from the Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan. These had formerly been questioned as to whether they were closely related to the true ancient manufacturing process. Recent experiments indicate that it seems possible that several details were indeed accurately depicted.
Experimental Recreation of an Ancient Egyptian Funerary Garland Found on the Mummy of Ramesses II.
Experimental archaeology is a valid and well tried methodology for interpreting archaeological evidence. It enables us to explore practical aspects of past technologies, giving insights into prowess and the chaîne opératoire, and in my view also provides a platform to explore aspects of human cognition, namely the notions of savoir-faire and connaissance, through practical experience.
This paper discusses these theoretical concepts and their contribution to the interpretation of artefacts; describes the experimental reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian garland found on the mummy of Ramesses II; and shows how experimental archaeology was used to address a number of research questions.
Could the Egyptians Make Glass? An Integrated Approach to Experimental Archaeology.
The question of whether or not the Egyptians could make their own glass, rather than simply working glass from imported raw material, has been a vexed one. This paper examines the debate over the evidence for glass working in Egypt and demonstrates how an experimental approach has been used in combination with archaeological evidence in order to provide a possible answer to this question. Emphasis is put on the strengths and limitations of the experimental approach.
Could Ancient Egyptian Textiles Have Pleated Themselves?
It is widely assumed that, in ancient Egypt, all pleated linens were produced by imposing pleats on finished fabrics, either by hand or using pleating boards. However Rosalind Janssen has suggested that some fabrics may have been woven in such a way that they pleated ‘naturally’ when washed. I am a weaver who makes extensive use of such spontaneous pleating techniques in my own textiles. I will explain the mechanisms involved and describe experiments I have carried out, with various yarn thicknesses, twists and densities, to investigate the possibility that ancient Egyptian textiles could have pleated themselves.
Ann Richards is a designer/maker specialising in textiles with ‘naturally emerging’ textures. She has exhibited widely and has work in a number of public collections. She was formerly a lecturer in woven textiles at the University of the Creative Arts, Farnham.
Reed boat building: Early experiments
Some Experiments in Ancient Egyptian Stone Technology
This paper will be presented in two parts. The first part discusses the tools and techniques for ancient Egyptian stone vessel manufacture, covering key processes and tools that stretched from Predynastic times to the end of Egyptian civilization. Important epigraphic and archaeological evidence will be introduced and examined, with appropriate illustrations, together with the manner that this evidence, combined with mechanical engineering training, directed the experimental manufacture, evaluation and use of reconstructed tools for creating vessels of different shapes, which were made of both hard and soft stones. These reconstructed tools will be demonstrated to conference members for shaping, for drilling and for boring two replica stone vessels: ancient design ideas for tools, using plant’s structural features, will also be scrutinized.
The paper’s illustrated second part concentrates upon the development of a multiple, simultaneous stone bead drilling procedure that developed in the New Kingdom Period at Thebes , Upper Egypt, and which is illustrated in six private tombs. This remarkable development replaced single bead-drilling methods to make the threading hole, ushering in a new and exciting manufacturing technique that dramatically speeded up the most difficult part of manufacturing hard stone beads. The experiments needed to make and test the drilling tools will be described in detail. Drilling up to five beads simultaneously by one worker, in the same time period for drilling a threading hole in a single bead, considerably lowered the economic cost of producing many types of jewellery. Both the single and multiple drilling techniques will be demonstrated to conference members using a flint tool, a replica single bead drill and the reconstructed multiple bead drilling tools. Related ancient technological methods and materials will be discussed while demonstrations take place.
Making and Breaking Ritual Figurines
Clay figures shaped like rearing cobras were prevalent in Ancient Egyptian settlements and military installations in the Late Bronze Age. All the evidence points to them having been used in religious rituals, the details of which are as yet unclear. As part of a project to help us understand these figures (how were they used? who used them? who made them? what for?) a short presentation will be made, followed by a hands-on workshop during which we will form cobra figurines from clay. Pre-made figures will also be broken to see if patterns emerge providing clues as to whether they were broken ritually or accidentally. Because this is a hand-on workshop, there is room for only 50 people, and separate enrolment will be required (children are welcome!)
Apprenticeship as a Research Method
The study of ancient technology, understanding the chaîne opératoire, the physical and social contexts, as well as the history of economics, distribution, use and discard, benefits greatly from hands on experience by the researcher. Traditional apprenticeships to master a technique typically take multiple years of increasingly advanced steps. A researcher who lacks this experience and tries to understand very particular archaeological and technological questions, may come to skewed or false conclusions. In order to avoid failure of experiments, and understand the difficulties of particular technologies a sound research strategy is to take on an abbreviated apprenticeship. Learning from the specialists, and benefiting directly from their experience by involving them closely in the experiments thus puts apprenticeship at the cross-roads of ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology.