UCL’s Institute of Archaeology

Experimental Archaeology: Bones, Stones, and spears

Cleaning bones


Today is getting close to three weeks since a recent experiment using some hammerstones on bones, and I’m trying to see how they’re cleaning up. Lots of the sciences use experimental research (sometimes it’s called actualistic research in archaeology) to try and understand the world around us. Archaeology is no exception, and we’ve been doing these kinds of projects for decades. Sometimes these projects are more along the lines of reconstructing past ways of life but there are lots, myself included, who take a more scientific approach to trying to understand what our human ancestors were doing.

I’m in my first year of a PhD at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/people/research/milks), and I’m interested in the earliest known weapons in the archaeological record, which are simple wooden spears: how did they fly (did they?), how well do they work as hunting weapons, and what were our human ancestors doing with these weapons? A big part of my research is involving capturing data on to answer these questions, using state of the art equipment at the ballistics facilities at Cranfield University, located in the Defence Academy of the UK. It’s a lot of fun, and among other things I’ve also been brushing up on my basic physics so I will really understand the instrumentation and results. But this last experiment involved bashing bones with stones – something lots of archaeologists and anthropologists have done before me to answer slightly different questions about what earliest hominins through to Neanderthals were doing to maximize the meat on animals and especially marrow and fat inside bones. Essentially we’re interested in whether some kinds of damage on bones you see in the archaeological record could be caused in multiple different ways – just another way that archaeology is so confusing but so interesting!

My bones are finally getting pretty clean, which is a relief. I’m much more comfortable with stones, or fossilized bones. This particular experiment has really forced me to engage with animals in a way that hominins would have had to on a daily basis. (Well, they probably were not soaking them in detergent for a few weeks, but certainly in handling them.) We’re so distanced now from getting and processing meat – especially in the Western world. This project really highlighted to me, on a personal level, how much work our ancestors would have invested on a daily basis to eat, and how unpleasant some of it must have been!

Annemieke Milks

A Day (Today) in the Life of a Community Archaeologist in Kent

So today I have mostly been…

  • writing a couple of articles for the dayofarch page-great job everyone it looks amazing!
  • deciding whether an archaeologyinkent twitter acount is a good idea…?
  • updating the www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent page
  • thinking about our medieval manor dig that starts next week!!
  • sorting out pre-dig visits for the schools involved!
  • recovering from yesterday! (when we took a brushcutter to the dig site to clear it!!)

What am I looking forward to?

  • Our summer dig starting next week!
  • the medieval re-enactors we will have on site on July 7th and 8th at Shorne Woods Country Park!
  • lots of exciting news finds and discoveries!

How did i get here?

After going to UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, I spent 3 happy years in the field working for different Units up and down and back and across the country. This lead to a job working on the HER (Historic Environment Record) for Kent and volunteering opportunities in local archaeology projects in Kent…this lead to community archaeology projects and I’ve been working as a community archaeologist for over 3 years now, about to embark on the 7th season of community archaeology fieldwork at Shorne Woods Country Park.

Why do I love my job?

No two days are the same-it sounds like a cliche, but one day I will be digging test pits for mesolithic flint, the next cutting undergrowth down from our medieval dig site and today I am writing about it all on here! I also work with a fantastic group of enthusiastic, knowledgable and incredibly hardworking volunteers.

I’ll be blogging from our summer dig at www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent