Experimental Archaeology: Neanderthal Spear Technology

PhD student Alice La Porta is undertaking archaeological experiments on the nature Neanderthal spear use this summer as part of her PhD project on Middle Palaeolithic stone tool projectile technology. Read all about her research below!

Did Neanderthal use stone-tipped wooden spears as throwing hunting weapons?

Fig 1 Alice and friends

Alice la Porta during the first set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

In Europe, a small number of wooden spears have been found in archaeological contexts from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic (c. 1,200,000-40,000 years ago), such as at Schöningen, Clacton and Lehringen. The first suggestion that such spears had stone tips comes in the European Middle Palaeolithic, the time of the Neanderthals, in the form of distinctive stone points, also called Levallois or Mousterian points. But how can we be certain that these stone points were used by Neanderthals as spear-heads for their wooden spears? Analysing the utilization wear and the impact fractures present on the surfaces of modern, experimentally-used spear-tips and archaeological stone points, using optical and digital microscopes, is one approach to inferring the prehistoric uses of these tools.

A big question in any discussion of Middle Palaeolithic spears is…how were Neanderthals using their stone-tipped wooden spears? Where Neanderthals throwing their spears or were they using them as close-range thrusting weapons? It has previously been argued that, while Neanderthal populations may have used stone-tipped wooden spears, these were rudimentary thrusting weapons. However the differences between throwing and thrusting spear delivery systems are still poorly understood for the earlier Palaeolithic, both in terms of spear performance and concerning the traces left behind on the spear tips. This partly reflects the limited range of experiments which had, until recently, been undertaken.

Fig 2 spear throw

First set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

Building on previous archaeological experiments, and drawing on ethnographic observations, I am conducting a series of weaponry experiments within my PhD research project. The experiments aim to test the performances of replica Middle Palaeolithic stone-tipped wooden spears, and explore the differences in the resulting wear and breakage patterns that can be seen on the thrown and thrusted spears.

The experiments  have  been  funded  by  the  UK’s  South  West  and  Wales  Doctoral  Training Partnership (SWW DTP), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the University of Exeter. They are taking place at Aöza Open-air Museum “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Albersdorf, Germany) within the OpenArch/EXARC partnership. The support of all of these organisations is very gratefully acknowledged.

Author’s Bio:

Alice La Porta is a second year PhD student in the Archaeology department studying stone tools in the Middle Palaeolithic. She is funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership under the supervision of Linda Hurcombe and Rob Hosfield (University of Reading).

This piece originally appeared on the Archaeology Department blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/2016/07/05/experimental-archaeology-neanderthal-spear-technology/)

 

Reflections on the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow

This article was originally posted on the Digital Humanities at Exeter blog and is reproduced with kind permission.

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Digitising using the conservation cradle in the Special Collections

Hannah Petrie reflects on her time spent at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow in Poland.

This was my first time attending the annual Digital Humanities conference, and it’s certainly the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. We were told that at final count, there were 902 delegates from 45 different countries (to put it in perspective, the Digital Humanities congress that I attended in Sheffield in 2014 had 100 delegates). I went along with four of my colleagues from our Digital Humanities team in Exeter and one PhD student.

The main lecture theatre that we congregated in for the plenaries was impressively huge, and must have seated around 1200 people. The scale of the conference was reflected by the number of parallel sessions on offer. Eleven sessions ran concurrently throughout most of the conference, meaning that each one involved a difficult decision. Checking Storify feeds of tweet highlights from the conference, I felt like there was at least another conference-worth of additional material. I sometimes wanted to attend two or three sessions that were running at the same time, and wished that some of the sessions could have been recorded so that we could listen to the ones we missed afterwards.

Workshops
As well as the conference, my colleagues and I had also registered for a number of workshops, which took place in the two days before the conference began. The workshops I chose gave me an introduction to using the tools GAMS and Cirilo to deposit and archive research documents; using Voyant Tools for text analysis, so that you can instantly generate wordclouds and other useful tools to tell you about word use in your corpus; and how to create a simulation using R, but also how to think through the scenario effectively before you even begin coding. It was a lot to take in but was also a good opportunity to meet people in smaller groups.

Conference
For the main conference, I ended up going to a lot of the talks on analysing and using new media, and also dipping into the stylometry, scholarly editions and mapping tracks. Some of the discussions and visualisations I saw afterwards on Twitter looked fascinating too, with the diversity panels in particular generating a lot of interest. There was so much on offer that you always had to miss out on something, but between us, our team tried to make sure that we went to as many different parallel sessions as possible.

I was presenting a short paper with my colleague Charlotte Tupman on the Thursday [abstract], so on the Wednesday afternoon before the poster session, we found a vacant lecture theatre and took some time to go over our presentation and to make sure that our slides worked. It was a useful precaution, because we found that our live demo didn’t look quite right on the big screen because of the aspect ratio, so we were able to record a screencast instead.

Our poster
My colleague Graham Fereday had a poster accepted on the subject of 3D scanning for preservation [abstract], and was presenting at the poster slam. The poster was a joint effort between Graham and our colleagues Mick Mullins, Rich Webb and Gary Stringer. At the slam, everyone had 4 minutes maximum to present their posters to the group. Again, this was on a huge scale, with 4 simultaneous sessions, each with around 20 presenters – and these were just the people who had opted to present. At the reception later, posters were roughly organised by subject into 26 groups. We had the opportunity to wander round each stall and talk to the creators. It was quite an efficient way to make connections with people who had similar research interests to you. People came to speak to Graham about 3D scanning and techniques and we made links that may not otherwise have been formed.

Our presentation
Our presentation went off without a hitch on Thursday, and there was a much larger audience than I thought we might have. People seemed attentive and several tweeted about our paper.

We had some very useful feedback and discussions as a result of delivering the paper, and I discovered that presenting wasn’t as daunting as I’d been worried about: everyone was very friendly and encouraging.

Finishing up
Claire Warwick’s keynote talk on digital information design marked the closing ceremony and gave us a lot of food for thought. She posited the library as a physical interface for accessing information and asked what this might mean for our access of digital information, which doesn’t have a physical presence in the same way. She illustrated how we navigate physical resources, such as being able to remember the position on the page of a particular sentence, or being able to walk back to the shelf on which you found a particular book, simply don’t apply for digital. The conclusion was that we should accept that digital is different and we should try to make it work in its own way.

I found it interesting to hear that many students much preferred working in the library to anywhere else, even if they brought their own device and weren’t using any of the physical resources from the library, because it was the space that they associated with work and that they felt was important.

It was announced at the closing ceremony that DH 2017 would be held in Montreal, Canada. The news about the accessibility of next year’s conference was welcomed enthusiastically, and the promise of a virtual stream is also a step in the right direction for such a large conference. We had better get practising our French too, as it will be bilingual.

Next year, I’d like to see the conference embrace the digital even more, with a mobile-friendly programme online, the ability to create a personalised schedule, and a list of all conference attendees and their institutions, so you could look up people’s contact information after you meet them.

At the banquet on the final night, I was presented with my ADHO bursary award along with all of the other winners. There seemed to be a lot of us and it’s hoped there will be even more next year. In the final networking opportunity of the conference, we sat next to delegates from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Aside from the bustle of the conference, we also got to explore the city in our free time. We took a walk down by the river one evening and discovered the statue of the dragon near the castle, which surprised us by breathing real fire when we walked by. I managed to find Massolit Bookshop, which a friend had described to me as his favourite bookshop in Europe. We even had the chance to explore the famous salt mines at Wieliczka on the day we arrived. On the last evening we waited by St. Mary’s Basilica tower in central square for the trumpeter who appears there every hour on the hour, day and night. According to local legend, the trumpet call ends abruptly as a tribute the famous trumpeter who was shot in the throat with an arrow in the 13th-century, when sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Despite our scepticism the trumpeter showed up right on time, and played the Hejnał Mariacki at each of the 4 tower windows. And then it was time to say goodbye to Kraków and begin our journey back home.


Hannah Petrie works in Digital Humanities Archives and Documentation in the College’s Digital Humanities Team. Her expertise includes working with archived data, documenting research projects on the web, and text encoding with TEI. She is currently contributing to an XQuery- and XSLT-based text archive system as part of an AHRC research project. She was awarded an ADHO early career bursary, which enabled her to attend this conference. She attended this conference along with five of her colleagues from Exeter: Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman, Graham Fereday and Rich Holding from the Digital Humanities team, and PhD student Richard Graham.