Professor's book breaks new ground in experimental archeology

Stephen SaraydarAfter unearthing a need for a textbook on experimental archeology, SUNY Oswego’s Dr. Stephen Saraydar decided to dig in and write one himself.

In “Replicating the Past: The Art and Science of Archeological Experiment,” he explains the importance of experimental archeology—using controlled, repeatable exploration for learning purposes—to better understanding humanity.

“I was surprised, given the level of interest overall on these experiments, there was nothing in print until now on the subject,” said Saraydar, an associate professor of anthropology and director of the college’s Native American studies program.
With the only other text on the subject from the 1970s and out of print, he said the new book ties experiments to theory, especially within the context of modern archeology.

“There seemed to be a real need for a resource on the subject,” Saraydar said. “It seems to receive short shrift in the introductory texts. I also wanted to make it accessible to serious students in archeology.”

For the text, “I decided to first provide an overview of archeology theory and explain the role of experiments in science in general and the role of experiments in archeology,” Saraydar explained. “Then I provide several of what I consider useful case studies connecting to the theories.”

He cites examples ranging “from the small to the large, from replicating a stone tool to replicating a whole Iron Age farm,” Saraydar said. “This is a way we can make the past speak to us in ways that are not otherwise possible.”

Saraydar also explores the role of experimental archeology in education, as well as ongoing public interest. Such sites as the Great Pyramids, Easter Island and Stonehenge attract widespread tourist and media interest, showing that ancient civilizations and accomplishments have great popular appeal, he noted.

“People try to imagine how their ancestors moved a 30-ton or 40-ton statue or built something like Stonehenge without modern equipment, just ropes and logs,” Saraydar said.

“The nice thing about experimental archeology, as opposed to digs, is that you can do it over and over,” Saraydar noted. “This is truly non-destructive archeology. And when you’re done with a dig in the field, you’re done.”

Readers will learn about the great range of archeological experiments “and just how much they can contribute to our knowledge of the past,” he said. “This is where we can really test our hypotheses about how things were done and made.”

In addition, “Replicating the Past” provides an opportunity to highlight what SUNY Oswego is doing, such as the outdoor experimental archeological site north of Mahar Hall and the indoor lab in the Mahar Hall basement.

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CONTACT: Dr. Stephen Saraydar, saraydar@oswego.edu

(Posted: Mar 04, 2009)

Tags: research news: books and publications