Experimental Archaeology, Anneka Baird


Experimental Archaeology

“At times I include marriage, religion and profession among the choices we ought not to make; but from-ness is always crucial.” –Bill Holm

Archaeology is a discipline of digging. Its intent is to bring the past up to the surface, to make it visible.

Experimental archaeology is also a discipline of digging, but it is not satisfied with looking. Experimental archaeology seeks to understand the past by enacting it. It is a discipline of digging a hole and making a pot.

I am not a very good archaeologist. I am not even a very good experimental archaeologist. I don’t endlessly obsess over the finer details of the making of stone-age axe heads or analyze the chopping pattern on centuries-old hand-hewn logs. But, like you, I live in a world that has a past. Or, more appropriately, I live in a place that has a past, among people who have a past.

It is the habit of our society to flit across the surface—snapshots, jet planes and fast cars will whisk us anywhere we wish to be quite regardless of what lies beneath us. Digs, in an archaeological sense, do not flit across the surface. They choose a spot and delve downwards, digging through time, the sedimentary layers built up into a rich soil. They require the specificity of place.

I am not a good archaeologist because my digging is not intended to preserve or analyze. I am not particularly trying to imitate the actions of those who came before me. I simply wish to enjoy the fertile soil. Perhaps, together, we could learn to drink a little more deeply of the richness beneath us that we might grow toward the sun. Let’s take a moment, dig a hole and plant some nettles—or flowers, or a tree, or whatever, like us, grows both down into the soil and up into the light.


Images 1-6

Title: A Short History

Materials: Missing pieces, frustration, several tries, hard work, a lot of help, a little success, still trying

Date: Ongoing


Images 7-8

Title: Hemp Lace

Materials: Curiosity, observation, a mallet, some pounding, gentle fingers

Date: 2020


Title: Nettle and Other Paper

Materials: Curiosity, patience, a new lawnmower, philosophical differences, determination

Date: 2017-2020


Images 9-11

Title: Hemp and Hackle

Materials: a walk on a cold day, a cat named Franz Ferdinand, there’s never as much as you think, a bruised knee, waiting, snow, water, a little help and advice

Date: ca. 1940-present


Images 12-13

Title: Hickory Nuts

Materials: A walk on a Sunday afternoon, memories, some curious heifers, rose-bushes, a shirt-sack

Date: ca. 1920-present


Title: Nålbinding and Needles

Materials: Curiosity, several YouTube videos, a visit to Ewetopia, mistakes, starting over, stubborn determination, a pocket-knife, a scrap of wood, some whittling

Date: ca. 6500 B.C.-present


Title: Darning

Materials: Woody Leslie, a couch, deep cleaning, new boots, a summer road trip, a new friend, a losing battle

Date: unknown-present


Title: Wooden Spoons

Materials: Idaho, a borrowed knife, a log of green maple, some good instruction, sore fingers

Date: 2019


Images 14-17

Title: Lena’s Confirmation Book

Materials: the Lutheran catechism, explanations, a few friends, a discovery, interpretations

Date: 1889


Title: Powder Horn and Needle Case

Materials: A need, an idea, carving, fitting

Date: 19th Century, 21st Century


Title: Ered Ven Hans

Materials: Buck Creek, tobacco suckers, unrequited love, a lonely Sunday afternoon

Date: 1899


Title: Nils Sandal

Materials: a name, a question, a self

Date: unknown


Title: A Man Concerned with Form

Materials: Nils Sandal, social conventions, hungry critters, two languages

Date: After he developed his signature


Title: Music Book

Materials: Good intentions, a promise, one dollar, a hole, no music

Date: It happens to the best of us