Archaeology Day: Research Fellow of SUSU, Ivan Semyan, about Development of Experimental Archaeology

August 15 was Archaeology Day, the professional holiday of specialists studying everyday routine and culture by extant artifacts. In order to correctly interpret the meaning of discovered objects, it is necessary to understand how they were made and what their purpose was. Experimental archaeology answers these questions. Founder of the Archeos Center of Historical Projects, research fellow of the SUSU REC of Eurasian Studies, Ivan Semyan, told us about this science being promoted in the Chelyabinsk region.

“Experimental archaeology is an archaeological subdiscipline, which in Western Europe and America is considered as an individual specialization. In our country, it is a method of working with archaeological sources: this is full-scale reconstruction of objects, technology and conditions that existed in the past. This is being done in order to discover the material’s property as well as motivation of an ancient man: why these objects were made, how they were used, how raw material was extracted, etc. Experimental archaeology has originated long ago; with development of historical science, people started wondering where cave painting came from or how stone instruments came into existence. French archaeologist Andre Rodet was the first one to make a stone ax with the use of a horn hammer and other stones. And by the end of the 19th century, there were entire structures which reconstituted our ancestors’ experience.”

“Nowadays, experimental archaeology is a prospective method, though we can’t say that it has reached its climax. It is very often in archaeology that researchers are excellent classifiers, typologists; they follow the evolution of objects’ morphology, their localization; at that, they don’t have an integral idea of how the object was made. In turn, experimental archaeology solves complex problems and allows understanding ancient technology. For example, how a workshop was equipped, how ore was extracted and transported, how industrial wastes were formed, etc. Like this, an integral image gets formed. Based on the obtained information, so-called archeoparks get opened, serving as local museums of local lore. In European experience, they are integrated into the local education system at the state level. Though in Russia, this phenomenon is actively developing as well, experimental archaeology is getting promoted, and this is what my activity is connected with. Our Archeos Center, in particular, specializes in Stone Age and Bronze Age.”

— Please tell us, how did you find yourself in experimental archaeology? How was the Archeos Center established?

— From my childhood, my parents cultivated love to history, bought me a lot of encyclopedias; I liked reading books of Thor Heyerdahl and got interested in archaeology. From approximately the ninth grade, I started going to military-and-historical festivals and take part in reconstruction activities. At first, I thought that I’ll become a historian and study the Ancient Russ. Having entered the university, I founded the first in Chelyabinsk club of historical reconstruction, which still exists. My first course paper was not historical but rather archaeological, so I got an advice to transfer from the department of pre-revolutionary history to the department of archaeology. I started going to excavations of the Bronze Age artifacts; the epoch mesmerized and inspired me. Later, I started working on my Candidate’s dissertation on military art of the Sintashta culture, and it was important for me to understand how the weapon was made. I started learning from the experience of my older colleagues: archeologist and metallurgist Sergey Agapov and Igor Gorashchyuk, and concurrently I worked as a blacksmith. I forged archaeological instruments, and initially the Archeos was a handmade instrument. We worked in collaboration with my reconstruction club, but then, when I started working in the sphere of experimental archaeology, I wanted to involve my teammates – archeologists and reconstructors – and create something more global. I gathered a team; we started organizing seminars, learning various technology: molded pots, cut stones, made something out of clay. Now, Archeos is a Center of Historical Reconstruction or a Center of experimental archaeology, and there is no group in Russia which would be reconstructing cultural artifacts of the Stone Age or the Bronze Age.

— What types of activity do you perform?

— We work in several directions. First of all, we carry out research activity: conduct experiments and work on scientific publications. Regarding the latest events within this direction, I can name the assembly of European Association of Archaeologists in Barcelona, where I am going to present experiments on stone arrow tips.

Secondly, we actively perform educational activity. People come to us searching for assistance and consultations, because the topic of reconstruction of the Stone and Bronze Ages is unique. The Archeos Center started actively developing due to educational projects. There are six documentaries in which we took part. For example, we completely created décor for the Our ancestors’ ancestors project of Kultura channel. A movie about reminiscence of a man of the Bronze eon, in which I am to be a co-host, is to come out on Russia24 channel.

Various museums and natural reservations order from us archaeological sites: natural reconstructions for demonstration of ancient technology. We organized such sites in Kerch, Bakhchisaray, Chersonese, and Moscow. When the Russia-Kazakhstan forum was held, we organized a platform representing Arkaim, and held a presidential excursion. Recently, we returned from a project in Northern Kazakhstan. In the city of Lisakovsk, there is a burial ground, where we held a workshop on ancient technology together with the daughter of Thor Heyerdahl, Helene Elisabeth Heyerdahl.

— Which projects were the most interesting for you?

— Last year, we took part in the world-largest Times and Eons historical festival, which was held in Moscow. Our friends from the capital, the Ratobortsy Agency of Historical Projects, a huge collaboration of reconstructors of the highest rank, asked us to make a pavilion dedicated to paleotechnology of the Stone Age. This project was one of the most interesting for me. In my opinion, this was a genius decision, to integrate a reconstruction festival into the city environment, and due to this attract a lot of spectators. This year, the project is to be implemented again, but three times more scaleous: 33 venues all around the MKAD (Moscow Automobile Ring Road), two of them are ours. We are making a platform entitled “The Dawn of Humanity”, dedicated to the Stone Age and the Bronze Age.

Without a doubt, I have to mention our Flame of Arkaim festival of historical reconstruction, which is very popular. After its organization, I was invited to the Public Chamber, where I offered to create similar project in Chelyabinsk.

— What the historical festival in Chelyabinsk is going to be like? What do we need it for?

— We are planning to organize a city festival with a lot of guests, analogous to the Times and Eons, integrated into the city environment. Representatives of the region’s government expressed their interest in this project. Now we are working on developing budget. The meaning of the festival is not just in gathering knights and Vikings and making a gala performance. This event should stir up Chelyabinsk’s self- consciousness, and show that we are living on a land with a great historical legacy. We had excellent Stone Age with cave paintings; wonderful Bronze Age, the scale of which is hard to describe; fantastic Early Iron Age with its Scythian world; the Eon of Middle Age and Late Middle Age is interesting as well. Scientists from Europe, Asia and America come to study history of the South Ural: it is interesting to everyone, but unfortunately this is not reflected in our self-consciousness. The festival is intended to show that all this happened at our territory; it is interesting to live here and there is a lot to see. Such projects are useful for economic development of the region and for attraction of investors.

— Regarding organization of archaeological ground in Chelyabinsk, what actions do you take?

— We made it to the final of a contest of historical projects, organized by Moscow government, with the project entitled “Laboratories of experimental archaeology at SUSU”. If we win, we are going to receive a grant – one million rubles – for implementation of a joint project of Archeos and our university. Regarding experimental archaeology, our region has long since been advanced. We have the Arkaim natural reservation, which at the beginning was designed as an archeopark: it has reconstructions, Stone Age habitations, a museum of ancient industries, the Temir Sarmatian burial mount, etc. But unfortunately, because of its remoteness from the city, it can’t fully implement its potential. And we want to provide students the possibility to study archaeology of the South Ural here, in Chelyabinsk.

Generally, in order to correspond with the global and European level, a large university should have a subdivision connected with experimental archaeology. For example, a laboratory, in which students could learn about properties of materials and ancient technology. According to the project, it will be possible to simulate various processes at the laboratory. The room with the area of 70 square meters should be equipped with a hood fan. There we are planning to install simulators of a clay furnace and a furnace for ceramics baking and ore and metal melting. Also, there will be a muffle furnace to speed up the process, a place for drying the ceramics, a forge for color metal treatment, and a table for bone carving. Principally, all technology from Paleolithic to Middle Ages will be possible to reconstitute here. If we are able to implement this grant, we will have one of the few laboratories of experimental archaeology. And even if we don’t obtain such grant, I will keep working in this direction.

Azaliya Sharafutdinova, photo by: Oleg Igoshin
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