The Experimental Future of Digging Up the Past

This story was produced in partnership with Atlas Obscura.

Instead of digging up stone tools and busted pottery, archaeologists at Kent State University are recreating many of these items themselves to test our assumptions about the ancient past. And sometimes, that means smashing these replicated relics into tiny little pieces.


Archaeological relics like bones, stone tools, and ceramics, are a finite resource. At the same time, many of these objects are priceless and often fragile, preventing archaeologists from closely studying their physical attributes, such as strength and durability. To complicate matters, many of the techniques used by our ancestors to build these things have been lost to time.

To get around these hurdles, researchers and students at the Kent State University Experimental Archaeology Lab build and test their own replicas. The process also forces them to figure out how these items were constructed in the first place. This approach allows them to test the durability of ancient pots and stone tools, to measure the piercing depth of arrowheads as they penetrate prey, and recreate the techniques used to toss spears or draw tattoos, among many other possibilities.


By doing so, these scientists are discovering things about our ancient past that would normally remain hidden to conventional archaeologists. Gizmodo and Atlas Obscura recently visited Kent State to learn more about the remarkable work being done in their experimental lab.

George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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If something like this existed when I was in college, I would have gravitated in that direction! Awesome stuff.