Did you know that Jarrow Hall is an Experimental Archaeological Open-Air Museum (EAOM)? Try saying that three times quickly! Most people might be familiar with the idea of Open-Air Museums but what about the Experimental Archaeological part?
EAOMs usually include full-scale (re)constructions of buildings based upon archaeological findings and built using ancient techniques and appropriate materials, experimenting to test out theories and current understanding.
The reason the term (re)constructions is used is because they are based on interpretations of the traces left in the ground such as post-holes, trenches and hearths whereas a true reconstruction would be based on things that are known for sure, or where there are standing surviving examples to copy.
Our museum includes a demonstration Anglo-Saxon farm which we call Gyrwe, pronounced Jeer-Way which in Old English, means Marsh-Dwellers, and from which we get the modern “Jarrow”). Gyrwe shows how the landscape of an agricultural estate, essential to produce food and rent income to the monastery, possibly could have looked at Bede’s time. The project started in the 1990s and is still ongoing!
In the northern area of our farm, beyond the animals’ fields, we have a selection of (re)constructed Anglo-Saxon buildings, all based on archaeological sites in Northumbria.
These are; our Thirlings Hall (Building A, Thirlings), Grubenhaus (New Bewick) and Monk’s Cell (Building VIII, Hartlepool). Currently, we are doing work on the reinterpreted Yeavering Grandstand, built here as an earthwork but which originally would have been a free-standing wooden structure (links to dedicated pages in the EA catalogue?)
Jarrow Hall is a member of EXARC (www.exarc.net), the international network dedicated to ancient technology, experimental archaeology, interpretation/education and museum practice and as such is actively involved in experimental research, hosting both external projects such as the Experimental Archaeology Newcastle Research group at Newcastle University (EXARN) and internal projects carried out with our extraordinary volunteers, the Jarrow 700 AD** Reenactor Group.
What is Experimental Archaeology (EA) though? Putting it simply, EA tests hypotheses through the (re)creation of past artefacts and actions. Experiments aim to answer questions such as; how many reworkings can be done before Anglo-Saxon glass cannot be recycled anymore? Is it possible to extract salt from sea-water using a small pan and an open-fire? How long does it take to produce a blanket using a manual vertical loom?
While EA carried out at Jarrow Hall is accurately documented to inform a series of very specific academic studies, experimenters are delighted to showcase their processes and share interesting facts with the public so if you see it happening, please, ask them about it!
Our collections also include experimental replicas which are accurate reproductions of ancient artefacts produced today using the same materials and the same techniques that the archaeologists reckon were used in ancient times! These objects, such as agricultural tools or domestic items, might have been created just for display, or to be used in real archaeological experiments to test their function or efficacy.
**The term AD is specifically used here, rather than CE, to acknowledge the part our very own Bede played in establishing the popular use of the BC/AD dating system.