Preserving our heritage for the future

Your support has led to some inspiring discoveries, allowing us to appreciate, understand and conserve significant historical documents, practices and techniques for future generations.

The University is well known for its work in conservation, archaeology and heritage. Not only is York home to the King’s Manor – one of historic York’s most attractive renaissance buildings, which houses staff in Archaeology, Medieval Studies and Eighteenth Century Studies – but the University also houses the York Experimental Archaeological Research (YEAR) Centre, which brings our research to life by carrying out a diverse range of experiments using traditional techniques and processes that aim to enhance our understanding of the manufacture, function and meaning of prehistoric and historic artefacts. These experiments have included the manufacture of Mesolithic headdresses, making and shooting bows from arrows, and replicating the cooking of ancient foods in clay pots!

This outdoor research is allowing the Department of Archaeology to tackle big questions about the role of material culture in our human past, including how people made weapons and hunted animals; processed and cooked food; made and wore jewellery; and manufactured red deer headdresses as part of shamanic rituals.

Reproduction of an iconic hunter-gatherer headdress made with flint blades, hammerstones and burning techniques. Fashioned from red deer crania, which were discovered during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire.
Human behaviour

The insights gained from these experiments are giving researchers a deeper understanding of past human behaviour, including evidence for early belief systems, as well as cultural traditions surrounding cuisine and ornamentation.

Uniquely in the UK, the outdoor laboratory is situated alongside the high-tech Department of Archaeology’s BioArCh laboratories, so students and staff at the University are able to integrate outdoor experimental work with indoor scientific analyses.

The Department of Archaeology currently runs a Master’s Research Skills Module in Experimental Archaeology, with an undergraduate course scheduled for later in 2017. This alternative to lecture-based learning is enabling students to get hands-on experience in practical aspects of material culture research.

The Early Pottery Research Group located in BioArCh have been cooking up ingredients to use as a reference for their analysis of ancient food crusts found in prehistoric pottery from Asia. From lipid analysis of food crusts on pottery, we know that in Japan people were cooking fish in pots over 16,000 years ago.