Rethinking reconstruction and replicas : advancing preservation through experimental archaeology

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Smith, Samantha Anastasia

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According to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards, reconstruction of no longer extant buildings should be undertaken only based upon existing documentation and upon its original site. This is not always feasible, and in these cases, replica buildings may take their place. These replicas potentially have great . By creating experiments with the use of the scientific method—that is, by developing a hypothesis, testing it, and recording the results—interested groups can replicate conditions and experiences that cannot be achieved otherwise. Replicas may be expensive in time, materials, research, and labor to create, but because they are of no historical value, destructive experiments may be performed without losing objects of cultural significance. Preservation professionals are not the only people who can perform these experiments. This thesis explores this possibility with three case studies: replica structures or complexes that perform experiments and explore experiences. At Shakespeare’s Globe, actors, directors, costumers, and audiences seek to replicate a period experience and thereby expand scholarship on the plays that were originally performed in such theaters, the singular requirements of the space, and the experiences of the participants. Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II, both staffed by volunteer re-enactors and historians, seek to recreate respectively the conditions of a colonial Massachusetts village and the ship that brought its colonists. By replicating the material culture, participants can potentially replicate the experience of those who originally created and used it. To this end, the re-enactor community—a community of interested parties who are currently underutilized in preservation—can be tasked with projects and experiments to maximize the replicas’ usefulness. The same strategies can translate to historic sites. Through understanding the strengths of experimental and experiential archaeology, we can grow the population of preservationists nationwide and mobilize their ideas and enthusiasm. We can expand the use of historic buildings and create a sense of ownership in their communities. By defining and bridging the gap between experimental and experiential archaeology, we can push the boundaries of current preservation science with innovative approaches to generating a physical and emotional connection to material culture.



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