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For the Reader’s Sake: Publishing Experimental Archaeology

James R. Mathieu (US)
How to publish Experimental Archaeology?
EuroREA is a magazine dedicated to publishing reports on experiment and education in archaeology. But what are the ways of publishing archaeological experiment? We asked this question and here we present the answers we received.

James R. Mathieu, University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, United States

Archaeological experiments should be presented as concisely as possible, with a clear explanation of the reason (or justification) for the experiment and the significance (and limitations) of the results. The publishing of archaeological experiments should always involve five things.

First, one must clearly state the reason for doing an experiment. What will be learned or achieved? Why is this important? Too often the purpose of an experiment is assumed to be self-evident.

Second, there should be a discussion (or at the very least a good bibliography) of similar experiments. What other experiments have been undertaken? What problems did they face? What results did they achieve? Why is this new experiment different and/or necessary? Too often the reader is left with the impression that the experimenters should have read more widely, learned from mistakes made by others, and built upon previous work rather than repeating it.

Third, there must be a clear description of the different aspects of the experiment. Which materials were used? Which procedures were followed? How and why did these vary from trial to trial? This is best presented in a clear outline format, with as few words as possible. Too often this (boring) section becomes the bulk of the publication, forcing the reader to search for insights and conclusions within a rambling narrative that lacks focus.

Fourth, the experimental results, data, and details should appear in the text only in summarized form - in tables, graphs, and/or other illustrations. The full set of results should be saved for an appendix at the end of the publication or, ideally, as a digital file (e.g. database) on an accompanying CD or hosted on an accessible website. This allows the reader to focus on the 'processed' data and assess the experiment, while making the base data easily available for re-processing if desired. This section of the text will often present the specific observations and interpretations made by the experimenters on different aspects of their work, laying the groundwork for any larger interpretations.

Finally, the experimenters must summarize the main objectives of the experiment, assess the results in light of these objectives (indicating successes and failures), and present the reader with any overall conclusions. A discussion of further implications and suggestions for future research (including, but not limited to further experimentation) should be encouraged.

Publishing archaeological experiments in this way helps the experimenter and the reader. The experimenter is forced to consider and explain their purpose in doing an experiment. Is the purpose to make a replica? To demonstrate or test a procedure? To explore certain possibilities and further our understanding of the past? The experimenter then summarizes their procedures and results in such a way that they are forced to get to the heart of the matter, clearing away the potentially distracting detail. The reader is thus rewarded with a clearer understanding of the purpose, procedures, results, and limitations of the work, and can assess the overall value of the experiment.
The experimenter is forced to consider and explain their purpose in doing an experiment.