Anthropology Grad Student Breaks the Mold with a Novel Experiment (VIDEO)
The Eren Lab at Kent State University’s Department of Anthropology is among the University’s busiest and most prolific. Unlike the very inanimate objects he studies, Dr. Metin Eren, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of Archaeology in the College of Arts and Sciences, seems to be in a state of perpetual movement, and his students are no different.
One of Dr. Eren’s graduate students, Ashley Rutkoski, is just among the most recent to conduct a novel experiment to answer some of archaeology’s oldest questions.
“After stone, ceramic sherds are one of the most abundant things we find in the archaeological record,” Dr. Eren said.
Sherds are fragments of clay pots that ancient — and even more modern — civilizations used to collect, carry, and store food and other valuable resources.
“We’re going to see whether or not we can simply tell the difference between pots that are filled with corn when they break, versus empty ones,” Dr. Eren said. “If we can tell the difference between the shape of the sherds in those two conditions, we’ll expand this research and try other conditions.”
“It’s going beyond typology and trying to gain more information about human behavior, like how pots were discarded and end up in the archaeological record in the first place,” said Rutkoski. “Pots were used, but how they were ultimately discarded is just as important.”
To conduct the experiment, Rutkoski took the process all the way back to its roots, using raw clay that required months of processing before she could even begin crafting the 30 identical pots she used.
“It took her months to process the clay, and make the pots, and to create the temper and add the temper to the clay, and shape these just beautiful replicas,” Eren said. “She then broke every single one over the course of two days.”
Half the pots were filled with whole kernel corn, while the other half were empty.
“Really, there’s never been an experiment where they break the pots like this and they actually do the morphometrics of the sherds,” Dr. Eren said.
Rutkoski has already gained some insight from early results of her tests.
“With full vessels, in comparison to empty vessels, there’s more of breakage in the base of the vessel that radiates up to the rim,” she said.
“Not only is Ashley doing a research project that’s cutting edge archaeological science, it’s just cutting edge science in general,” Dr. Eren said.