It was dark. Having abandoned my glasses I could just make out a faint orange glow from a lantern in the path ahead of me. My face itched from dried blood and my skin prickled as the wind occasionally whipped through my muddy, slashed t-shirt. I heard screams from the unseen longhouse. Trailing a limp leg behind me, I started to utter groans of an undead man and dragged myself towards the noise. I’d been warned that my PhD would zombify me, but I never expected it to actually happen…
Not two hours earlier we’d arrived at Archeon experimental park in the Netherlands. A handful of Masters and PhD students and I were attending a weekend designed to immerse us in the world of metallurgy while establishing a dialogue with visitors to the park. This place is on a scale that I’ve yet to see anywhere else. Any craft imaginable is ongoing from all periods, allowing you to watch someone deflesh animal skins with stone tools in a Mesolithic village in the morning, before dining on freshly produced cuisine of the Middle Ages in front of a Roman gladiator battle in the afternoon. Naturally I was there to get involved in the Bronze Age reconstruction, but that wasn’t to be our initial priority.
Archeon was putting on a horror walk through the park to be populated with various demons, monsters, and plenty of the undead. This is where our cohort came in. Our task was to get slathered in face paint and fake blood and essentially look terrifying while channelling people along the route using only groans and gestures because 1) zombies can’t talk; but mostly because 2) we can’t speak Dutch! Needless to say, scaring strangers, many of whom were little kids, was immensely fun, and I can’t think of anything much more traumatising to a child than being surrounded by the undead in a pitch black ancient village.
Alongside terrorising members of the public, our evenings were spent observing iron smelting – an incredible Iron Age activity, which involved five large, bearded, and questionably dressed men playing with fire and hitting molten lumps of metal with large hammers. This practice is rather more spectacular than bronze smelting and considerably harder work.
The days were of course spent working. Archeon is such an immersive scheme we had to dress in period-appropriate clothing, abandon all technology not of the period, and establish a persona through which we would communicate with the public. This naturally meant: no camera, no phone, and, crucially for me, no glasses! All completely worth it for the chance to dress as Bronze Age man.
While the shoes were slightly uncomfortable, the rest of the attire was not, and I found I was actually warmer dressed for the Bronze Age than in my standard jeans and jumper.
I was working with an incredibly experienced bronze caster named Wynand who was able to offer such a wealth of expertise I could have spoken to him all weekend. Meeting and working with bronzesmiths is fast becoming one of my favourite experiences on these trips – each of them has encountered similar problems in reconstructing the ancient craft and developed different techniques for accommodating the issue, making it clear that a diverse set of practices probably existed throughout Bronze Age Europe. We were quickly put to work making crucibles, setting up fires, pumping bellows, and talking with the public (who very kindly entertained our lack of Dutch!).
Hafted axe replicas appeared from a nearby house and I seized my opportunity to try them out, weighing out the effectiveness of each. This will be particularly useful when I come to doing my own experiments involving axes, plus playing with Bronze Age tools is super fun!
Alas, as with every trip it ended too soon and before I knew it I was sat back at my desk staring bleary-eyed at my laptop wondering: had I really spent most of my weekend not in my own clothes and sleeping in a Roman villa?! So no, I have not actually been initiated into the realm of the walking dead yet, but the nights are getting longer, the work is getting harder (not that you’d know it from this post admittedly), my brain feels like it is steadily deteriorating, and I have no idea where this PhD is going to take me next – I can’t wait!
A massive thank you yet again to OpenArch for funding this amazing opportunity and to Linda for putting it all together. Special thanks to all the staff at Archeon who looked after so well (especially Anique!) and to Wynand for tirelessly answering my Bronze Age questions!