Griffith University has launched a new open air research lab that will allow students at its Nathan campus to practise archaeological excavation techniques and researchers to study decay rates.

The Griffith Experimental Archaeological Research (GEAR) Lab is the brainchild of the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE) Senior Research Fellow Dr Michelle Langley, who formed the idea after spending time at the University of York in 2019.

Dr Michelle Langley.

“While I was visiting, I was shown the York Experimental Archaeological Research (YEAR) Centre,” Dr Langley said.

“I thought it was really cool and it would be extremely useful for us to have something like that for ARCHE.

“We now have a lab where we can undertake archaeological and forensic experiments that need to be out in the open air to replicate realistic conditions.”

The lab, located behind the EcoCentre, includes a flintknapping pit and a caged space for archaeological and forensic experiments.

“In archaeology, we like to replicate ancient technologies in order to understand how they were made and used in the past,” Dr Langley said.

“This is where the flintknapping pit, which is like a big sandpit for practicing making stone tools and those from other kinds of materials, will come in handy.

“The caged space will be for burying items or leaving them out in the open for long periods, to study how they decay or change over time.”

In the future, there is also scope for the caged area to be used as a miniature body farm to conduct decomposition and forensics experiments.

In addition, the outdoor lab features mock archaeological and burial sites, for a variety of uses.

The Griffith Experimental Archaeological Research (GEAR) Lab will be used for teaching and research.

“The mock archaeological site will be great for teaching undergraduates how to record a site and training them how to excavate,” Dr Langley said.

“This way the first time the students are on a real site, it won’t be the first time they are trying out their practical skills.

“It also provides us a space for PhD students to practice skills or investigate how different artefacts might be used or influenced by laying in the ground for thousands of years.

“We’ll also be designing a hands-on one day or half-day program for school kids from about Years 8-10 to come and learn about archaeological science.”

Visiting school children will be able to view an informational display on archaeology and Australia’s 65,000-year-long past inside the EcoCentre.

A PhD candidate undertaking an experiment.

The GEAR Lab is twinned with the YEAR Centre, providing the opportunity to conduct collaborative experiments across different climates, share information, and run student exchanges.

“This international research partnership of experimental facilities working on key aspects of material culture has genuinely exciting possibilities for strengthening our global understanding of a broad variety of questions relating to prehistoric hunter-gatherer technologies in the northern and southern hemispheres,” YEAR Centre Director Dr Aimée Little said.

“Through comparing and contrasting our methods, the two research teams will be able to address archaeological questions in a manner more rigorous than ever before,” Dr Langley said.

“We’ll also be able to test and inform each other’s projects through comparing the results of north and south.”

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