Experimental Archaeology & Surface Decoration

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Antler rings created by Ian Dennis.

Following the success of the award-winning CAER Heritage Project, CAER Studio is a one year AHRC funded project that will lead to the development of a series of creatively co-produced art objects and craft items inspired by the history and heritage of the community of Caerau and Ely in South West Cardiff. Local people will have the chance to get involved in a range of artistic activities, inspired by the knowledge and artefacts gained from archaeological excavations at Caerau Hillfort. The CAER Collective, a cohort of local artists, will hold workshops and events over 2018 at which residents can come along and get creative, while developing new skills and learning more about the history of their community.

On Friday 9th February CAER Studio, members of the CAER Studio artists collective, Imogen Higgins,  Becci Holmes (see also In Rainbows), Dylan Sutton and lead artist Paul Evans visited the School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE) at Cardiff University for an afternoon of experimental archaeology and an exploration of themes of surface decoration.

Oliver Davies, co-director for the project, began the workshop with a fascinating introduction into some of the key finds from previous CAER Heritage Project excavations, including beautifully polished stone axes, pottery, the ‘Meare Bead’ (something of an icon for CAER Studio) and a well-preserved Roman brooch. It was a great privilege to handle these objects that have lain in the ground for many thousands of years and to give some thought as to how and why these objects have come to be so exquisitely decorated. We were joined at one point in the discussion by Dr Jacqui Mulville from Guerrilla Archaeology – one of CAER Studio’s project partners – who have devised a host of engaging activities for the festival-going public since 2015. We look forward to working more with Guerrilla Archaeology over the coming months.

This context set us up nicely for the next part of the workshop, which was a practical introduction to the manufacture of antler rings by Ian Dennis, archaeological artist working within SHARE.

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Dylan creates a smooth and attractive surface by polishing with increasingly fine sandpaper.

As Jacqui and Ian explained, deer antler is an amazing material that has been used since the earliest times in the manufacture of tools and art objects. Ian showed us some very fine examples that he has made himself based on original Viking combs, rings, needles and knife handles.  Our task over the next hour or so was to create and decorate our own antler ring using modern tools and ancient techniques.

Becci, Dylan and Imogen all clearly enjoyed this hands-on task and it didn’t take long for all three artists to produce individual, unique works of art based on ancient examples.

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Becci’s antler ring.

All photos © Viv Thomas 2018.


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