Experimental Archaeology – Good food and good drink.

Over the last few weeks at the Bradford Kaims we have been continuing our brewing experiments. Our first two batches, from week 2, were left in the hedge line following the removal of the barley and the addition of hawthorn flowers. Initially very little activity took place after a week in the hedgerow, but once placed in a warmer environment (one of our caravan awnings) fermentation began! Within a few days our first batch reached an alcohol percentage of 5% and our secondary batch reached 3%!

“Successful batch – didn't taste bad either!”

“Successful batch – didn’t taste bad either!”

Since then we have attempted another batch, which following the mashing stage we sieved out the barley and separated it into two containers, one with heather and one with elderflower. The two different flower types were selected as different sources of natural yeast to see if that had an impact on the fermentation process but also to see the difference in taste! Unfortunately, following the mashing with our hydrometer we found a very low potential alcohol content. This could be due to a series of reasons such as the barley husks not being crushed enough or our barley to water ratio being too low. Despite this our students and community volunteers were able to engage themselves in the mashing process by making the fire, breaking barley husks and heating water with hot stones – which can be quite the spectacle when submerged in the water. As a result learning has still taken place (and plenty of enjoyment) through the production process. We can also take our observations forward to inform our future brewing ventures, which we will be continuing in future blog updates!

“Elderflower and heather being used as natural yeast.”

“Elderflower and heather being used as natural yeast.”

Following on from last week’s brewing, we have been cooking in addition to brewing using hot-rocks. We set our fire lined with rocks, as we have done for brewing. We built the fire up to heat the hot rocks but then let the fire down to ash. While still hot we laid down a lattice of reeds over half the fire pit with a variety of root vegetables laid on top (carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic cloves and onions), while we left the other half open to place our vegetables to be wrapped in reeds directly and placed in the pit. With the food in place we covered it all in another lattice work of reeds and subsequently buried the food to retain the heat of the hot rocks. Now to wait!


“The earthen oven under construction.”

After two hours we carefully opened up the earthen oven to reveal our cooked food. Due to a delay in burying the food (we did some brewing beforehand which allowed the fire to cool) most of the vegetables were partially cooked. However, one onion in particular was cooked right through after being placed in a particularly hot area of the pit – evident from the burnt reeds it rested on. Staff, students and community volunteers alike gathered around for the unveiling at the end of busy day at the site. We all tucked in for the warm food to taste how easy it was to make an oven which required no maintenance when in use.


“Opening up the earthen oven!”

For the cooking, we decided to have a fire burning with other processes taking place nearby (such as flint knapping) as in prehistory it seems unlikely that a day would have been dedicated to a single activity like we have been doing. Various activities would have taken place side by side with different members of the group undertaking different processes (potentially). To that end we will strive to have several activities taking place during our “Experimental Days” to more accurately represent how activities and processes may have taken place in the past.

“Hungry archaeologists!”

“Hungry archaeologists!”

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