Capturing our Intangible Past – University of Copenhagen

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Capturing our Intangible Past

Craft Technology and Experimental Archaeology in Digital Space

Photo: Carolina Larsson

By Eva Andersson Strand

Understanding craft and craft processes are crucial to the heritage of humankind, and textiles must be seen as dynamic objects representing past actions and processes. Important is the way we can illuminate how the body and mind are involved in the production processes behind ancient technology and the creation of objects.

How do we decide to make things? How do we learn to make things? and how is craft knowledge transferred from one person to another?

The study of craft and craft production is fundamental to archaeology for understanding the underlying causes for the complexity of ancient societies. Craft and craft production can, in a broad sense, be said to meet the social and psychological needs of human beings, and facilitate social coherence.
Theories of practice are being developed, how professionals think in action and how their skills are transmitted. How we learn craft, how we record the differences of skills and abilities of crafts people and how old traditions affect the possibility to learn new techniques and improve skills are investigated (e.g. Bourdieu 1977; Schön 1983; Latour 1999; Ingold 2000; Bender Jørgensen 2012).
Thus, it is essential to develop new methodologies through which tacit or embodied knowledge can be translated into a form that goes beyond mere textual analysis (Bender Jørgensen 2012).

Eva Andersson Strand spinning in the MoCap studio at Lund University Humanities Lab Sweden.
Photo: Carolina Larsson

A combination of craft knowledge with experimental archaeology has already proved to be a significant method enabling new interpretations and perspectives on the archaeologically invisible parts of ancient societies. Experimental archaeology has a long and solid tradition in Denmark and tests have given new information and insights of textile tool function and made invisible textile production visible.

However, this method has also been criticised. Experimental archaeology developed as part of the positivistic research approach applied within the processual archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. Brattli, Johnsen 1989: 49; Olsen 1997: 53, 59–62). Furthermore, the approach was critiqued by the proponents of the post-processual movement that came into being in the 1980s.
The criticism was directed at the suggestion that experimental archaeology was a methodology for conducting objective studies. One of the post-processual arguments was that designs of experiments were influenced by subjective values of the present, which would have affected the outcome of any experiment (Brattli, Johnsen 1989). Nevertheless, even though debated, this method has been, and is still, used today (e.g. Belanová Štolcová and Grömer 2010; Andersson Strand and Nosch 2015).

However, new and innovative methods are still necessary in order to come closer to both ancient societies and the people themselves. Computer applications in archaeology can enhance our knowledge of the complexity and variety of artefacts, their production, and how various craft traditions develop over time, yielding new insights and perspectives applicable to ancient societies as well as to traditional craft today.

MoCap sequences during spinning. The graphs above show how the respective spinners, Ida Demant and Eva Andersson Strand, are lifting their hands when winding the yarn on the spindle, which is documented with the red marker on the spinner’s hand.
Photo Carolina Larsson

The testing of different textiles tools are often recorded using photography and, sometimes, video filming. However, using these methods to get a full three-dimensional (3D) coverage of the process, would require a multiple video camera setup, preferably using cameras with a higher frame-rate than ordinary cameras.
Such a setup would produce large amount of data which would prolong the post processing significantly.
New and innovative methods are necessary and also available that solves these problems.

Motion capture (MoCap) is the process of recording the movement of objects or people in 3D. A MoCap system also uses a multiple camera setup, but the cameras only work in the infrared spectrum and only record markers placed on the subject or tools used by the subject. The markers are placed to get a good representation of the subject studied, which means it is possible to focus only on the specific elements of interest. Since only the markers are being recorded, the amount of data is not particularly large, which makes the post-processing relatively simple and quick.

In this project it will be demonstrated how Motion Capture (MoCap) can be applicable on textile experimental archaeology research.
Some tests have already been made and new test are planned in the autumn 2017.
All tests are made according to CTR principles.

Primary parameter to be investigated is function:

  • Raw materials selected according to our knowledge of Bronze Age fibres and work processes
  • Tools reconstructed as precise copies of archaeological artefacts
  • Each test performed by at least two skilled craftspeople
  • Every new test is preceded by some practice time
  • All processes must be documented
  • All products made in the tests must be analysed by external experts

This is a collaborative project between Centre for Textile Research and the Archaeological department, Saxo institute, University of Copenhagen and Stefan Lindgren and Carolina Larsson, Lund University Humanities Lab Sweden.


Andersson Strand E., Nosch M-L. eds. 2015 - Tools, Textiles and Contexts. Investigating Textile Production in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, Ancient Textiles Series 21, Oxbow Books, Oxford.

Andersson Strand E., Lindgren S. and Larsson C. 2016. Capturing Our Cultural Intangible Textile Heritage, MoCap and Craft Technology, in Digital Heritage Progress in Cultural Heritage: Documentation, Preservation, and Protection, 6th International Conference, EuroMed 2016, Nicosia, Cyprus, October 31-November 5 2016 Proceedings, M. Ioannides, E. Fink, A. Moropoulou, G. Liestøl, V. Rajcic, P. Grussenmeyer eds., Cham, Part I: 11-15.

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Schön D. A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner. How professionals think in action, Maurice Temple Smith, London.