Bellows Forum

I have a fascination with bellows. We know they had to have existed in the Bronze Age, but unfortunately they are also constructed of ephemeral materials, so none have survived into modern times. The only physical evidence we have consists of fragments of tuyeres. An Egyptian painting from the Tomb of Rekhmire, from 1450 BC shows a man using pot bellows that are operated by hands and feet. There are also Chinese documents depicting the use of box bellows. But bellows, after blowpipes, are likely to be one of the earliest forms of delivering air to the furnace.

Egyptian bellows 2
Scene from the Tomb of Rekhmire. The man on the right is operating a set of pot bellows. The valve is opened when he lifts both his foot and pulls on the cord attached to the top of the bellows. The air is pushed out of the bellows when he steps down. These require a lot of coordination.

Until a set of bellows is uncovered preserved in a bog somewhere a lot is left to the imagination. How big or small could they be? How can the valves be altered to be more efficient? How heavy should the leather be? Should sturdiness trump suppleness? How are all the parts held together and made airtight? Bellows are one of the most essential pieces of equipment that we have for casting bronze and yet very little information is available about their use and construction from the community of experimental archaeologists and reenactment groups.

Over the years I’ve seen many different shapes and sizes of bellows and always thought that a forum where bellows design and use could be discussed would be invaluable for people to share ideas and experiences.

I would like to invite others to share photos of the bellows they’ve made on this site. This could be a welcome forum for discussing the pros and cons of different designs, what worked, what didn’t. Of course any news of archaeological bellows or tuyeres discovered would add to the fun.

To start, Martijn van Es sent me some photos of a set of bag bellows he made and photos of a new set he recently completed using the tutorial on this website. Martijn casts bronze at the Bronzezeithof Uelsen and Het Bronsvuur – The Bronze fire and is active on the web and Facebook discussing Bronze Age casting techniques and projects that he’s involved with.

 Other bellows designs

I saw these pot bellows in use at Arbeia Roman Fort several years ago. They incorporate partially hollowed tree stumps and circular leather bags with the valve on top. This is one set of bellows that won’t shift around!

Roman reenactors at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, UK using a portable furnace and pot bellows
Roman reenactors at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, UK using a portable furnace and pot bellows

 

This has to be my favourite bellows idea. Simply made from two cement bags.

I welcome others to send in photos of their bellows, and not just bag bellows. Any bellows that could be considered to fit in with what we know or can surmise from archaeology would be interesting for this forum.

If you are interested in making bellows for yourself but don’t know where to start, check out the tutorials on my site for making bag bellows and for making pump bellows.

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Events, Workshops, and Classes

Experimental Archaeology Needs You! Talk and Trunk Show

 Craftspeople! Archaeology Needs You! Learn the magnificent history of out humble shawl pins, and find out how you can contribute to archaeology.

Find out more here

Workshop at Western Illinois University

Tomorrow I’ll be heading down to Macomb, Illinois to run a workshop at Western Illinois University (1-4 November). It will be an exciting event. I will give a couple lectures on experimental archaeology and we’ll do some bronze casting. Lining up the materials long distance has been a bit of a challenge, but it looks as if everything is ready for the workshop.

The staff there are pulling out all the stops. Seeing that my talks will incorporate more than just the interests of the Anthropology Department, the Art Department has also been invited to join in. The local press has been notified, too. It should be an exciting event, and we’ve all been looking forward to it.

The program will be an interesting range of talks and events. Thursday we’ll build the furnace and have a couple short talks about excavating metals, identifying metalworking assemblages, and a repeat of the talk I gave in Oslo about the significance of mistakes in craft work. On Friday I’ll give an hour-long session on experimental archaeology and then we’ll head over to the furnace and get some practical experience pumping bellows and casting bronze. Rather than pack up and leave early Saturday morning, I opted to spend another day there to talk to students some more. Less lecturing and more conversation. I’ve been told that there is one student who is keen on textile archaeology, so I’ll have time to show her the PowerPoint I did at StevenBe.

Getting the supplies for this has strained the budget the department has for visiting lectures, but they are hoping that this will show the university leaders that programs like this provide unique opportunities for students and will open the door for more events. For myself, I would like to see this grow into a longer program, possibly a week-long event, so that students have more time to explore more aspects of experimental archaeology.

For now, this event is run on a shoestring and because I really want to see this happen, I am getting little more than being comped for my transportation, room and board. The ongoing support I get through Patreon makes events like this possible, and the contributions I get go a long way to fund workshops like this that provide educational opportunities for others. If you’re interested in supporting workshops and my work in experimental archaeology, please consider making a donation through PayPal or Patreon.

Talking archaeology at Cyprus Classical Academy 22308836_10159799978290221_763452381345579338_n

Last week I had a great time talking to the students at Cyprus Classical Academy about what archaeologists do. Cyprus Academy is a Montessori school and so the students in each class ranged in age from 6 to 11. They had a chance to look at and handle artefacts, pump a set of bag bellows, and have a go at using a drop spindle to spin some wool. This is a great age for kids to learn about prehistory and the fascinating story of how people invented tools and developed crafts. They will continue on studying prehistory and history, but I doubt they’ll ever think about ‘cave men’ the same way again. Apparently one of the teachers was amazed by finding out that Neanderthals made flutes and had music.

One of the unexpected benefits of my talk was that a girl in the class was excited to know that there are women archaeologists. There is the popular perception that archaeologists are men, and while field archaeology tends to have more men excavating, I pointed out that women also excavate, and also work in labs and museums. I included some slides showing kids volunteering cleaning finds, to let them know that there’s a place for them in archaeology too.

Next month I head down to Western Illinois University to give a couple lectures and to run a bronze casting workshop. It’ll be good to pump bellows again, especially since it’s getting cooler outside these days. I’m also looking forward to introducing a whole new group to archaeological metals.

I am back in the US now and spending some time tanning goat hides to make a set of bellows. This is really starting from scratch!

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Meanwhile I’ll be speaking at Steven Be on the history (and prehistory) of textiles on Sunday 24 September from noon to 2 pm. We’ll start at about 50,000 years ago and wind our way through textile history. I’ll have replica Bronze Age spindle whorls and other items for show and tell (and for sale).

Steven Be is on the corner of 35th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. The place is fabulous and must be seen to be believed! We’ll be upstairs with spinners, knitters, and other textile artists. Details can be found linked here.

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The EXARC Journal is now Open Access! This is a big step and great news for researchers in experimental archaeology, or for people who are interested in ancient technology and techniques. In the past articles were made available after two years, now they are available on publication.

The journal is available for free now, but there are a lot of benefits of joining EXARC. The most important reason is to support the work EXARC does in promoting Open Air Museums, living history, museum studies, and experimental archaeology. Membership will get a print version of the journal, in addition to a card that gives you free admittance to museums who are associated with ICOM. To see a full list of the extensive work the organisation does, check out the link here.

In 2014 I presented a paper at the 8th Annual EXARC Conference in Oxford. Getting Hammered is about the experimental work I did using Bronze Age replica hammers and comparing the hammers I used to the ones I examined in museums. The article is available online now at this address.

To celebrate this, I am putting up the Powerpoint and notes from the 2014 presentation on my Patreon site. It will be available for all supporters who contribute $3 or more per month. The contributions made to my Patreon page go to fund my experimental work, including my participation in the recent Bronze Casting Festival in Uelsen, Germany.

 

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