The Cutting Edge of Prehistoric Technology

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It is a gusty autumn day on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and two deer carcasses lie stretched on the lawn of a small farm, gutted and ready to be butchered.

Twelve students from an experimental-archaeology course at nearby Washington College crouch over the animals with razor-sharp stone blades that their professor, Bill Schindler, helped them produce weeks earlier using flint-knapping techniques that are as much as 2.5 million years old.

"Are we all set, or are we kind of dreading this?" he asks, scanning the young faces. Mr. Schindler, an assistant professor of anthropology, has overseen this exercise twice before, and he knows that not everyone is keen to butcher Bambi.

"Don't worry," he reassures them. "I won't make you do anything you don't want to do."

But when the cutting begins no one hangs back, not even the three vegetarians....

The deer-butchering project, Mr. Schindler tells his students, has a special significance this year because it involves both "experiential" and "experimental" archaeology. Producing stone tools and testing their efficacy in different types of butchering is experiential. But the students' work will also contribute to an experimental-archaeology study that he and Aaron R. Krochmal, a colleague from the biology department, are working on with Katie Eckenrode, a senior majoring in biology....

In 2004, Mr. Schindler and more than a dozen students and volunteers, including his parents, his wife, and his nine-month-old daughter, spent two weeks on an island in the Delaware River. They tried to live as the Indians would have 2,000 years ago, sharing a shelter of saplings and tulip-poplar bark, starting fires without matches, catching fish in a net woven from local plants, and cooking in clay pots they had created themselves....

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