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Experimental Archeology

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How do you prove your controversial theory about a feat that seems almost mythic in quality, despite the fact that every expert in the field in question says it's impossible? By doing it yourself! All you have to do is recreate the situation and prove that it really was possible.

One common variant of this involves proving that a voyage in an ancient story could really have happened. This tends to involve building a replica of the vehicle in question as closely as possible (although modern creature comforts often tend to make their way into the finished work), finding a crew as loopy as you are, and riding your way to vindication. Provided, of course, you live to tell the tale.

Adventurer Archaeologist characters may be prone to trying out this method.

Experimental Archaeology is a real science. It can't be used to prove how or why something was done, but can demonstrate that a theory is possible. In Real Life it's also used for rather less exciting things than replicating ancient pyramids — such as cutting bones with stone tools and photographing the tools under a microscope afterwards. Don't expect fiction to focus on this sort of experimentation.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One of these plots becomes the center of One Piece's Skypeia saga, where the crew, almost as an afterthought, seeks to prove that the hero of an old fairy tale was not a liar. He wasn't.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Disney Ducks Comic Universe story, Donald gets involved in a bet to discover which means the ancient Duckburgers used to immigrate from a local Easter Island stand-in.
  • In a Silver Age Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen story, Perry White leads the Daily Planet staff on a dangerous trek across the desert in order to prove that an ancestor of his really did save the lives of a group of soldiers and settlers by doing just that.

  • Older Than Radio (1873): Phileas Fogg does this in Around the World in Eighty Days, likely making Jules Verne the Trope Maker in fiction.
  • In Codex Alera, one member of the Historical Society sets out to create several things that conventional wisdom claims could only have been done using furycraft to provide credence for his theory that the Alerans didn't have it when they first arrived. This includes things like designing pulleys as opposed to just getting Earthcrafters to do the heavy lifting.
  • Parodied in The Discworld Almanack, which says that in 1754 AM, Erasmus Wand set sail for the Brown Islands in a boat made from pig bladders in order to prove a theory. And if his theory was that such a craft would sink almost immediately, he succeeded.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The BBC's documentary series Around the World in Eighty Days has Michael Palin travel around the world in eighty days much in the same manner as the original novel's Phileas Fogg (i.e. no air travel). In many ways it was harder now, than in was in Verne's time, because there are no longer scheduled passenger liner services across the world's oceans, and the British Empire no longer exists, meaning some borders and territories were closed to Palin and/or the film crew.
  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus: "Mr. and Mrs. Brian Norris's Ford Popular" tests a theory that the population of Hounslow (a suburb of London) originally emigrated from Surbiton (another London suburb). The sketch actually mentions the Kon-Tiki (see the Real Life section below) in the beginning.
  • The documentary Mysteries of Lost Empires involved archaeologists attempting to reconstruct historical building methods (creating trebuchets; erecting an obelisk; building Roman baths and a Chinese rainbow bridge; transporting and erecting an Easter Island statue).
  • Pretty much the entire point of MythBusters, although fairly rarely regarding actual voyages, with notable instances of such being the reenactment of the famous Alcatraz Escape (Turns out, you can (though it would take a bit of luck and almost-ideal conditions)), and seeing if it was possible to launch a Chinese astronomer into orbit with regular rockets (turns out you can't). While never used for an actual voyage, they did try making a boat out of newspaper and ice, based on a material developed during WWII to build ships quickly and cheaply. It works, until it starts to melt.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Explorers", Ben and Jake Sisko sail to Cardassia in a Bajoran lightship that travels on solar winds to show a supposed ancient voyage was possible. In a small twist, the Cardassians scoff at the idea that Bajorans were able to make that journey, but as soon as the Siskos were able to do it themselves, the Cardassians apparently decided to reveal that they "coincidentally" (read: kept under wraps until now) found the remains of an ancient Bajoran lightship to share in the glory of Sisko's feat by providing proof that the ancient voyage actually happened. It was one of the finer moments in Gul Dukat's 'anti-hero' period; he's not entirely pleased that Sisko embarrassed the Cardassian people by accomplishing that which they maintained was impossible, but he's gracious enough. Thanks to Marc Alaimo's amazing ability to handle Dukat's complex characterization, particularly attentive viewers will even detect a subtext of honest sincerity and admiration in his 'congratulations' speech (he even arranged a nice fireworks show for them on their arrival).

    Western Animation 
  • Miraculous Ladybug: This is what motivates Jahlil Kubdel's akumatization into the Pharoah. He's done research that indicates Tutankhamen had found a way to bring Nefertiti back to life and wants to test it with the artifacts from the Louvre. His father, the curator of the Egyptian exhibit, refuses. Of course, it turns out that the ritual required not only 100 living mummies (it's not clear how Jahlil was planning to acquire them without Hawk Moth's intervention) but also human sacrifice.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures parodies Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition in "Voyage of the Kon-Ducki", in which Plucky Duck proves that his ancestors sailed to Salinas, California in the 1970s (instead of flying).

    Real Life 
  • The most famous example of this (and the former Trope Namer) is probably the Kon-Tiki expedition by Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed an Incan balsa raft from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947 to demonstrate the plausibility of South American contact with Polynesia. Ironically (with regards to the typical outcome of such stories as invoke this trope), archaeologists have since concluded that Polynesians weren't Incan sailors after all and that Heyerdahl's theory was wrong. Even at the time, Heyerdahl was criticized for being towed out several miles past the shore before sailing... which skipped some extremely dangerous tides that would have made sailing near-impossible.
  • Besides the Kon-Tiki itself, Thor Heyerdahl also tried sailing across the Atlantic ocean using only ancient Egyptian boat making technology using a papyrus (a kind of sedge) hull. The papyrus boat Ra made it within a few miles of the South American coast before being sunk by a storm, so he returned to Africa and built Ra II which made it all the way to Barbados.
  • A more substantial voyaging expedition is that of the Hokulea, a replica Polynesian canoe built in Hawaii and sailed to Tahiti using only the equipment and knowledge of the stars that would have been available to the theoretical polynesian settlers of Hawaii. Its purpose was to provide further support for the Polynesian origin of settlement in Hawaii. The initial voyage succeeded and the Hokulea made several more trips around the Pacific, with a planned circumnavigation of the World beginning in 2013. Which succeeded.
  • Heinrich Schliemann tested a possible candidate for the historical Troy by running around the city walls, based on a passage in The Iliad.
  • National Geographic is fond of doing this, whether it's recreating Odysseus' voyage or trying to build a pyramid using only technology available to Ancient Egyptians.
  • In 1916, the Smithsonian Institution claimed the "Aerodrome," invented by Samuel P. Langley, had been the first manned heavier-than-air aircraft based on a recreation of the Aerodrome by Glenn Curtiss. The recreation was claimed to have been accurate, which had the Smithsonian thereafter granting Langley the honor of having invented the airplane. The Smithsonian didn't correct this until 1942. The Aerodrome flown by Curtiss had been heavily modified and was not true to the original design. Curtiss, it should be noted, had an ulterior motive for doing this— he was one of the Wrights' biggest competitors, and wanted to prove they didn't deserve their patent on the airplane.
  • There was a crew that moved a Stonehenge-size piece of stone from somewhere near Germany to the location of Stonehenge without any modern equipment and another guy in England who made a Stonehenge piece and then tilted it upright and planted it single handedly.
  • A regular part of Time Team, although rarely on the same scale as some of the other examples (Phil Harding is known as one of Britain's finest flint-knappers). One of the bigger examples, however, was recreating Seahenge.
  • A team of experimental archaeologists wanted to find out how Bronze Age societies fought with swords. To that end, they recruited a LARP group to fight with the swords, and recorded information about the scratches left. Sometimes experimental archaeology really is awesome.

Alternative Title(s): Kon Tiki Plot