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Postgraduate Lives: Metin Eren, MA at the University of Exeter

'I practise my flint-knapping every day'

Metin Eren, 25, is doing an MA in experimental archaeology at the University of Exeter.

So what on earth is experimental archaeology?

It's a way to approach prehistoric questions without excavation. We replicate technologies, and use them to test hypotheses about what we dig up. Recently we did a project on prehistoric fish butchery, cutting up fish with stone tools we'd made and comparing our results to the archaeological record. What's nice is that it's not destructive: when you dig something up, it's gone for ever; you can't put it back. But with experimental archaeology you can recreate things to your heart's content.

Why did you choose this?

I've done archaeology since I was 16, but I wasn't satisfied with the traditional approach. My focus is on stone tool technologies, so after I graduated from Harvard I came to Exeter to work with Professor Bruce Bradley, who's the best in the world for this discipline.

How is the programme taught?

In the first semester, there are basic theory courses, but it's generally very practical: you get hands-on experience of tool work, ceramics, textiles or metallurgy. There's a lot of travel; I was in China in November experimenting in the prehistoric use of bamboo, and then I was in Ireland, studying deer butchery.

What do you like best about the course?

It allows you to be imaginative and creative with science. When it comes to experimental archaeology you can't really beat Exeter: it's pretty amazing. Because it's a burgeoning field, there are lots of opportunities for graduates to get published.

And what is the most difficult thing about it?

Learning the skills. I come into the university every day for a few hours to do flint knapping, which requires a lot of discipline: some students find it tough.

Is there a thesis?

Yes. The thesis is done in the summer, and it's expected to be publishable. Mine is about learning levallois, a very complex stone tool technology.

Will it set you up well for the future?

Yes. I came into the programme knowing I was going to do stone tools, but it's nice for me to get the chance to try out all the different sorts of prehistoric technologies. I'll have a good foundation to continue with my PhD in the US.

How much does it cost?

The MA is usually £4,000 for home students or £9,600 for international students, but fortunately I got a bursary from Exeter.

What kind of person should do the course?

I'd recommend it to any archaeologist. Every student of the subject should have some experience in experimental archaeology, as it gives you a dynamic look at very static artefacts. It gives them a whole new life.