Experimental Anthropology

I'm about to out myself as pretty big geek. 

Right now I'm living in what we in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, you know those crazy people seen in parks with armor on hitting each other) as the "Modern Middle Ages." I'm at the largest international event hosted by the SCA, Pennsic War, for my summer vacation. 

It's more fun, and more work than you can imagine. But we all love how it takes us away for a little while, from a fully modern world, while still keeping us relatively connected to important things, like antibiotics and contact lenses that many need to get by. Which is why we call it the *modern* Middle Ages.

We talk about what we do in the SCA as a kind of "experimental anthropology;" where we learn how medieval people solved problems or made goods by trying to do it ourselves. How does that dress stay together? Let's try to make it and find out? How can we serve a feast to 100 people over coals quickly? Let's give it a go!

What's fun for me as a participant (there are no "onlookers" here like a Ren Faire) and an environmentalist is that I'm experiencing and doing things in a much lower-footprint, pre-industrial way. This is in no way an endorsement of returning to the days of wood-and-candle burning, but certainly a reflection on how much we have come to rely on electricity and machines in nearly every aspect of life. 

Campers at this extremely large event (over 10,000 people in tents for 2 weeks) are given many conveniences, one of them being ICE. Humans enjoy keeping food cold, for both freshness and pleasure. Replacing ice every day is really bothersome, so I definitely take care to bring and prepare foods that do NOT require cold storage, I often keep veggies and fruits in a cool space that isn't iced, and I eat a lot less "unintentionally" as I do at home. 

During the day, some attend classes, fight in battles, visit the marketplace, or do any number of activities in the performing arts, martial arts (archery, fencing), or visual arts (costuming, calligraphy and more). We dress to stay comfortable with the weather, we put up tents for shade. 

At night, we stop doing tasks like sewing, reading, and working around camp and hang out together and talk by firelight. We keep our sleeping spaces (often big canvas pavilions) warm by closing them up after the sun starts to set. We keep our beds warm by adding layers above and below where we sleep. 

We take very short showers (often very cold!) and wash dishes with high water efficiency. 

There is certainly a huge carbon cost for an event like this, getting everyone here, all the disposable stuff that gets purchased, and the firewood and ice consumed, but person for person, we're using a WHOLE lot less than we do in our regular lives and everyone feels this when we go back home. 

For me, there's a whole extra layer of experimental contemporary anthropology going on, appreciating how convenient my lifestyle is in the modern world, maybe considering a *very old* solution or two for some of my problems that uses a lot less energy or water. 

I'm glad I live when I do (hooray air conditioning!) but I love this little break from my own time to put on a gown and a veil and turn of electronics to just be with friends. Sometimes it's not what you give up, it's what you get back. Cool experiment, huh?

Shannon Anderson