Archaeology in Warfare

It is so interesting how the study of the past can be so relatable to today’s current issues, including sustainability, warfare, and more. By studying the different ways that past cultures and societies have been set up, we can see what worked for them and what mistakes they may have made. That way, we can try to correct those mistakes and improve upon our own societies in the modern world. One aspect of our studies and readings this week that I thought was particularly interesting was looking at warfare through archaeology. By understanding conflict and war in the past, we can better understand what happened (what started the conflict) so that we can have an improved knowledge of how to deal with conflict today. It is very fascinating that almost all warfare and conflict is based off of disputes over territory in one way or another. This is not a new concept, people have been involved in wars for hundreds of years, it is only the nature of wars that has changed.

An example of this idea of archaeology in warfare is seen in a conflict between Muslims and Hindus over the ownership of the 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. This mosque was said by some Hindu groups to have been built (in 1528) by Muslims on a place where a Hindu temple used to have stood that marked the birthplace of the mythical king, Rama. The temple was closed for a while after it was rededicated as a place of Hindu worship, right after Indian independence from Britain. Then in 1986, a judge ordered that it be open, as a place of Hindu worship.

Babri Mosque

This was greeted with resentment and anger by Muslims, who believed that this building truly belonged to them. Soon, protests and conflicts occurred. In 1990, the national government tried to have negotiations that would try to determine whether or not this building belonged to Hindus or Muslims. These negotiations, however, were not successful. In 1992, Hindu militants destroyed the mosque.

The destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu militants

The destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu militants

Archaeology was used in this case to try to analyze the stratigraphy in order to see whether or not it was inherently a Hindu temple or not. Interpretations of this archaeological data, however, have varied widely. It is difficult to try and analyze stratigraphy of a site because of the fact that it usually does not consist of a distinct transition from one time period to another. Everything seems to mesh together and it becomes difficult to interpret. It is also, in general, dangerous to be an archaeologist who has something to prove. That could create a certain dishonesty of the true results. The archaeologist must always be open to all results and must not have a bias.


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Archaeological Crime Scene Investigation

The relationship between humans and their objects is quite interesting, especially when trying to determine what type of person someone was solely from the physical items surrounding them. A lot can be told about a person’s death as well as the life that he or she may have led. In murder scene archaeology, often times the victim was caught off-guard and was surprised by the attack. Even through art (photographs as well as paintings) we can see many different aspects of a person’s death, life, and what kind of person they were without even knowing their name.


In a George Bellows painting, a crime scene is depicted. Three German soldiers are shown invading a Belgian home. This took place right after World War I. An interesting thing to take note of is the fact that throughout the years, war conflict has become more and more anonymous. During World War I, the soldiers could see their victims come to terms with the fact that their lives were going to be taken from them. However, as the concept of dehumanizing the enemy became more and more imperative throughout warfare, now people may not even see it coming. They may not ever know who killed them. In this Bellows painting, a woman sees the three German soldiers and her dead family members (most likely). She clutches a chair and a table as she recognizes her fate. She knows that she will most likely end up as the people on the floor had. In most George Bellows paintings, there is a sense of impending doom or approaching danger.


In another crime scene piece of art (this time a photograph), the photographer, as well as the victim, remains anonymous. Without knowing anything about this person lying dead on the floor, an archaeologist can use objects in his room in order to understand the life that this man has led. We know that this took place in mid-March, 1946 because of the issues of Post magazine lying on the ground. We also know that the certificate on the dresser was a recent accomplishment. There is also a pistol and a flask hanging somewhere in the room, showing lack of use for them but lingering affection for these objects. The clear ashtray shows that the pipe was not being used; perhaps it was a gift to the victim. We can tell that this young man was religious because of the Bible and rosary beads in his room. We know that the victim may have enjoyed the comics section of the newspaper, as it was open to that section while lying under the bed.

These pieces of artwork show that archaeologists do not necessarily need to be in the room of the crime scene or even know anything about the victims in order to learn something about the types of people they were and the lives that they led. These crime scenes make us think about our lives in general and how we will be remembered. It raises certain questions about our lives and memory after we are gone. Will our deaths be recorded? Will we be analyzed by archaeologists in the future? What will be remembered of us after we are gone?


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Rethinking Columbus Day

In a film screening about the Columbus Day parade protests in Columbus, Colorado (where Columbus Day originated), it was very interesting to see the arguments that Native Americans made that show how oppressive and wrong these parades truly are. Everything that Columbus Day represents is incredibly offensive to the ancestors and descendants of Native Americans. What Columbus Day stands for is genocide, violence, and dominance over Native Americans.

Anti-Columbus Day protests in Colorado

Anti-Columbus Day protests in Colorado

It is interesting how glorified Columbus is today. From elementary school forward, I have learned that Columbus was brave, determined, and heroic. However, in reality, he destroyed the lives of so many people and took their land as if it were his own. This holiday shows disrespect of Native American culture and sends a bad representation of Italian American culture as well. At one point in the film, an Italian American (who is on the Native American’s side of this issue) reminds people that these parades are not reflections of Italian American culture and heritage.

There is also the question of “what can we do about this issue today?” This matter is clearly affecting Native Americans currently and we need to ask ourselves what we can do in order to make this better for them. It is an interesting topic because it is more about pride and dominance than anything. Admitting today that what Columbus did was wrong would subject a person to accusations of being unpatriotic and questioning the “pure” origins of the United States.

This relates to indigenous archaeology as well because it shows the effect that the past (and our treatment of the past) has on people today. It is important that we respect archaeological sites that belonged to indigenous people because it is still theirs. Listening to these people and actually hearing them out helps us find common ground and decreases the “othering” that is used in the etic approach of indigenous archaeology. When excavating in an area that was occupied by native people, it is important to use techniques that show respect to them. Looting is the exact opposite of the correct way to carry out indigenous archaeology. It shows disrespect and offense to the native peoples. This also relates to the people who put on Columbus Day parades. They are belittling the culture and history of Native Americans and are acting superior to them by celebrating a murderer of their people. If abolishing Columbus Day is not attainable, each side must learn to listen to each other and make compromises in order to begin to respect one another.



The Challenges and Joys of Archaeological Fieldwork

On Friday some of my fellow classmates and I went to do fieldwork for my Archaeology class with my professor. We surveyed the land and found some incredibly interesting things without even breaking the surface of the soil. It was a lot more work than I had initially thought. It made me think about those archaeologists who do fieldwork often. They are very dedicated because they have to deal with so many factors in the field. Fieldwork may not sound like a significant amount of work, but it truly is. Especially for the archaeologists who need to spend more than six hours in the field at a time. There are so many challenges to face when working in the field. In addition to mud, bugs, and weather conditions, there are also the unpredictable challenges that technical difficulties pose as well as navigation.

When people think of fieldwork, they imagine archaeologists digging for some sort of lost treasure or buried civilization. Pompeii is a good example of this. Pompeii was first excavated in 1748 after being preserved for over 2,000 years by lava from a volcano that erupted in 79A.D. Almost everything was preserved including buildings, skeletons, and even loaves of bread.

This picture depicts the excavation of Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius over 2,000 years prior.

This picture depicts the excavation of Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius over 2,000 years prior.

For more information about Pompeii and its excavation, see links below.

Although many archaeologists are still fascinated by Pompeii and other similar excavation sites, there are different types of archaeology that do not involve breaking through the surface of the earth. This includes underwater archaeology, which is incredibly difficult in the fieldwork aspect of it. Underwater archaeologists only have a finite amount of air in their tanks when they dive down to their site, at the bottom of the water.

A diver takes a look at the hull of the 1758 Land Tortoise, the oldest known warship of its kind. During this project, the underwater archaeologists had around 16 minutes for each dive so planning was essential.

A diver takes a look at the hull of the 1758 Land Tortoise, the oldest known warship of its kind. During this project, the underwater archaeologists had around 16 minutes for each dive so planning was essential.

Underwater archaeology is incredibly difficult and requires great consideration and planning; however, as my classmates and I learned on Friday, so does above ground archaeology. Surveying land does not seem like it needs particularly intense amounts of planning but it truly does. A major aspect of doing fieldwork (especially in the woods) is navigation. My group mostly worked with a compass and a map. We did our best to stay on our path but it was difficult because there were obstacles in the way. The terrain was very hilly and woody. There were some parts of the woods where we needed to go around large and tangled fallen trees and then reorient ourselves. It also takes a great deal of time when you are looking for artifacts and features. When you have an eye for finding these types of archaeological finds, there are usually many things that pop out at you- even a 1980’s beer can will tell you something about the people who used to inhabit that area.

In an age where we are all so interconnected through technology, it is difficult to imagine communication by walkie-talkie’s alone. That is what my classmates and I did on our fieldwork. We split up into three groups (with about three or four people in each) and split up the territory so that we could cover a greater amount of land. At least one person in each group had a walkie-talkie so that we could communicate with each other. However, when the land is hilly and the signal is not that powerful, problems could occur when attempting to contact another group. This happened for a brief period when we were about to eat lunch and we heard nothing from one of the groups. We then all went as a large group to look for our fellow classmates. We used our orientation skills to find their path and then finally were able to get in touch with them. This could also be a major area of stress and difficulty for archaeologists who have found something in the field and want a colleague to check it out.

Although there are many difficulties when doing archaeology fieldwork, it is truly worth it when searching and finding things about the people who lived there. Learning about a past culture helps us understand them better and therefore helps us better understand ourselves. If given the opportunity, I would highly recommend participating in archaeology fieldwork. Without digging a single hole in the ground, I learned so much about archaeological fieldwork and the people who used to live on the land that we were surveying.


Works Cited:

“History of the Excavation of Pompeii.” Pompeii Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

“Pompeii.” A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2013. <>.