4000 Years, Little Change

Hammurabi’s code is a series of 282 laws from ancient Mesopotamia (around 1727 BCE) that is well known for its harsh ruling on crimes as well as its distinction between classes and gender.

What gave Hammurabi the right to rule in the first place?

Hammurabi descended from a line of kings so the continued rule by his family line would be considered the “norm.” In addition to this, his affiliation with the gods, and his popularity for expanding his empire gave him power.

Hammurabi with Shamash, god of Justice

Hammurabi with Shamash, god of Justice

He unites people under this shared document. Ruling 195 states that, “If a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off.” This same punishment is also applied to a surgeon who has killed or “cut out the eye” of another. Law 196 is the famous “eye for an eye,” case, followed by teeth and genitals.

From a biological imperative standpoint, our ability to perform specialized tasks with our hands, to avoid dangerous situations with our vision, to process foods that are otherwise too hard for consumption, and to reproduce, thus passing on our genes, are all evolutionary advantages. The code focuses on the essential functions while omitting features that could be lived without. The harsh environment of Mesopotamia led to a desire for individuals to pull their own weight, thus setting criminals, now disabled, up for resentment and “other-ing” by the rest of the society. The absence of one’s hands is immediately apparent, and therefore a permanent badge of misbehavior.

3600 years after Hammurabi, King Leopold II (see below) began his exploitation of the “African cake.” Under the same idea of expansion, King Leopold used his “right” as a European to civilize the people of Congo, while in reality profiting from growing rubber and ivory industries that resulted in the enslavement of the local peoples and the deaths of approximately 10 Million.

King Leopold II

King Leopold II

King Leopold’s army added insult to injury, so to speak, by damaging the bodies of the dead, even hanging them “in the form of a cross.” A cross, a symbol of Christianity (a European idea), becomes a symbol of terror for the survivors.

His war crimes included mass mutilation where “They [hands] became a form of currency,” proof that bullets were not “wasted.” Again, the removal of hands is a means of exerting power over the socially inferior group. By allowing the trade of severed hands, the victims of this genocide are dehumanized. Amputation is not always fatal, allowing the person to live for years with this form of mutilation. As in Hammurabi’s time, these people also had to bear the physical signs of oppression.

Warfare is a matter of intimidation, often seeking to “warn off” outsiders. So who would be left to intimidate if war were more “efficient?”

This reasoning would help explain why the removal of hands has been a punishment over the centuries.

Read Hammurabi’s code here:


The idea is even brought forward into the modern day:





“Ancient History Sourcebook: Code of Hammurabi, C. 1780 BCE.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Ed. Paul Halsall. Fordham University, 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp>.

Ceallaigh, Liam O. “When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren’t Called ‘Hitler'” Diary of a Walking Butterfly. Diary of a Walking Butterfly, 22 Dec. 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

“The Code of Hammurabi.” Constitution Society. Constitution Society, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.

James, Andre C. “The Butcher of Congo: King Leopold II of Belgium.” Digital Journal. Digital Journal, 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Knox, Gordon. “Heart of Darkness – There Was Nothing Exactly Profitable in These Heads Being There.” Book Drum. Book Drum, 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Selwyn-Holmes, Alex. “Congo, Then and Now.” Iconic Photos. Word Press, 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/congo-then-and-now/>.

Sliwinski, Sharon. “The Kodak on the Congo: The Childhood of Human Rights.” Academia.edu. Academia.edu, 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.academia.edu/2464487/In_the_early_1900s_the_missionaries_Alice_Seeley_Harris>.

Stolze, Dolly. “A Criminal’s Relic: The Macabre History of Severed Hands.” Strange Remains. Strange Remains, 6 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.

Battlefield Archaeology and the Scottish Highlands

The battle at Culloden was a struggle for power between Prince “Charlie” Stuart and the Duke of Cumberland, the grandson of King James II (of England and VII of Scotland) and the son of King George II, respectively. It was the last set-piece battle on English soil.


Culloden Memorial Cairn

Culloden Memorial Cairn


Afterwards, relatives placed stones showing where entire families fought as units within the greater Jacobite army (Prince Charlie’s). Additionally, stones meant to commemorate specific individuals were erected: these being the Well of the Dead, and the Cumberland stone. The graves of the 50-60 government soldiers who died fighting have not been found. They are honored with the English Stone.

Because this site has been marked out as culturally significant in Scottish history, it is of the utmost importance to preserve it, and by extension, the memory associated with the land. This is where archaeologists come in.

“Dog tags” were not invented until the mid-1800’s, so the identities of the people left behind must be determined by their belongings, commonly metal buttons and weaponry. The Jacobite army was constantly moving, so it restocked in towns on its way to Culloden. This resulted in an uneven array of weaponry and other surviving equipment.


The artifacts left on this site have been protected by the natural terrain, which merges into marshy land, and thick plant life, both of which work to prevent visitors from disturbing the grounds. This is important because when an artifact is moved, it loses its original context for the time in which it was first dropped/buried. Like many sites that have seen battle, or other traumatic experiences, it has gone into a period of abandonment. In this case, the restoration of the moor as a designated historical battlefield prevents other use, which will be apparent in the stratigraphic record (the study of how soil forms layers, and what time periods those layers are from).

A single object may tell us about itself, but its location (vertically and laterally) tells us about it in relation to other objects in the area (in a way that might form a pattern!). Together, they help us create a better picture of the past.


Archaeologists have used various methods (most common are surface survey, ground-probing radar, and metal detectors) to find the general layout of the battlefield. In addition to these surveying methods, primary source documents (old maps and journal entries!) are used to direct focus onto a specific area for fieldwork (historical archaeology).

This type of search, targeting a specific region within the battlefield is considered a biased survey. Excavations are performed when a site is in danger, in this case when the visitor center was built in 2007. Excavations may confirm the presence of certain features (such as buildings that are no longer present) that may help clarify previous research. In Culloden, buildings were burned to discourage further uprisings. This battle, like many others, can be explored through archaeological methods.


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Photo by Hanna Mitamura