How Warfare Alters Identities: A Study of the US Invasion of Iraq

Archeology and identity are connected and intertwined due to identity’s reliance on symbolism. As humans became more sedentary the development of long-term communities was immediately coupled with the creation of important physical spaces.

Throughout history we’ve seen the destruction of monuments and important archeological sites as an effective form of psychological warfare. However, the reality of a Westernized bias means that many of us think of “others” as completing these acts of destruction: terrorist groups, uneducated and corrupt governments, and desperate civilians. This is also usually associated with poorer countries with less infrastructure (which is relative, because what even is a normal/correct infrastructure?). In class we’ve looked at the Babri Mosque, ISIS, looting in Syria, Iraq, and Peru, but what about our country?

The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, they destroyed numerous archeological and cultural sites. Many areas were converted into military bases, including the ancient city of Babylon (Jenkins 2007). Troops vandalized and pillaged cultural sites in order to convert them into military spaces. Though it appears that the government attempted to avoid archeological destruction, with the inclusion of archeologists in strategic military planning, the reality is that war as a practice is inherently destructive (Hamilakis 2009). For example, the City of Ur was surrounded by military basis, and thus pillaged and vandalized (Vulliamy 2003). Avoidance of cultural destruction therefore has to be synonymous with the avoidance of conflict.

A U.S. Military Base in the ancient city of Babylon

There is also an inherent bias, not only in the acts of destruction, but in the denouncement and publicization of it. Though Western countries tend to portray themselves as the model for intellectual preservation and understanding we can look to history to see how we favor and exploit the practice of archeology. During World War II  “American officers persuaded allied commanders to avoid combat inside Florence, birthplace of the Italian Renaissance” (Tucker). Here we see a very eurocentric understanding of conflict avoidance and preservation, whereas in Iraq the destruction of identity under the destruction of archeological sites was abetted by a lack of preservative action.

I believe archeology is inherently political, even with the theory of identity fluidity. Though emphasizing the changeability of groups can be used to suppress conflicts, like in the case of the Babri Mosque, it can also be used to justify modern day destruction. This retrospective understanding of “history changes identities” means that one could justify Iraq’s destruction by stating how the U.S. invasion is a development in history, and thus just as important as the sites it’s destroying. I think that in order for archeology to be a decolonized, anti-imperialist tool it can’t be used for divisive political purposes, and instead must be a factually based, all-inclusive, non-for-profit, pacifist-like practice. Even though archeology proves the long-rooted history and inevitability of warfare, that doesn’t mean that it can’t take a stance against it.

Additional Reading

UNESCO. Final Report on Damage Assessment in Babylon. 2009.

“Ancient city of Babylon destroyed by US base.” Al Arabiya News, 23 May 2008,


Image Sources

India, Sabrang. “Conspiracy Behind the Demolition of the Babri Masjid: Salient Points of the SC Decision.” Newsclick, 20 Apr. 2017,

“Destroying Cultural Sites: Something ISIL and US Army Have in Common.” Sputnik, 3 Nov. 2015,



Hamilakis, Yannis. “The “War on Terror” and the Military–Archaeology Complex: Iraq, Ethics, and Neo-Colonialism.” Archeologies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2009, pp. 39-65.

Jenkins, Simon. “In Iraq’s four-year looting frenzy, the allies have become the vandals.” The Guardian, 7 June 2007,

Tucker, Diane. “Brutal Destruction Of Iraq’s Archaeological Sites Continues (SLIDESHOW).” Huffpost,

Vulliamy, Ed. “Troops Vandalise Ancient City of Ur.” The Observer, 17 May 2003,

Bernbeck, Reinhard, and Susan Pollock. “Ayodhya, Archaeology, and Identity.” Current Anthropology, vol. 37, no. 1, 1996, pp. S138–S142. JSTOR, JSTOR,

What Our Food Provides Us: How the Human Diet Progresses Archaeological Analysis

Food, as a necessity for human survival, has always been the basis of any society. Archaeology that focuses on the human diet illuminates interactions between society and nature, and therefore explores their subsequent functionality. Diet is so expansive, that an array of findings can provide archaeologists with the tools for analysis. For example, earthenware found at the Lajia site in northwestern China preserved the earliest record of noodle preparation. The bowl was stuck in a floodplain of clay sediment, and radiocarbon dating suggests that these noodles were from four thousand years ago.

The millet noodles appear to be almost paper thin, with a diameter of 0.3 centimeters. They were around 50 centimeters long, with a yellow tint. They reflect many of today’s modern Chinese noodle dishes.

After analysing and attempting to determine the taxa of the noodles, archaeologists found that grass plants – specifically millet – were the basis of Chinese ingredients, and these noodles in particular. The Lajia site, found in the Loess Plateau region of China, was a semi-arid region, which is an efficient climate for millet to grow, solidifying the idea that millet was used to make noodles and other cuisine around this time period.


With the millet noodles we see how a relatively small artifact can be used to specify how the environment was utilized by the people inhabiting it. In contrast, we can also look at how a larger archaeological dig site, containing a multitude of plant matter, can shine a light on past practices. The Bronze Age Farm at Black Patch in southern England provided archaeologists with over fifty pounds of wheat, barley, and other plants. The plants were preserved through the charring of the storage pit, prompting many to dub the site as “England’s Pompeii”. 

Along with pounds of edible plants, rich textiles, bronze, wooden, and ceramic artifacts were excavated at the Black Patch Farm site. The findings were uniquely preserved with a combination of waterlogging and charring.

The findings showed an increase importance of wheat, which provides insight into the progression of farming techniques, specifically the newfound reliance on winter-sown crops. Some archaeologists have also speculated that the charring of these storage pits represent the tradition of burning the deceased, and their home, after death.

It’s important to note, however, that these findings are not representative of a wide ranged understanding. In fact, both of these instances are only reflective of a specific, single period in time. The most efficient form of archaeological diet analysis is the study of food traces in the stomach, and fecal matter. Unfortunately, it’s apparent that popular science outlets tend to portray the more glamorous discoveries (like the world’s oldest noodle!) than the discoveries that provide the most accurate and relevant information on diet. Understanding bias in our sources of information – and understanding that the two examples discussed here are only a small piece in a larger puzzle – will allow us to garner a more accurate picture of our past. 

Additional Reading

Swaminathan, N. (2014, August 11). Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Archaeology. Retrieved from

Schaeffer, C. (1978). THE BISON DRIVE OF THE BLACKFEET INDIANS. Plains Anthropologist, 23(82), 243-248. Retrieved from


Image Sources

[Noodles]. (n.d.) Retrieved from

[Black Patch Farm]. (n.d.) Retrieved from



Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn (2015) Archaeology Essentials. 3rd edition. Thames & Hudson, New York.

Lu, H., Yang, X., Ye, M., Liu, K., Xia, Z., Ren, X., . . . Tung-Sheng, L. (13 October 2005). Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China. Nature, 437, 967-968. doi: 10.1038/437967a

Cunliffe, B. (2006). Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest. Retrieved from–kStS3fnwk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiB76nKlbnWAhVD04MKHUzmDUIQ6AEIZzAN#v=onepage&q=bronze%20age%20farm%20at%20black%20patch%20England%20wheat&f=false

Bruck, J. (2002). Bronze Age Landscapes: Tradition and Transformation. Retrieved from

Keys, D. (2016, July 13). Discovery of vast treasure trove of fine textiles shows importance of fashion to Bronze Age Britons. Independent. Retrieved from