Archaeology of Warfare Today

War leaves scars; not only to humans, but to the physical landscape as well. Weapons, bullets, bodies, and destroyed buildings are just some of the remains that signify war. These remains are noticeable many years after their deposition, allowing archaeologists to study warfare of past civilizations. Such warfare archaeology “can provide a… context for… the inevitability of war and its role in modern civilization” [4, pg. 60]. Hamoukar is one such archaeological site that cannot only tell us a great deal about past warfare but can also teach important lessons for today.

Above is an aerial photograph of Hamoukar which provides archaeologists a better view and interpretation of the site [1].

Above is an aerial photograph of Hamoukar which provides archaeologists a better view and interpretation of the site [1].

        Hamoukar in northeastern Syria provides evidence for one of the earliest major battles in history, dating to 3,500 B.C. Archaeologists uncovered destroyed walls and buildings with approximately 1,200 sling missiles strewn throughout the site. Furthermore, Uruk pottery was found that arrived shortly after the war meaning that the Uruk civilization was likely the conqueror. This shows that Hamoukar actually developed independently of the Uruk, shining light on a new theory about the beginnings of civilization. [5]

The above image shows various sling-fired missiles found at Hamoukar. The deformed ones resulted from impact after hitting a building or wall. [2]

The above image shows various sling-fired missiles found at Hamoukar. The deformed ones resulted from impact after hitting a building or wall. [2]

        Warfare archaeology in Hamoukar not only reveals direct information, such as who fought the battle and what remains of it, but can also detail the effects of warfare on culture and landscape. At approximately the same time of the military battles in 3,500 B.C., Hamoukar civilization already started to urbanize from high agricultural production.  Archaeological evidence shows remains of canals and dams used to irrigate fields. Once war struck these areas, such technologies were not lost but continued to grow. By 2,500 B.C. this area reached a level of urbanism “never again achieved in this area” [3, pg. 67]. Archaeology can unlock these techniques for efficient agricultural production in harsh conditions and provide a means for people today to make better use of land possibly leading to less crowded cities and a richer population. [3]

These uses of archaeology can also be applied to warfare today. The current Syrian conflict gives archaeologists a new way to look at Hamoukar. Ironically, archaeologists are currently unable to excavate the warfare aspect of Hamoukar due to today’s Syrian conflict. Unanswered questions that can help today’s conflict include how warfare in Hamoukar affected the Syrian landscape. How did the Hamoukar war affect agriculture? How did that conflict change people’s professions and how did it change people’s relationships with the land? Warfare archaeology uniquely studies an aspect of culture that has occurred for thousands of years. In both settings, two groups of people fought, buildings were destroyed, and remains of struggle were left behind. The only difference between these wars is a 5,500 year gap; people then and now still live on the same land and the archaeology of warfare can look at past people’s struggles to provide solutions to living harmoniously today.



[1] Reichel, Clemens D. Figure 1. Digital image. Annual Reports 2005-2006. The                            Hamoukar Expedition, 2006. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <                  06_Hamoukar.pdf>.

[2] Reichel, Clemens D. Figure 17. Digital image. Annual Reports 2005-2006. The                         Hamoukar Expedition, 2006. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <                 06_Hamoukar.pdf>.

[3] Reichel, Clemens D. “Hamoukar.” Annual Reports 2005-2006. The Hamoukar                           Expedition, 2006. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <                                   06_Hamoukar.pdf>.

[4] Sabloff, Jeremy A. Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World.                  Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2008. Print.

[5] Wilford, John Noble. “Archaeologists Unearth a War Zone 5,500 Years Old.” The New           York Times. The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2005. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.                                 <>.

Crime Scene Archaeology

Though one won’t find crime tape around an archaeological site, these two disciplines have many similarities (“Crime-scene-tape”).

Though one won’t find crime tape around an archaeological site, these two disciplines have many similarities (“Crime-scene-tape”).

You won’t find your favorite television detective like Adrian Monk or CSI investigators scouring an ancient Egyptian site. Similarly, archaeologists with their khakis and trowels don’t usually investigate crime-scenes. These two seemingly different fields are surprisingly similar as I learned from an archaeologist’s lecture on a crime-scene photograph taken in 1940s New Jersey.

Archaeologists use objects from the past and people’s interactions with those objects to learn about the past. Crime-scene analysis also uses people’s belongings and how they interacted with them to solve a crime. Below is a photograph of a simple bedroom with a dead body lying on the floor. From the everyday objects found in the room, one can use archaeology to learn about the crime.

This photograph was taken anonymously and has no further background information (Anonymous).

This photograph was taken anonymously and has no further background information (Anonymous).

The deceased’s face cannot be seen; therefore, artifacts in the room can determine who the victim is. Toys hang from a light fixture on the left wall. The artifacts’ provenience (it’s 3D location) shows they aren’t used anymore since they look decorative and are in an inaccessible location. A pipe on his dresser with wear at the mouth-end is in association with an empty ash-tray. If he smoked frequently, the ash-tray would be dirty. These three artifacts show that the victim was likely between 16-20 years old; he is growing out of childhood (toys on the wall) yet doesn’t fully embrace adulthood (an empty ash tray along with a pipe).

Archaeologists can use relative dating (using another item’s age to date something else) to determine when this crime occurred. Two consecutively published Post magazines date the crime-scene to mid-March 1946. On his bed rests a shirt and pants with the belt still in them next to a hanger. The victim is nicely dressed showing that he likely just undressed after returning home from work or school and is preparing for a formal event or job. Nothing is in his hand, the rug shows no sign of struggle, and a letter opener rests on his desk. If the victim fought back, he would likely have grabbed the letter opener as a weapon. The only blood present pools out from his head. He was likely leaning over his bed ready to hang up his clothes when from behind, the murderer struck with something blunt.

Be it 6 hours or 6,000 years ago, archaeologists and crime-scene investigators analyze objects from the past and how people interacted with them to paint a picture of what actually happened. The next time you watch your favorite detective show look for the things used to solve the crime and compare them to artifacts archaeologists study. You’ll often find little difference.

  Works Referenced

Anonymous. 1940s. Photograph. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie,          NY.The Artful Dodger Goes Late Night. Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 2013. Print.

Beisaw, April M. “The Scene of the Crime.” Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. 31 October            2013. Lecture.

Crime-scene-tape. Digital image. 5 REASONS WHY A CRIMINAL JUSTICE ONLINE          DEGREE IS RIGHT FOR YOU. Florida National University, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.

The Thrills of Real Archaeology

Archaeology is not all about artifacts. One of the archaeologist’s most important jobs does not even include touching, let alone taking with them, remnants of the past. This vital part of archaeology is called a “survey” and is phase 1 in any research project [2]. This past week, I was able to participate in an archaeological survey in the Catskill Mountains and experience first-hand the thrills associated with real archaeology.

When New York City turns on the tap, the water that comes out likely originates over 70 miles north in a gigantic man-made lake called the Ashokan Reservoir. One hundred years ago, this reservoir did not exist and the areas surrounding it were cities and pastureland. [1] Below is this area today:


Over the years, New York City bought the land surrounding the reservoir, removed the people living there, and planted thick forests. Our research project tries to find evidence of people who lived near today’s Ashokan Reservoir in order to learn more about their lives, how they lived, and how we can apply this information to today.

Like any archaeological adventure story, my group did not follow a designated path as we traversed the Catskill woods, barging our way through the underbrush. Thirty minutes into the survey, a fellow student spotted a bone. One would logically assume it belonged to some woodland creature like a deer or a raccoon; however, upon closer examination the professor surmised that it may have belonged to a pig. A pig in the rural woods? This type of “ecofact” (a part of nature telling us about a past culture) is the truly exciting part of archaeology [2]. Stereotypical treasure does not always provide insights into past cultures. A simple bone, on the other hand, can provide a wealth of information such as evidence that pigs may have lived on this property. Our group then stumbled upon this stone structure:


At least it seemed to look like this. In reality, we found a stone wall that originally bordered a pasture and looked similar to this:

Stone Wall

Such an immobile structure is formally called a “feature” [2]. Providing no magnificent worth, this feature gave me a thrill greater than discovering any golden treasure or long-lost pyramid. Where I was standing was once populated by farmers. How many cows grazed at my feet? How many people dealt with life’s difficulties in long-abolished houses not far from where I stood? These images and stories of the past whirled through my mind as I saw the lives of those now gone. How did they live? What can we learn from them? These types of questions drive every archaeological project. We learned that the area we surveyed was populated and that people indeed used it as pastureland. Once further archaeological research is done in the areas that seemed to have the greatest activity (such as near the wall), we will be able to know how these people lived and apply this knowledge to better management of the land surrounding the Ashokan Reservoir.

Works Referenced

[1] Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to             Archaeology. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 1988. Print.

[2] “Ashokan.” Watershed Protection. The City of New York, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.             <>.


Rosspilot. Ashokan Reservoir. Digital image. Aerial Photography by Rosspilot. Sky View               Pictures, n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.                                                                                            <                                               pid=258&detail=true#thumb>.

Ziegler, Christian. The Peak of La Danta. Digital image. El Mirador, the Lost City of the                   Maya. Smithsonian, May 2011. Web. <                 archaeology/El-Mirador-the-Lost-City-of-the-Maya.html>.

Digital image. Our Woodlands. Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities, n.d. Web. 5 Oct.             2013.                                                                                                                                         <               s.shtml>.