Conflict archaeology

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Conflict archaeology is a sub-discipline within archaeology focused on intergroup and intragroup conflict. Closely linked to battlefield archaeology and Military Sites Archaeology, conflict archaeology is developing[1] as an umbrella sub-discipline that encompasses these others, allowing for greater epistemological elasticity than other terms. Modern conflict archaeology deals with technological, social, cultural, psychological aspects of present conflicts. Unlike battlefield archaeology, modern conflict archaeology delves deeper into the anthropological study of the conflicts rather than the physical manifestations of the battles.As stated by Nicholas Saunders in his book entitled Beyond the Dead Horizon, "These complexities are generated partly by nature of modern wars/conflicts of industrialized intensity and they incorporate political and nationalistic motivations and notions of ethnicity and identity." [2]

In order to understand the modern-day conflict, it is important to recognize two fundamental issues:

1. Realize that each conflict is a multifaceted issue which incorporates many anthropological contexts of involved populations.

2. In order to understand the actual conflict, one must understand all facets of the motivating issues and their layers of conflict.

As stated by Saunders,"This multitude of issues makes modern conflict sites...multi-layered landscapes...that require robust interdisciplinary approaches."(Saunders, pg. x). Conflict archaeology addresses any type of issue regardless of size or effect, more importantly the residual effects felt from the conflict itself upon the surrounding populations. "In this view the constantly shifting multidimensional aftermaths of conflict are as important as the conflict themselves." [3]

Conflict archaeology is most strongly followed by some historical archaeologists in the United States and archaeologists of all time periods in Europe. Significant studies of conflict in North America predating the arrival of Europeans have been done, but these works are largely situated within regional, not thematic literature.

A Case Study: The Bare Bones; body parts and conflict behavior[edit]

Within Saunders work, Susannah Callow's paper is presented as she analyzes the ole in which body parts of the deceased act as key indicators of complex narratives of individual experiences during a conflict (i.e. politics, social status, personal memento etc.) as stated by allowing, "...the body is central to human experiences of modern warfare...material and human destruction...becomes a way of living material form to discourse and the body in pain is a vital component in battle to assert meaning and authority."[4]

Essentially our bodies act as physical manifestations of past conflicts. The physical effects that violence inflicts upon our bodies are allowed for the characterization of the surrounding conflict which was participated in. Our bodies tell us the human interaction enacted and the course of the conflict, whether one side was dominated in regards to another, based on physical evidence. As Callow states, "Permanent wounds such as scars or missing body parts convey messages about the success or failure of casing wounds to one another...and the military success of the individual who carries out such acts."[5] A primary component is that of dehumanization. "Dehumanization is the psychological term describing a process of denying the humanity or human characteristic of an individual/subgroup" Dehumanization is evident via acts of mutilation and is often revealed by the manner in which the dead are killed. This psychological process leads to the lack of restraint and often incites the celebration of death. Therefore, this is often illustrated by mass killings, genocides, use and disuse of parts and body part artifact construction. There are two major components of the dehumanization perspective:

1. Body parts are equivalent to material culture This is expressed in the lynchings of the south in the late 18th century. These lynchings often featured a crowd oftentimes which would take and sell body parts of the deceased. These actions, as Callow states, "...conferred the stakes of belonging to the 'correct' group"[6]

2. Deceased Individuals are viewed as waste. For example, Nazi concentration camps often referred to the Jews as "loads or "merchandise" and resulted in the victims loss of identity. This is further emphasized as they were marked with numbers and herded like cattle. In the end disposal of their bodies were often mechanical oftentimes lacking proper post-mortem practices. Also, the deceased body parts were often used to create various commodities. For example, skulls were collected and sold for profit, skin was used to make leather and human fat was used to make soap. Therefore, it is through these examples that we realize that modern day conflicts are not limited to the battles and wars, but the psychological and anthropological interactions between various populations and the underlying motivations it exposes.


  1. ^ Farrell, Nancy (29 March 2011). "Historic Battlefields: Studying and Managing Fields of Conflict". In Thomas F. King. A Companion to Cultural Resource Management. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-1-4443-9605-8. Retrieved 30 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Saunders, Nicholas (2012). Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. p. x. ISBN 978-1-84217-471-5. 
  3. ^ Saunders, Nicholas (2012). Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. p. xi. ISBN 978-1-84217-471-5. 
  4. ^ Saunders, Nicholas (2012). Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1-84217-471-5. 
  5. ^ Saunders, Nicholas (2012). Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-84217-471-5. 
  6. ^ Saunders, Nicholas (2012). Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-1-84217-471-5.