Modern conflict archaeology

Conflict Anthropology is a growing sub-discipline of Modern Conflict Archaeology, the brainchild of Professor Nicholas J Saunders.

Modern conflict archaeology involves the interdisciplinary study of conflict and its legacies during the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is a powerful response to the complexities of modern conflict, and radically different from traditional Battlefield Archaeology. Conflict archaeology focuses on conflict as a multifaceted phenomenon, whose variety of physical traces possess multiple meanings that change over time. It is not restricted to battlefields, or to large-scale wars between nations, but embraces every kind of conflict and its diversity of social and cultural legacies.

Modern conflict archaeology combines the strengths of many different disciplines: Anthropology, Heritage and Museum Studies, Cultural Geography, Military History and Art History. This hybrid approach recognizes that modern conflicts involve an industrialized intensity, incorporate political and nationalistic motivations, and include notions of ethnicity and identity. Most modern conflicts are within living memory, and require sensitivity in their investigation and presentation to the public. Some sites have human remains, others have become ‘sites of memory’, and still others have developed into politically and economically significant places of cultural heritage and tourism. Beyond battle-zones, the objects and memories of conflict survive in urban landscapes – in museums, peoples’ homes, civic architecture, and as public memorials. All such places embody the experiences of conflict and its aftermath for civilians and soldiers, adults and children alike.

First World War trenches on the Western Front, the shrapnel collecting habits of Second World War children, prisoner-of-war and internment camps, 3-D artworks produced by Vietnam veterans, the wearing of war medals, the heritage of the cold war, the material effects of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the 2003 devastation of Iraq’s peerless archaeology, and the 9/11 destruction of New York’s World Trade Centre, and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, are all manifestations of 20th century conflict. Each possess a distinctive material legacy.

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