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Course "The Great War:The archaeology of the first of the 20th ce


Brian Curragh
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As I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere on the Forum - the Continuing Education Department at Oxford University are holding a one day course on the above.

Full details can be found here Course details.

The agenda is as follows :

  • Trench Art: Material culture and the anthropological dimensions of Great War Archaeology - Dr Nicholas Saunders
  • "...We shall certainly change the geography": soldiers, civilians and the Battle of Messines - Richard Osgood & Martin Brown
  • Imaging Golgotha - Aerial photographs and trench maps of the Western Front - Peter Chasseaud
  • Trains, Trenches, and Tents: the archaeology of Lawrence of Arabia's war - Dr Neil Faulkner
  • “Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime": The role of archaeology and the missing dead of the Great War - Jon Price

...with the Forum well represented.

If anyone is going, it would be good to put names to faces.

Brian

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While I cannot put names to faces for the forum I can highly recommend Jon Price, Peter Chasseaud, Richard Osgood & Martin Brown from personal experience. I worked with these gentlemen recently in Belgium, several of them more than once (Plugstreet, Loos and Serre). They not only have a wealth of information but are quite informative, friendly and personable.

I can say that in the short time I spent with Jon and Martin especially I learned a great deal about archaeology and how it relates to Great War sites. All of these men are what I would consider experts in the field and worth the effort to see or in this case to hear them at the course.

Ralph

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  • 1 month later...

Just a reminder for anyone attending that the above course takes place this Saturday - anyone else from the Forum planning to be there?

Brian

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Sounds a great course Brian, covering a good range which seems to have gotten away from the usual run of the mill stuff. Look forward to reading your impressions afterward.

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sadley no, as from what i understand its sold out. however i did attend the recent day school at birmingham university's centre for first world war studies on a similar topic. there werte several members of the forum there, although some missed each other as no one had a badge on, and others had no badge. however a great day, maybe a bit of promotion from more than myself would have been good, but most informative.

matt

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Hi Ralph,

Could you tell me a bit more about the work in Serre that you've mentioned. Was it a full-blown scientific archaeology project? Were there any Belgians involved? Where exactly was the excavation work done?

I've visited Serre about ten times by now and I keep on discovering new information and insights.

Kindest regards,

Bart Debeer

Bruges, Belgium

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Hello Bart,

The work at Serre that I was involved in took place in 2005 I believe. It was a very well organized dig on a section of farm land that was no longer being used due to the excessive amount of war materials causing tire blowouts, etc. In fact the field was now owned by a Belgian family that came to the Somme after the war because their land had been utterly destroyed in Belgium (from memory).

There were a number of trained archaeologists, historians, archaeology students, and others with specific backgrounds needed for this type of work. It was well planned, watched under the eyes of the French authorities, etc. and the finds, progress, etc. were monitored and recorded as we were digging. There were two Belgian students of Archaeology there at the time, or I believe they were students at the time, again from memory. I am not sure of their current status but I suspect they have passed on to be full fledged archaeologists now. There were people from the U.S., Canada, England and Germany in addition to the Belgian students.

The location was just behind the small French chapel near the Serre Road No. 2 British cemetery and across the street from the large French cemetery on the same road. We located quite a few features of the German trench system including intact trench duck boards in a communication trench leading to the Bayern Graben. Overall it was a fascinating experience where I was fortunate to be able to meet some very nice people as well as learning something about archaeology, techniques, etc. I was able to provide a small bit of the overall project with historical details. From working with these men, and women, I have great admiration for their dedication to the profession and to the project.

My biggest regret is not being able to take part in actual digs more often. My last attempt was a bit difficult as it seems I had torn cartilage in my knee shortly before going over so it made even simple movements quite painful and there is no shortage of walking, hard digging and such at each location.

I hope this helps a bit.

Ralph

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Sounds a great course Brian, covering a good range which seems to have gotten away from the usual run of the mill stuff. Look forward to reading your impressions afterward.

George

I will be taking my notebook & will report back.

Regards

Brian

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I'll also be going along with my girlfriend (more of an archaeology buff than me) and even my mum showed an interest so a bit of a family outing for us!

Regards

Richard

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Richard

Sorry we didn't meet up - I was surprised at how any there were there - must have been 120 at a rough guess. Where were you sitting?

I will post up some brief notes on the talks tomorrow - but for now, suffice to say it was an excellent day!

Regards

Brian

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We were sat right at the back on the right hand side. I think I my have spotted you with the forum badge in the distance at one point but didn't see you again so was a shame.

I enjoyed the day and the subjects but that room was soooo hot!

Regards

Richard

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  • 2 weeks later...

As mentioned, attached below are the course organiser's descriptions for the 5 talks at Oxford. I have the recommended reading lists for each talk if anyone wants the details. In summary, a very enjoyable & thought provoking set of talks - so congratulations to the organisers and speakers.

Trench Art: Material culture and the anthropological dimensions of Great War Archaeology - Dr Nicholas Saunders

Trench art is the name given to 3D objects associated with conflict. Made by soldiers, civilians, POWs and internees, it takes its name from the trenches of the First World War, though can be applied to any conflict, anywhere, and at any time. Items can be made out of stone, bone, wood or textile but it is those fashioned from the recycled weapons of modern industrialised warfare that are most famous. Objects made from bullets or scrap metals and decorated artillery shell cases are iconic and the most common examples of First World War trench art. We will look at this variety, to see how they reveal the diversity of war experiences of those who made and acquired them. As such objects are embedded in the social landscapes that produced them they are inextricably a part of the new and anthropologically influenced archaeology of twentieth-century war. Trench art is a response to conflict and the momentous upheavals it brings. In its strange shapes and forms lay hidden worlds of meaning and emotion that connect people to places and memories to experiences.

"...We shall certainly change the geography": soldiers, civilians and the Battle of Messines - Richard Osgood & Martin Brown

Less than a year after the slaughterhouse of the Somme, British forces achieved a swift and unqualified victory over the Germans, seizing the Messines Ridge. Recent excavations on the 1917 Messines battlefield and at locations in the UK have sought to explore the effectiveness of training during the Great War and to follow units from training to the Front. In addition associated work has considered how both battle honours and tactical ideas traveled back to the training camp, informing tactical preparations. However this project has not concentrated exclusively on the remains of one action, rather it has investigated the landscape context in which the battle was fought and should be regarded. From this perspective the battle is one moment in a longer story…

Imaging Golgotha - Aerial photographs and trench maps of the Western Front - Peter Chasseaud

Aerial photos (APs), trench maps and mining plans are “the paper landscape” of the Western Front. Trenches and other tactical features shown on trench maps were plotted from APs onto a topographical base map. This involved restitution (geo-referencing). Accuracy was crucial, for if the detail was out of its true position then so were the trenches, mortars, machine gun posts and artillery batteries. The Field Survey Companies based the maps on the 19th century national surveys of Belgium and France, plus compilation of cadastral plans and air survey. The map was a 3D matrix of firing data (which could be calculated when guns and targets fixed to the grid), and was part of the weapons system. The interpretation of APs, which developed hugely during the Great War, was crucial to Intelligence and the making of the trench map.

Trains, Trenches, and Tents: the archaeology of Lawrence of Arabia's war - Dr Neil Faulkner

In contrast to the attritional trench warfare on the major fronts of the First World War, the Arab Revolt in Arabia and Syria between 1916 and 1918 was an extreme form of asymmetrical warfare, in which small numbers of highly mobile and lightly equipped guerillas waged war against the regular forces of the Ottoman Empire. The effectiveness of the Arab insurgents in this conflict has been debated ever since. Pioneering archaeology in the deserts of Southern Jordan is now revealing an extensively militarized landscape that implies something more than “a sideshow of a sideshow”. The implication is that thousands of Ottoman troops were dispersed across the landscape and tied down in static defensive bases in a wide-ranging war without fronts against an invisible but all pervasive enemy. The Arab Revolt turns out to have been a prototype for “people’s war” – with T E Lawrence its seminal theorist – that is, war of a kind that has since shaped much of the history of the 20th century, and which continues to shape that of the early 21st.

“Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime": The role of archaeology and the missing dead of the Great War - Jon Price

The number of missing dead on the Western Front dealt with by forensic excavation and investigation can be counted in the tens. The number gathered together in bags by non-archaeologist is considerably greater. Even greater is the number whose remains are discarded, reburied, or in at least one case stored, without informing the authorities.

There are still millions of bodies awaiting discovery. Taking the UK and Empire as an example, 244,467 soldiers are buried in graves with their name inscribed on the headstone. A much greater number, 409,774 are simply listed on monuments as missing. Of these missing men 138,201 soldiers are buried in unnamed graves as unknown soldiers, leaving 271,573 with no known grave. The numbers for France and Germany are significantly greater. Archaeologists working on the Great War sites must address this issue.

The title of this talk is taken from Siegfried Sassoon’s poem written on the opening of the Menin Gate memorial at Ieper. The concerted study of this subject is only now beginning.

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