Action Stations! Towards an Understanding of the Impact of Militarisation on Twentieth-Century Landscapes

Organiser Jonathan Berry (University of Birmingham)

Conflict in the twentieth century had a profound impact on the landscape which has created a distinctive, rich and diverse archaeological record. The proposed session will focus on conflict as an agency of transformative change in both its constructive and destructive states, as well as its execution, modes of expression, impact and subsequent resonance.

The British government’s prosecution of the philosophical doctrine of offensive deterrence for much of the twentieth century drove a massive construction programme by the armed services and their civilian parent ministries at home and abroad. The construction of a range of new military offensive, defensive and support establishments required the acquisition, alteration, abandonment or destruction of pre-existing landscape features and structures, which were predominantly civilian in character.

This session will provide a forum where the development of conflict archaeology as a specialist area of practice can be assessed and new developments showcased. Papers that explore the theoretical and conceptual dimensions of conflict as an agency of change are sought for this session, particularly those from the recent historical past, although case studies from other periods in time will also be welcome.

They make a wasteland and call it Peace? Stability & Change on the UK Defence Training Estate

Speaker: Martin Brown (MOD Defence Infrastructure Organisation)

Tacitus famously put the words included in the first part of this paper’s title as a statement in the mouth of Calgacus, British war leader at the battle of Mons Graupius. The hapless Calgacus was about to be defeated by a force that understood the value of training its professional armies. Twenty centuries on, Britain’s armed forces train across the landscape of Britain, sometimes on land used for the same purpose by their Roman antecedents. However, while the locations may be the same the training and the destructive power of the weaponry involved has much greater power to “alter the geography” (General Plumer, 1917).

It would be reasonable to suggest that land held by the MOD for training would be a wasteland, riven by shell-fire, dug over by soldiers’ trenches and torn by the tracks of armoured vehicles. However, this is not the case and military training has inadvertently acted as a force for landscape preservation since before the formal designation of special areas of the countryside. As a result of military activity large areas have escaped modern intensive agriculture and significant commercial development, creating a landscape rich in heritage and natural assets. Nevertheless, training areas cannot forget their primary function – to train service personnel – and it is necessary to strike a balance between conservation and military capability. The reputation of British forces is underpinned by good training but this is not done at the expense of the historic landscape.

This paper will seek to explore the tensions inherent in training in heritage-rich landscapes and to understand their deconfliction. It will show how militarisation has left its mark on the land, how this has been mitigated and, above all, how militarisation has served to protect the landscape from modern pressures that beset the world outside the boundaries of the Defence Estate.

Militarizing the ‘Wild’: The Chaco War & its Impact on the Paraguayan Landscape

Speaker: Esther Breithoff (University of Bristol)

The war between Paraguay and Bolivia (1932-1935) over the Chaco, a vast and under-populated semi-arid lowland plain, resulted in the military occupation of a landscape that up until then had primarily been inhabited by groups of indigenous peoples. The militarization of this area consisted of an introduction of sedentary settlements and agriculture, the building of military strongholds, and the appearance of battlefields amidst the thorny shrubs of the Chaco wilderness. It forced soldiers into harsh unfamiliar territory in which thirst and disease threatened their lives more than artillery fire. This paper is an attempt to establish how the introduction of industrialized warfare affected the hunter-gatherer landscape of the Chaco and what challenges both the soldiers and indigenous populations had to face as a consequence. Moreover, the paper will identify the remains of archaeological sites relating to the war and establish the impact the military actions had on the modern day Chaco landscape and the Paraguayan nation.

Halt! Who goes there? Applying theory to Second World War anti-invasion defences

Speaker: Jon Berry (University of Birmingham)

The majority of archaeological studies concerning British Second World War anti-invasion defences focus on the description and technicalities of the tangible defensive systems and their component parts. The intangible experiences of the military and civilian populations are treated less sympathetically. This materiél determination is dangerous as the inhabitants can be reduced to being depicted as helpless drones. Archaeology theory is well placed to illuminate this failing and to offer a re-consideration.

Prior to and immediately after the declaration of war, the government commenced an enormous programme of defence construction. Civilian places were overtly militarized. Inhabitants and combatants were forced to physically and cognitively re-map their relationship with their immediate environment due to the introduction of the threat of violence. Access to – and social practice in – places was disarticulated and re-arranged. Familiar landscapes were undermined and overturned by the threat of fear, violence and uncertainty and the military responses to them.

This paper will examine the application of a range of theoretical concepts to British Second World War anti-invasion defences.

What if I have not excavated there…. Archaeology of a hidden detention (1960-1970), Hamadan, Iran

Speaker: Leila Papoli, Neyshabour University, Iran

The first time my students and I went to the faculty basement, it seems that this is years that no one has gone to it, a layer of 30 cm of debris had covered everything. The days after, we changed the perspective of the basement, excavated the remained data buried by soil and the written documents were scattered all over the floor among the debris.

The architectural plan and documents represented that the basement was much older that the first and second floors, the plan and being hidden led us to hypothesize that it was built as a detention in 1960-1970.  Absolutely, the interviews showed that the building has been built and used by SAVAK , Iran 1978 pre revolution security service, to  jail the protesters especially the young students.

The project was stopped when the university found out that the faculty basement has been a detention. What if we have not visited the basement? …it seems that the voice of tutored students of 1960s would be silenced for another long term process.

The author will endorse on the change of landscape by a security service and the process of an architectural space functional change among the last 50 years: a process in which a detention has been changed to a faculty.

Remembering the Cold War: Personal histories & the problem of time when discussing recent archaeological sites

Speaker: Bob Clarke (University of Exeter)

The British Cold War is currently an under investigated, marginalised period, in the study of conflict archaeology. Military orientated initiatives such as the Defence of Britain Project have found national prominence recently however, do not continue past 1945. This chronological ‘buffer’ damages the possibility of assimilating recent archaeology into mainstream study. After all in a period where substantial records are extant is not archaeological study mere tautology? This work considers not.

Work with the public has exposed reasons why the British Cold War, and it’s landscape, is poorly represented in personal histories. Put simply a forty-year period is too broad a timeframe with which to adequately demonstrate historical and educational value. It is anticipated that ongoing research will demand a more chronologically structured discussion when considering the preservation of both material culture and extant, representative, Cold War sites.

The study of Cold War monuments requires an adaptable chronology if they are to be considered relevant. This paper indicates that trends in personal histories are a clear indicator as to how preservation mechanisms should be employed on recent archaeological sites. Even the recent past matters.

A Landscape of Conflict & Exclusion in Africa’s Last Colony

Speaker: Salvatore Garfi (University of East Anglia)

Spain ceded its colony of Spanish Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. This triggered a sixteen year war between the Saharawi people, through the Polisario Front, and Morocco and Mauritania. The Polisario were superb desert fighters, and by 1979, Mauritania gave up its territorial claims while Moroccan forces were pushed into the far northwest of the territory. To regain lost ground, Morocco embarked on an epic programme of military engineering, and from 1980 to 1987, they constructed a series of six highly fortified ramparts, in a series of waves across seventy-five to eighty percent of the country. These earthen ramparts, or berms, totalled approximately 4000 kilometres in length, and they have militarised and partitioned the country with the western part administered by Morocco, and the eastern part administered by the Polisario. However, with most Saharawis presently living in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria, the eastern part, referred to as the ‘Liberated Territories’, has become a liminal zone wherein pastoralism has seen a resurgence, and symbolic assemblies take place, along with a unique arts festival. This paper will examine this divided landscape and look at how the Saharawi people are attempting to re-appropriate their country, often referred to as the last colony in Africa.

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