2015 is a year of anniversaries: the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the 70th anniversary of VJ Day, and we’re still in the midst of the centenary commemorations of WWI. Archaeologists have been marking these anniversaries in the best way they know how: by excavating war sites.
Conflict Archaeology – the archaeology of 20th and 21st century conflict – has been a growth area in the discipline since the year 2000, and more and more archaeologists have been developing an interest in the subject and defecting from their previous specialities in other areas of the discipline. This is also true for me: in 2006 I moved from Iron Age and Roman Archaeology to Conflict Archaeology, and have been spending much time analysing the archaeology, heritage and memory of the German occupation of WWII.
As my students will know, I spend a lot of time in the Channel Islands, where I have been doing fieldwork for nearly a decade now. In fact, I have just returned from a pilot project to explore the WWI POW camp in St Brelade in Jersey. After receiving seed funding from the Société Jersiaise, I invited my colleagues Professors Harold Mytum and Nick Saunders to join me in Jersey where we had a lot of fun wandering around the site in the rain, spotting the foundations and barrack hut stilts of the former camp.
We also excavated a test pit in an area which might have been the rubbish heap of the camp. It always amuses me how ridiculously happy archaeologists can get about rubbish pits! We spent an exciting afternoon getting soaked to the skin excavating a test pit and exclaiming over the old Jersey stoneware cider bottles we found.
In the spring of this year I directed the second season of excavation at Lager Wick, a forced labour camp in Jersey, dating from 1942-1944. Although the rubbish pit of this camp was not accessible, my team explored the camp latrine and what I reckon was the mess hut of the guards, which burnt down in 1944. I found (among many other things) the base of a Nazi mug complete with eagle and swastika, the button from a guard’s uniform, a schnapps glass, a cuff-link, and a spoon handle.
Excavating is incredibly addictive. In some ways it’s like panning for gold – once you start scraping away at the surface of the soil, you can’t stop! I hope that students on the ICE Diploma in Archaeology discovered the same sense of discovery in their summer excavation module.
This coming year, the Diploma in Archaeology will offer a course in Conflict Archaeology, and I look forward to showing the students the results of my excavations in addition to work being done by other archaeologists in the field. We also run an Advanced Diploma in Archaeology at ICE, and I always look forward to welcoming students with a project in Conflict Archaeology. The deadline for signing up for our courses is 7 September 2015 – see you in October!
Dr Gilly Carr, ICE University Senior Lecturer and Academic Director in Archaeology