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Historical Archaeology of Military Sites

Method and Topic

Edited by Clarence R. Geier, Lawrence E. Babits, Douglas D. Scott, and David G. Orr

Publication Year: 2011

The recent work of anthropologists, historians, and historical archaeologists has changed the very essence of military history. While once preoccupied with great battles and the generals who commanded the armies and employed the tactics, military history has begun to emphasize the importance of the “common man” for interpreting events. As a result, military historians have begun to see military forces and the people serving in them from different perspectives.   The Historical Archaeology of Military Sites has encouraged efforts to understand armies as human communities and to address the lives of those who composed them. Tying a group of combatants to the successes and failures of their military commanders leads to a failure to understand such groups as distinct social units and, in some instances, self-supporting societies: structured around a defined social and political hierarchy; regulated by law; needing to be supplied and nurtured; and often at odds with the human community whose lands they occupied, be they those of friend or foe. The Historical Archaeology of Military Sites will afford students, professionals dealing with military sites, and the interested public examples of the latest techniques and proven field methods to aid understanding and conservation of these vital pieces of the world’s heritage.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

The title of this text relates to issues concerning the methods and topics pursued by historical archaeologists as they address the study of military history and the evaluation of military sites. We do not suggest that this inquiry is new, nor do we suggest that the contents of this book are all-inclusive or an end unto themselves. As the walrus said, however, we believe that practitioners of historical archaeology of military sites have achieved the methodological and topical...

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Section One: Historical-Archaeological Methods and the Documentation, Analysis, and Interpretation of Military Sites

The selection of methods applied to conducting research is logically and inextricably tied to the question(s) that are being addressed. The seven chapters that follow focus on particular categories of method and technique, and their applicability in addressing a range of questions within the modern context of the historical archaeology of military sites. While varying somewhat in...

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Chapter One: A Historian's Role at the Snake Hill Excavations, Ontario, Canada

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pp. 3-9

Archaeologists frequently encounter military sites containing physical evidence that lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The historical paper trail can set this material in a context that narrows possible explanations and interpretations. Historians and archaeologists working together often have a multiplier effect on each other, greatly enhancing and clarifying their respective insights and conclusions. In this dialogue the military historian brings knowledge of the doctrines...

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Chapter Two: Some Recommendations and Applications

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pp. 11-20

Historical archaeologists are well-schooled in the traditional methods of visual walkovers, shovel test pitting, trenching, and cutting sharply defined excavation units and using rake, hoe, brush, screen, and trowel. While these traditional methods remain important, tools for remotely sensing the presence and placement of subsurface objects and structural features can...

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Chapter Three: Using Forensic Techniques in Archaeological Investigations to Investigate Military Remains

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pp. 21-29

The history of medical theory and practice is evolutionary and mirrors the greater culture in which it exists. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, American and European medical training evolved from essentially an apprenticeship form of education to a highly scientific and university-based process (Bonner 1995). Like all scientific practice during that time, medical...

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Chapter Four: Battlefield Archaeology and Forensic Sites

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pp. 31-38

Archaeologists are continually stretching the time limits in which they can effectively examine battlefields. Initially, a domain of historic archaeology, more and more prehistoric archaeologists are identifying and examining fields of conflict created before the historic record. Other archaeologists are working on the other end of the time continuum, examining evidence from...

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Chapter Five: Maritime Archaeology of Naval Battlefields

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pp. 39-56

Battlefield archaeology is fundamentally about looking beyond individual sites and small-scale activity areas to larger contexts. These larger contexts encompass a series of events and human behaviors that may have a very short time span but that typically involve larger areas than most archaeologists consider when looking at sites. This fact is particularly interesting...

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Chapter Six: Theoretical and Practical Approaches to Investigating Civil War Campsites

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pp. 57-73

During the five years of the American Civil War (1861-65) there was a dramatic shift in the cultural and physical landscapes in much of the United States. Where armies where present, landscapes were drastically altered and archeological sites created. These sites range from monolithic fortifications and battlefields to small artifact scatters denoting a lone soldier's...

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Chapter Seven: The Role of Geophysical Survey and Archaeology in Interpreting the Buried Fortifications at Petersburg, Virginia

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pp. 75-82

Since the early 1970s, the now invisible trench lines and fortifications at Petersburg have been successfully revealed through broad applications of geophysical prospecting followed by selected excavation. Other still extant earthworks have been mapped and explored archaeologically. This chapter builds on these achievements and places the Petersburg campaign...

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Section Two: Topics in the Historical Archaeology of Military Sites

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pp. 83-85

As the first set of articles introduced the reader to certain methodologies inherent in the current application of historical archaeology to military sites, the second set of twelve papers introduces the ever-widening topics that serve to define the field. As noted earlier, there is a direct interplay between technique and research question. As new tools have been added to...

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Chapter Eight: Examining and Interpreting the Debris of Battle

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pp. 87-98

The ground at Civil War battlefields is filled with patterned debris from infantry and artillery engagements. As such, the deposits found at these landscapes are ripe for archaeologists seeking to decipher the material signature of warfare. What belies this seemingly easily harvested cache of information is the process of moving from artifacts to actions, i.e. the combat that...

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Chapter Nine: Dissecting Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Battlefields: Two Case Studies from the Jacobite Rebellions in Scotland

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pp. 99-111

Given that a survey has identified no less than 358 battlefields and skirmish sites in Scotland (Foard and Perdita 2005:7), it may seem surprising that few of them have been subjected to archaeological investigation, although perhaps not so much so when one considers that the practice of battlefield archaeology in the United Kingdom as a whole is a very recent phenomenon.

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Chapter Ten: Patterning in Earthen Fortifications

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pp. 113-121

Earthen fortifications have been utilized for centuries. Anglo-Americans can look to the defenses at Maiden Castle, the Antonine Wall, Offa's Dyke, and the English Civil War for ancestors of pre-1865 American works, albeit with later French influence. More recent examples can be found in World War I trench lines and dugouts, hundreds of foxholes dug by Allied and...

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Chapter Eleven: Examples from Virginia and West Virginia

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pp. 123-133

In this article we discuss research methods to locate and further investigate eighteenth century frontier forts in present West Virginia and western Virginia. A background context for these forts illustrates their position in the frontier settlement landscape. These forts were generally built by local citizens, county militia, or provincial soldiers, or a combination of...

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Chapter Twelve: A New Challenge for Battlefield Archaeologists

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pp. 135-147

This excerpt from "In Flanders Fields," by Canadian army physician and poet John McRay (1872-1918) is without doubt one of the most famous and moving war poems. "In Flanders Fields" is also the name of a museum in Ypres (Ieper) and the American War Cemetery at Waregem, where 368 Americans who died at the end of the First World War (1914-18) are buried. Ypres...

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Chapter Thirteen: History, Archaeology, and the Battle of Balaclava (Crimea, 1854)

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pp. 149-164

The "fog of war" is an axiom that explains the confusion that goes with a military engagement, where combat chaos frequently causes confusing, if not contradictory, recollections. Historians attempt to reconcile evidence and make sense of what happened to produce a rational, "acceptable" version of events. Their purpose is often as much to attribute blame as...

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Chapter Fourteen: Cultural Landscapes and Collateral Damage: Fredericksburg and Northern Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in the Civil War

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pp. 165-176

On 12 August 1864, Private Marion Epperly of the 54th Virginia Infantry manning the defenses of Atlanta, Georgia, stated the following: "They [the Union] keep shelling the town study/They have all most runed the plase with shells: they have kild and wounded a great many women and children/I can tell you they see very hard times and are in a grate deel of...

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Chapter Fifteen: Naval Battlefields as Cultural Landscapes: The Siege of Yorktown

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pp. 177-187

The term cultural landscape, when applied to military sites, typically refers to battlefields or encampments. Even though "landscape" implies a terrestrial setting, the concept is equally valid for describing and analyzing naval battles. In fact, most naval battles were fought near land and were almost always associated with complex multi-national political conflicts.

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Chapter Sixteen: The Maple Leaf: Wreck Site of a Civil War Transport Ship

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pp. 189-196

Sunken ships are a unique archaeological resource. In many cases, they can be dated to a fairly close time period, if not a specific event. More importantly, the material culture associated with a ship represents a data assemblage, related in time and space. Others have called wrecks a time capsule (Muckleroy 1978:56). The concept of a shipwreck as a time capsule means...

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Chapter Seventeen: Naval Monuments and Memorials: Symbols in a Contested Landscape

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pp. 197-207

Memorials represent a form of material culture that both intentionally and unintentionally reflect the ideologies and values of those who create them. Intentionally because people consciously use memorials to convey ideals: patriotism, honor, and sacrifice, to name but a few. But memorials also encode unconscious messages that their creators may not be aware...

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Chapter Eighteen: "We Must Act Under Our Own Chiefs According to our Own Customs": Understanding Indigenous Military Archaeology

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pp. 209-218

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, war was waged both among northern Iroquoian-speaking groups and between them and some of their Algonquian-speaking neighbors (fig. 18.1). The region occupied by Northern Iroquoians constitutes most of what is now known as southern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, New York, and northern Pennsylvania. The term "Iroquoian" should not be confused with...

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Chapter Nineteen: Tragedy of the Nez Perce War of 1877: An Archaeological Expression

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pp. 219-228

The year of 1877 was tragic for the Nez Perce. Broken promises, misunderstood treaties, and conservative factions on both sides caused open warfare between the Nez Perce and the U.S. government. In July, the Nez Perce fled Idaho, at first to find refuge in Montana and then, in a final desperate bid for freedom, they attempted to reach Canada. This trek became...


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pp. 229-243


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pp. 245-268


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pp. 269-281

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443104
E-ISBN-10: 160344310X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442077
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442073

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 69 b&w photos. 15 maps. 35 line art. 3 figs. 2 tables.
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1, Original TAMU Press edited volume

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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology and history -- Case studies.
  • Military archaeology -- Case studies.
  • Archaeology -- Methodology -- Case studies.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Case studies.
  • Military history -- Case studies.
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