Archaeology and Conflict: An Impossible Relationship?

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Archaeology and Conflict: An Impossible Relationship?

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Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites


Stone, Peter

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Abstract: This paper first reviews the ways in which archaeologists identify conflict in the distant past using the examples of excavations at Hambledon Hill and Maiden Castle in the UK, and notes how it is an impersonal, generic understanding of what happened: interpretation immediately requires significant inference. Such inference places a significant responsibility on the interpreter. A similar responsibility lies with archaeologists working on the use, and misuse, of the past in more recent conflicts — and the paper briefly touches on these responsibilities in relation to the Second World War, former Yugoslavia, Ayodhya and Great Zimbabwe. These general responsibilities relating to the interpretation of conflict, which often require the identification of false interpretation, are then focused by reference to the author's work in the identification and attempted protection of the cultural heritage in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. The author proposes that it is an equal part of the responsibility of archaeologists and other cultural heritage experts to protect the cultural heritage in the event of conflict just as it is to protect the heritage from development in peacetime. Protection is only sensible, however, if that which is protected is used. The paper concludes with a discussion of the formal and informal educational value of archaeology, through formal school curricula and tourism, suggesting that qualified, responsible interpretation of the archaeological record and the acknowledgement of the limitations of archaeological inference when dealing with the evidence of past conflict may be a small contribution to the creation of an environment of peace.

Additional tags: archaeology of conflict; responsible interpretation of the past; cultural heritage


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