Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Journal Of Conflict Archaeology Reveals The Hidden Graves Of The Holocaust

An article in the most recent issue of Journal of Conflict Archaeology (Volume 7.2) entitled ‘Holocaust Archaeology: Archaeological Approaches to Landscapes of Nazi Genocide and Persecution’ by forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls explores the pioneering changes made to the archaeological methodology and techniques used to uncover surviving archaeological remains and landscapes of the Holocaust.

Layout of Nazi Concentration Camp Treblinka
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-F0918-0201-001, KZ Treblinka, Lageplan (Zeichnung) II.jpg 

Debate concerning the events of the Holocaust is well embedded in the historical discourse and, thus, clearly defined narratives of this period exist. However, in most European countries the Holocaust has only recently begun to be considered in terms of its surviving archaeological remains and landscapes, and the majority of known sites are still ill-defined and only partially understood from both spatial structural points of view

The article discusses a number of case studies, including one conducted by the author on Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi Germany occupied Poland which operated between 23 July 1942 and 17 November 1943. During this time over 800,000 Jews were executed at the camp. Remnants of this period in history remain undocumented or ill-defined and it is Colls’ aim is to rectify this using non-invasive techniques.

A mass grave in Treblinka opened in March 1943; the bodies were removed for burning. In the background, dark grey piles of ash from cremated bodies can be seen 
Credit: Wikipedia

Additionally, thousands of sites across Europe remain unmarked, whilst the locations of others have been forgotten altogether. Such a situation has arisen as a result of a number of political, social, ethical, and religious factors which, coupled with the scale of the crimes, has often inhibited systematic search. 

The article details the subsequent development and application of a non-invasive archaeological methodology aimed at rectifying this situation and presents a case for the establishment of Holocaust archaeology as a sub-discipline of conflict studies. In particular, the importance of moving away from the notion that the presence of historical sources precludes the need for the collection of physical evidence is stressed, and the humanitarian, scientific, academic, and commemorative value of exploring this period is considered.

The study was undertaken with the utmost care so as not to disturb or desecrate the surrounding area, in line with Jewish Halacha Law. Geophysical tools were used at the site including ground penetrating radar to send pulses into the earth to document reflections and resistance surveys were used to detect solid structures by passing an electrical current through the ground with probes.

Another case study is that of a smaller site in Alderney in the Channel Islands. The article provides insight into the events of the Holocaust, argues that Holocaust archaeology should be studied as an established sub-discipline within conflict studies, and also highlights the importance of the study of this period in history.

Colls concludes within the article ‘Archaeological research has the potential to both complement and supplement existing histories of this period; in some cases it will act to reaffirm historical accounts, in others it will reveal information that cannot be derived from documentary evidence.’

The Journal of Conflict Archaeology is devoted to battlefield and military archaeology and other spheres of conflict archaeology, covering all periods with a worldwide scope. Additional fields of interest include the archaeology of industrial and popular protest, contested landscapes and monuments, nationalism and colonialism, class conflict, the origins of conflict, forensic applications in war-zones, and human rights cases.

For more information visit www.maney.co.uk/journals/jca
The full article is available online at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/jca/2012/00000007/00000002/art00002
Full bibliographic information Journal of Conflict Archaeology
Volume 7 (2012), 3 issues per year
Print ISSN: 1574-0773
Online ISSN: 1574-0781

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