History Book Reviews

Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology – Nicholas J. Saunders (Ed.)

The study of modern conflict archaeology is a relatively new and developing discipline, and interest is growing in this subject. It is now possible to formally study the subject of modern conflict archaeology at degree level at certain universities.

Beyond the Dead Horizon is formed from a selection of collated studies by students studying at Bristol University and is edited by Dr Nicholas J. Saunders. The book contains eighteen chapters detailing a wide range of subjects. Whilst much practical archaeology is conducted on actual battlefield sites, a lot of academic study is also carried out off site. The subject is also studied academically, including from a more anthropological stance.

Normally conflict archaeology is covered by focussing on the actual battlefields themselves. This book concentrates more on the non-battlefield aspects of the discipline, listing work on subjects such as memorials, artefacts and aspects of training. Amongst the wide range of subjects covered are studies of a First World War diary written by a British soldier – Rifleman William Albert Muggeridge of the London Irish Rifles. The writing of personal dairies was strictly forbidden during the First World War, so this forms a fascinating resource. The diary also benefits from illustrations drawn by William, some of which are included in the book.

Also featured is a study of a First World War battlefield model located in Staffordshire, created to train soldiers before they were sent to the Western Front to fight. Fabricated of concrete, the model, a representation of the Messines battlefield, was re-discovered as part of an archaeological project in 2007.

New areas of archaeology are also studied. For many years soldiers have carved their names into trees in spare moments; carvings still exist today in many locations where troops were billeted or trained. Such carvings are now studied as a specialist area. Some specific examples still exist on Salisbury Plain and it has been possible, with research, to establish the identities and subsequent history of some the original carvers.

As well as featuring the better-known conflicts, the book also covers conflict areas less well documented. These include work on the Chaco War (a war fought in the early 1930s between Bolivia and Paraguay), aspects of the Boer War and the Cold War.

The book is based on academic studies carried out by the contributors and, as such, the chapters are written in a largely academic format. The book would be a useful aid to those thinking of studying modern conflict archaeology or to anybody interested in the subject who intends to study the subject at a detailed level.

Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.

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