Case Study: Objects on the Battlefield

Battlefields represent unique contexts of deposition, not just because of the nature of the artefacts deposited but also the nature of the work that many of them were being put to – the killing of people. Given that an increasing number of archaeological projects carried out on battlefields, and related sites such as forts, have produced a large number of artefacts, many of them in large numbers for the first time, it is imperative that studies of these new classes of material culture are advanced. Experimental archaeology has a key role to play here. For example the use of replica Brown Bess muskets at the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology has made a valuable contribution to current understanding of the properties of musket balls and is now providing an insight into what the various types of damage displayed by them represent (for instance one particular type of impact damage was previously thought to have been caused by the ball striking a bone or other target which created a concave depression as it ‘wrapped’ around it – it is now known that these balls were damaged in this way as they drove their way into stony ground after missing their target). Such artefact studies are new and perhaps going through the same period of development that lithic studies did twenty years ago. This process is however essential, as the basic characteristics of such instruments need to be known before meaningful conclusions can be drawn as to their performance.  

While working on this material it has come as a surprise to discover how little is known  about simple objects such as buttons, which battlefield evidence has shown to take a wide variety of forms This situation needs to change as they have much to say about button production and supply, regional variation and other aspects of the history of costume (including uniforms). In the past these items have only appeared in relatively small numbers on settlements and have been to a large extent ignored.

Battlefield artefacts tend to be viewed exclusively as ‘male’ objects. However, it is important that the relationship between women and the material culture of war is examined– what did they make, carry and use prior to seeing their men off on campaign or joining them on it. Current interests in the concept of materiality are well reflected in approaches to the field of conflict.


Return to Section 6.4 Use, repair and adaptive reuse and discard