WW1

From Monumental War to the Monuments of War – Archaeology of the Great War in the Republic of Macedonia

Couple of weeks ago I went on a field trip to Mariovo region (Novaci municipality) for searching the remains of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. Field activities were based on surface prospecting of the Macedonian front remains during the Great War. The visit included the 1050 elevation, the upstream of the Black River (Crna River today or ancient Erigon), the villages Skochivir and Slivnica where the hospitals were settled during the WW1 and the field near the village of Bach which was used by the Air Forces. Immense photo and video documentation for some future research was made.

Oh, no, I am not a historian, nor will ever be engaged in modern history, since I am a prehistoric archaeologist and I love working with stone tools. But I am a director of HAEMUS, which is a very big center for scientific research and promotion of the culture based in Skopje and I manage many projects on different heritage topics, including this one about the WW1.

HAEMUS_field_trip_First_World_War_Macedonia

Regarding the Great War, I could surely say that Republic of Macedonia is definitely an open-air museum. “Eastern Front”, known under many names in historical records but mostly as “Macedonian front”, has great importance for the history of Macedonia and the Balkans. I’ve had to pass through hard battles in the last three years in order to promote the archaeology from the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. As an organization we’ve ran few projects, public debates and we organized very big conference on topic ”First World War in the collective memory – Exchange of experiences in the Balkans”. Still it wasn’t enough. I was devastated to show to everybody that on the modern territory of the Republic of Macedonia took place some of the biggest battles that killed thousands of soldiers of many nationalities and religions, which today are buried on more conceptual organized necropolises/cemeteries. The architectonic remains in places where battles took place, includes parts of the destroyed complexes of bunkers, positions, machine gun nests and trenches that can be seen today. They comprise the physical remains of significant points in European and world history in order to explain the reasons that led to the creation of ‘Modern Europe’. On the entire front line length of about 450 km there are thousands and thousands of artifacts and monuments everywhere, waiting to be explored, excavated, identified, cleaned, preserved and displayed in the museum, to tell the piece of the unknown European history.

WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_promo WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_poster

Archaeology of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia so far has been completely unknown for both, the public and experts. But we won’t give up so easily from this topic. We are trying to contribute to the creation of some domestic archives of materials, as well as the exchanging of international experiences. Building human capacities who would participate in the dialogue for peace and reconciliation in the Balkan countries through scientific research and understanding of the past of this period, is also one of the aims of our work. We would like to express our gratitude to the of Embassy of France in Skopje, the French Institute in Skopje, cooperation Normandie/Macédoine, many municipalities, the citizen associations and all those scientists who actively helped us with own research or as logistics. And we are very happy bringing on daylight a topic less known but very challenging for many colleagues.

Vasilka Dimitrovska
Director of HAEMUS
Center for scientific research
and promotion of culture

For more info check: ww1conference2015.com

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This article was written as part of the action for ‘Day of Archaeologists’ (August 04, 2016). The goal is to raise public awareness of cultural heritage and the responsibility that archaeologists have about it.

Wander around a WW1 Training School

Short blog this year….but…..

Last week I was excavating Roman stuff. Today I’m back on more familiar territory; back in 20th century looking for military practice trenches at the site of a WW1 training school, although I am not on my usual ‘patch’ which is the Aldershot area.

The site in question is in the south east – and, unusually, there is a contemporary sketched map of the trench system on this site, so having geo-referenced said map in some GIS software I now know roughly where the trenches should be. Having checked modern and WW2 era aerial photos I know a fair bit of the site now lies under ploughed fields, and the trenches no longer show in the photos. The remainder of the site lies in woodland, so, possible that some may survive there.

Arrived at site and loaded pockets up with GPS, camera, photo scales, notepad etc.

Overall plan is to look at the site, and asses its current state of preservation, and whether it shows potential for any field work.

The site lies on publicly accessible land, but car parking is about a mile away (and it’s raining too), So walked to site (thankful for my trusty Tilley hat keeping me dry).

Easily found the first location on the map; an old quarry that predates the training school, but a useful fixed point to navigate around the rest of the site from.
Not far from the quarry some very badly preserved trench still present – only about 5cm deep, but clearly following the correct pattern, and clearly in the correct location based on the map.

Further round the site some trees sticking into the fields indicate where a line of trench should be – in the woods just a few metres away, again, very badly preserved section of trench – following the line this trench would have taken across the field should indicate where further trenches would have been.

At the far end of the site, which again is in open fields, there are variations in grass colour where the map suggests there would have been a sap running off a trench, so again that looks promising.

Having taken GPS readings and scribbled notes – took a bit more of a wander round the area, and have now ascertained land ownership for different parts of the site.

That’s the best part of four hours looking at the site, so probably enough as a preliminary survey, so head back to the car.

So, overall plan now is to write a short project proposal to take to the land owners, looking at a proper survey to methodically identify and record all remaining sections of trench, together with resistivity survey over some of the fields to confirm location of trenches and training hut, and some field walking on another section which records suggest should potentially have some surface finds.  Then maybe, depending on results of that, a bit of excavation……..

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.

WW1 Military Practice Trench 100 years on.


Allan Kilpatrick – Historic Environment Scotland

As I stood on the rain-sodden hillside, soaked, surrounded by two-metre-tall ferns and being bitten by a biblical plague of midges who viewed me as a three-star Michelin meal, I wondered: Is archaeology really worth it? However, once I’d brushed myself down, killed a thousand or so midges and began to move again, I realised I wasn’t finished with archaeology yet. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there is almost no other job like it. Where else can you find yourself walking across a bit of countryside discovering the history of the landscape? This particular day, I was an archaeologist with a mission. I was looking for something not from our ancient past but rather more recent: I was seeking the archaeological remains of the First World War.

The field work is part of a HES project to survey and record the defences of the Clyde from both wars, as part of the Discover the Clyde programme (http://discoveringtheclyde.org.uk)

The sites I was looking for were military blockhouses. These are timber buildings which housed soldiers and were surrounded by an earth and sandbag wall providing a fighting position or strongpoint to defend an area of ground. I had with me copy of a map from The National Archives on which was drawn the position of a number of blockhouses on the hill. I had many questions to answer: were the blockhouses actually built? What did they look like? How accurate was the annotation on the map? Had they survived or had forestry ploughing destroyed them? So many variables and combined with the new trees and suffocating ferns, it was going to be a challenge to find them.

With the start of the Scottish version of a monsoon, I made my way upwards to a low summit which I thought might be my best chance.  For me, the thrill of fieldwork is the finding of archaeology, be it a cairn or rig, a hut circle or blockhouse.

As I reached the summit I found a small square concrete hut base which was not quite what I was expecting, but I recorded it and moved on. I carried on through the undergrowth and stumbled upon a large, square enclosure with a partial earth wall measuring about 5m by 5m.

The first Blockhouse found © HES

The first Blockhouse found © HES

Was this what I sought or was it something else? Indeed it was close to the position on the map.  I needed a comparison. Some more scrambling and two thousand dead midges later, I found a second rectangular enclosure on the edge of a steep slope covered in dense ferns and fallen trees but measuring the same internal size. Success!

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

The second Blockhouse built on the edge of the slope covered in dense tall bracken © HES

As it turned out, these were indeed the sites of two blockhouses. We discovered two almost identical sites about 2km to the north later that day (see https://canmore.org.uk/site/331613). We have now found six of these blockhouses which defended Ardhallow Coast Battery on the Clyde from landward attack. The quest will continue as somewhere in the dense forestry lie three more.

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

A blockhouse was in there somewhere © HES

Is archaeology worth it, on a day like this one it really is!

A day in the life of an amatuer Conflict Archaeologist with a poorly cat!

camberley

So, I booked the day off work from the day job for Day of Archaeology. I bought the t-shirt, and planned things to do.  Then, Thursday, one of the myriad pet cats falls ill!  Two trips to the vet Thursday: injections, creams and special food.

Four o’clock this morning poorly cat told me it was time to get up.  She was already pre-booked for another appointment today, so plans had to change!

The original plan was to meet up with Peter, a nearby local historian. We initially made contact a couple of months back via twitter when Peter had historical evidence of WW1 military practice trenches in the area; as I have a Masters degree in Conflict Archaeology I contacted him, and we managed to trace some of the trenches. These have now been entered onto the Homefront Legacy website. Our plan today had been to look for another set of trenches nearby which have previously been identified via aerial photography with the hope of finding and surveying them and getting the existing HER record for them updated. Unfortunately the cat’s poor health required me to stay with her prior to her next vet visit; Peter helpfully agreed that cats come first, so we agreed to reschedule to another date (Peter, if you read this, thank you!).

So, with time to spend at home, it seemed a good idea to catch up on some of the archaeo tasks I have had on the ‘to-do’ list:

First up, several other sites to log on the Homefront Legacy website.

First one added was the WW1 German POW camp in Watlington: this one formed part of the basis of my Masters dissertation. I have a fantastic map I bought by chance. It’s a 1912 OS map which was annotated with notes and marks by the Camp Commandant at the camp in question. It’s a grand piece of material culture, and it enabled me to find the location of the camp when used in conjunction with records at the National Archives at Kew, so the location of the camp is now on the Homefront Legacy website.  Of the 500 or so camps in UK during WW1, very few are in the HER, so pleased to add another one and get it out in the public domain.

Also added two other sites to the website; both of them WW1 Auxilliary Hospitals run by Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments, both of them in Berkshire.

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(the line above was helpfully added by one of the other cats walking across my laptop!)

Anyhow, sites added to website, and now its time for cat’s next vet visit. Once she gets home she has her first meal in a nearly two days!

Home again, and back to another outstanding  task.

I have a cunning plan.  Normal handheld GPS is accurate to 6 or 7 metres; a nice GPS which is accurate to less than a metre costs thousands of pounds. I want one, but don’t have the cash, so I am going to make my own! I have a GPS chip, accurate to 25cm, but has no software interface and no logging mechanism of any sort. So the plan is: GPS chip, connected to a Raspberry Pi, a battery pack and and a small monitor, all mounted onto a surveying pole. So, theoretically 25cm-accurate GPS for about £400, about 10% the cost, the only problem being creating the programming to interface with the chip, and log the results.

I hate programming (I failed my computer studies o-level back in days of yore!), so I have been delaying doing this. After some time scratching my head over a piece of  freeware programming software, I now have something that interfaces with the chip and will record coordinates coupled with notes and time and date – so quite happy with that progress, still need to connect the pieces together, but the end is in sight.

That done, and the cat is looking much improved, so I decided that it would be in order to go out for a bit.

A WW1 document I have suggests there should be (yet more) military practice trenches a few miles away. I’m keen to find them; I’m a trustee of a local heritage and archaeology charity.  I’m looking for a feature which I could use to do some sort of community archaeology event over the heritage weekend in September.

The records don’t give a very clear idea of the location, and the site is 350ha; nonetheless, walking around the area and getting a feel for the landscape is always a good starting point (and given the sunny weather, quite pleasant regardless of the outcome).

I didn’t find WW1 trenches (but I didn’t expect to on the first visit!)

I did find out contact details for a local conservation organisation who work on the piece of land, so I have contacted them to see if they are aware of anything.

Whilst I didn’t find WW1 trenches, I did find something. I’m not yet sure what yet.  I found little underground dugouts (7 of them). By general condition of the metal I would think they are post WW2, and they don’t look dissimilar to one of the diagrams in my WW2 Royal Engineers manual. So, I am interested to find out what they actually are, and they may yet prove to be a suitable project instead of the trenches.

The cat is now much better now; I’m hoping if she continues to improve at the current rate she will be well enough for me to still go away for mesolithic excavations in a week or two.

All in all, didn’t do what I intended to; but still managed to do some useful stuff. I didn’t find what I was looking for; but did still find something interesting with questions to answer.