Conflict Archaeology

The Council for British Archaeology’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month

This August see’s the first Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month swing into action, perfectly timed for those of you who are looking for something to do now the Festival of Archaeology is over for another year.


For those of you who don’t know, Home Front Legacy is a Council for British Archaeology (CBA) project, funded by Historic England, that helps community groups, local societies and individuals record the legacy of the First World War in their area. Our recording app enables people to share new knowledge about buildings, places and events and make them accessible to all via a map of sites.

We’ve already had over 3,000 sites added to our map but we’d love to get even more so we decided to create the Big Recording Month to let people know just how easy it is to discover and record sites in your local area. Over the next four weeks we’ll be providing a step by step guide to give you all the tools you need to get involved. Our first blog went live on Monday and my colleague Chris Kolonko, Home Front Legacy Project Archaeologist, tells you everything you need to know about the project and the enormous impact the First World War had on the UK. We’ll be posting a new blog every Monday for the next three weeks with details on how to search for sites and how to record and upload your data to the app.

Alongside our blog posts we’ll be busy on social media providing inspiration and encouragement and highlighting some of the new sites recorded so make sure to follow us on Twitter @homefrontlegacy and Facebook /homefrontlegacy.

We’ve also come up with some great themes to get you inspired: local events; the role of women and food and rationing. From fundraising performances at the local cinema, to schools producing scarves and clothing for soldiers and sailors, recording the Home Front covers much more than the pillboxes and practice trenches that immediately spring to mind.

Today I’ve been busy finding out about sites in York that I can add to the map. A quick search of the internet and the list is already fairly long, including an internment camp at the Castle Museum that held both civilian and military prisoners; a chemist who offered cheap tooth removal so your rotten teeth didn’t prevent you from joining up; and the Yorkshire Herald Building where the war was announced to cheers and a hearty performance of the national anthem.

I’ve also been working on our plans for a series of First World War training events, a collaborative partnership between the Home Front Legacy and Living Legacies, one of the AHRC funded First World War Engagement Centres. These events will provide training on how to record First World War sites around the country and provide help and guidance to community groups and societies who would like to develop their own First World War projects. The first workshops will be held this October at IWM Duxford and Bristol. Follow the links if you’d like to find out more.

I hope you’ll join me and take part in the CBA’s Home Front Legacy Big Recording Month, and get your friends, family and local societies involved too! Lets see how many new sites we can add to the map over the next month and help preserve the stories and places of the First World War at home for future generations.

The Spanish-Cuban-American War: the archaeology before archaeology

By Odlanyer Hernández-de-Lara, Johanset Orihuela & Boris Rodríguez

The Spanish-Cuban-American War is one of those important historical conflicts that have not been tapped deeply enough, even less so from an archaeological point of view. Because of this war, the United States became a commanding and imperialistic world power, of which Puerto Rico is still a vestige. At the time, Cuba was involved in its own War of Independence from Spanish rule; a War that had started in 1895, and by 1898, the Cubans had victory in the horizon. Soon after the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor, the relations between Spain and the US worsened, until the Declaration of War was announced. However, several days before, US forces had already begun a blockade of the western coasts of Cuba. For them, a “splendid little war” had begun, as Secretary of State John Hay called it. The end of the war is perhaps as well known: the destruction and sinking of the Spanish fleet, the siege of Santiago de Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. But who remembers or even knows about the bombardment of Matanzas?

Archaeological research has been conducted in several of its battlegrounds of this war, with the main interests focused on the most famous battles, such as those of San Juan Hill in Santiago de Cuba. Nevertheless, what do we know about the beginning of the war? The beginning of this conflict has not been highlighted enough and has been as a result, nearly forgotten. The official media of the US and Spanish sources have minimized the bombardment as a mere “practice” or military exercise, in which the technologically superior US showed off its prowess; maybe as a prelude to its future position on the military world stage. May of the news sources in general and the jingoist and yellow press in particular hinted at the evident economic advantage for the news business, surely, because these news interests were desirable and had a market. They were vested. Yet, the “simple” bombardment in Matanzas Bay, on April 27, 1898, is more complex than it seems. Precisely, such complexity has generated an archaeological project, directed and organized by Progressus Heritage and Community Foundation in association with the Conservator’s Office of the City of Matanzas. This project seeks to research the dynamics of this conflict, the defensive and offensive strategies involved, and interpret the role of the press in the world impact of this “insignificant” military action, and its impact on the war itself.

But why “archaeology before archaeology”? This project is still in its infancy. We are currently revising all the historic, published accounts, geographical, toponymical, and other documentary evidence from which to focus the initial field archaeology reconnaissance and research. We have begun, logically, from the known historical accounts and witness accounts. With the information gathered so far, a new image of the conflict is emerging. It is fabulous to discover the diversity of the engravings dedicated to Matanzas bombardment, not only those made in the US and Spain but also ones made in France and Italy. It is intriguing that the theme of one of the first motion pictures in the history of cinematography was dedicated to this “insignificant” encounter.

We are also analyzing some of the first archaeological artifacts associated to the bombardment. These include projectiles found on the coastline, which had been fired by the US fleet of battleships under command of rear admiral William T. Sampson, which is being studied to gain a deeper understanding of the military actions of the bombardment. Overall, the evidence we have gathered so far promises to change the known history, and this is only the beginning!

Know more about the project:

Figure 1: The American fleet in Matanzas, Walter Russell, 1898.

Figure 2: Projectiles found in 1998 around El Morrillo battery.