Why is the archaeology of the Somme so important?
In 2018 for the Commemoration of the Armistice, it was sad, unbelievable and heartbreaking to hear a minority of people state that Remembrance glorifies war.
It does not – it is honouring and remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms we take for granted today.
People fear what they do not understand – education through archaeological remains is our weapon against this ignorance. Educating through the material remains of the past to protect its future.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the father of British archaeology, stated that “Archaeology is about people”, and it is – there is no other place where the personal stories of those who fell need to be told and understood more, than at The Somme.
The everyday items of these men and women, which over time become discarded, rejected, lost, etc – these are the material remains that archaeology uncovers, researches, understands and present findings for, and therefore enabling a better education on past lives and living.
A site’s history does not end – it keeps going due to human activity in the area. For the CWGC sites at the Somme that activity is happening every week or month through their upkeep, re-dedications and new burials. On the battlefield their history continues through the everyday work of the farmers working the land, visitors, and researchers undertaking their work.
The Somme is unique and incomparable. There is no other place like it in the world. And throughout the area remain traces of the personal stories of those who were involved in the engagement – their presence, their death, their Remembrance.
In the bigger picture we must also remember that the men and women fought and worked within a complex system of regulations, rules, systems and processes of the Army – each from their own countries, but also having to know the workings of the British Army too. This process in its own right left behind evidence of their structure, management, conditions and the environment faced by the troops and their support personnel.
Through archaeological knowledge we
- understand the individual artefacts
- their national, community, family, personal and emotional values
- obtain a better record of the battle’s past
- a snapshot of one specific moment in time
- are able to piece together records, documents and the artefacts to compile a fuller picture
It is the detective work of piecing together the finds, sites and the landscapes which were so violently fought over, that archaeologists, historians and researchers undertake on a constant basis.
Luckily today we have effective technology which means we do not have to excavate in order to find location etc. In the past it was a bit hit and miss, or excavating when and wherever artefacts turned up. Now we have LiDAR, GPR etc which gives us so much more information without excavation. We can understand the landscape and the manoeuvres which happened within it.
The time period in which the First World War took place was so different to ours today – different values, expectations, and in some respects a completely different structure in society. Although some of these values have come down to us through time and space, understanding them is vital to understanding the men and women of their time.
Every artefact, new piece of information – be it maps, documentation, photographs, personal items, or personal stories – all goes towards weaving a fuller understanding of the battle and the actions taken within and around it.
The Somme battlefield – with the men, women, animals, systems, regulations – was a hive of activity, and over 100 years on, the remnants of the struggle and sacrifice are still to be seen and found to this day. A place where we, in the present, can visit the past. There may be over 100 years that separate us, but we are all just ordinary people living our lives. To visit the battlefield is a very moving experience. It connects us with our past, demands our attention in the present, and reaches out to our future.
In today’s world we are still living with the effects of this conflict, and those which have followed. It has shaped our character, our language and even some of the privileges we experience today which were unheard of back in its time – votes for women, women in the workforce, medical advances, improvements in military aircraft, and many more.
Archaeology is not just about ‘old stuff’ it brings people, communities and even nations together. Education is a vital part of the process and within these pages you will uncover an abundance of information to learn, explore, research and enjoy – after all ARCHAEOLOGY IS ABOUT PEOPLE!