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Conflict Archaeology

This series discusses the future of archaeology in the Middle East and explores the ways in which archaeology and conflict are becoming ever more closely entwined in the modern world.

Conflict Archaeology: A Bibliography

The Future of War in the Middle East and the Future of Archaeology
The strategy pursued in Iraq and Syria by Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani relies on ethnic and religious-based forces such as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units and Syrian National Defense Force. This is symptomatic of the breakdown of national identities in these countries, and ultimately “Archaeology will have to come to terms with the fact that Arab nationalism is dead.”

Will “protected cultural zones” save heritage sites in Syria?
An analysis of a December 2014 UNESCO plan to incorporate heritage protection into localized ceasefires, which although it was never implemented does serve to point us away from the national and towards the local when it comes to heritage preservation.

Archaeology in the Age of Special War
Warfare is no longer a contest between the armed forces of nation-states but merely one tool in a spectrum available for exercising power. One consequence is that archaeology and historical scholarship will increasingly be utilized as tools of conflict.

Of Rhinos and Temples: Some Ethical Considerations in Heritage Protection
Should we be prepared to kill to save irreplaceable cultural heritage? In South Africa, where park rangers have killed hundreds of rhinoceros poachers in the past few years, this is no longer an academic question. Ultimately, using force to preserve cultural heritage should be part of a holistic plan rather than the primary goal of an armed intervention.

The Endless War
The first section of this post analyzes al-Qaida and ISIS’ cultural conception of war in contrast with that of the West. For al-Qaida, war is the normal state of being and violence is just a tool to achieve this end. The second section discusses how international law concerning the protection of cultural heritage assumes a Westphalian international system that is increasingly under threat. Future protection of cultural heritage will require new approaches.

Book Review: “Brave New War” by John Robb
Robb’s 2007 work pioneered several concepts in studying modern insurgencies, including systems disruption, open source war, and superempowered groups. Attacks on cultural heritage can be understood as part of this model: they are attempts to disrupt social systems or destroy key nodes in the tourist economy. The response has typically relied on state power, but state power is being steadily undermined. Can we find a solution based on Robb’s concept of resilient communities?

Heritage as Platform: New Frontiers in Cultural Preservation
Exploring Robb’s ideas on resilient communities further, one finds current efforts at using digital tools to encourage participatory approaches to heritage preservation all over the world. All of them raise the question of what a digital replica is preserving, and what is being lost if a digital representation of an original artifact is all we have left.

Palmyra Propaganda
In the weeks following the recapture of Palmyra from ISIS on March 27, 2016 the Assad regime and the government of Russia used the attention given to the site to advance a narrative portraying themselves as defenders of civilization against barbarians. This case of media manipulation is another example of the utilization of archaeology as a tool of armed conflict.

Book Review: Is Cultural Heritage Protection Another Form of Nation-Building? A Review of “The Political Impossibility of Modern Counterinsurgency” by M.L.R. Smith and David Martin Jones
By saving cultural heritage we are promoting a greater understanding of humanity’s shared past and helping create a world of greater education and understanding. Or are we? A review of a recent critique of counterinsurgency theory reveals some surprising parallels between the ideological underpinnings of the cultural heritage movement and those of recent counterinsurgency doctrine.

The Deadly War of Ideas
In contrast with the nineteenth and early 20th centuries, the wars of the early 21st century are now fought primarily by ideologically motivated volunteers. As a result, the distinction between combat, propaganda, and free speech has become blurred as combatants go to war not only against one another but against the ideas which they stand for. At the same time, new technology makes it easier than ever before to identify and kill the purveyors of an ideology.

Deep Manuever, Robot Warfare, and You
Advances in AI and computing technology will eventually allow armed conflict to be carried out entirely by robots. This opens new possibilities such as so-called ‘deep maneuver’ tactics, in which robotic weapons are positioned months or years in advance. Such technology creates new possibilities for ways in which both cultural heritage sites and academics themselves could be targeted in future conflicts.

ISIS Embraces Critical Scholarship of the Bible?
An analysis of an extended critique of Christianity published in Issue #15 of ISIS’ propaganda magazine Dabiq. The article, although seemingly written by someone with some understanding of critical scholarship of the Bible, close analysis shows the article relies heavily on source material available over the internet. The article serves as an interesting case study in how scholarship will be appropriated to serve militant agendas.

The Mafia, Looted Antiquities, and the KGB
A recent article in the newspaper La Stampa printed allegations that Russian intelligence services were involved in antiquities trafficking in the Middle East. Documents uncovered in the early 1990s show that in the 1980s the KGB entertained an arms-for-antiquities scheme with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, possibly involving artifacts stolen from Lebanese banks. What became of these artifacts remains a mystery.

Towards a Post-Westphalian Archaeology
The modern history of archaeological research can be divided into three periods. In the first period archaeology was a tool of imperial power. In the second period archaeology was utilized in the service of national narratives. This post posits a third period is currently emerging, in which archaeology is deployed in the service of tribal ethnic nationalisms which seek to undermine the nation-state system.

Book Review: Reading Hazony by the Elgin Marbles: A Review of “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony
Yoram Hazony’s work, while flawed, challenges us to think about what makes a nation-state cohere. This has interesting implications for the cultural heritage debate, as states which claim artifacts abroad as their national cultural heritage tend to match Hazony’s model of an ideal state. But what of cultural groups who lack a state to call their own?

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