Killing Time: Archaeology and the First World War

In the new, revised (paperback) edition of Killing Time, Nicholas J Saunders has updated his groundbreaking book on archaeology and the First World War.

The original chapters remain, and it is pleasing to see the addition of a new chapter on the very recent excavations taking place in London, Norfolk, Jordan, and the Western Front sites of Plugstreet and Fromelles, enhancing what was already a comprehensive book on the subject.

Saunders, an academic with a corpus of published works on trench art, conflict, and Great War landscapes, is known for his critical views on the limitations of traditional battlefield archaeology. He introduces the reader to a different approach to military and battlefield archaeology, where the counting of bodies, bullets, and blockhouses leads one along an academic cul-de-sac. Saunders is the principal advocate for the new discipline of Modern Conflict Archaeology, an approach that combines archaeology, anthropology and other disciplinary methods, making it possible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the context and legacies of conflict.

The first chapter, Excavating Memories, provides a history of Great War archaeology in four phases, covering the Great War, it’s aftermath, the following 70 years and the formative period of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Later chapters examine the anthropological concepts of Bodies of Metal, Shells of Memory and Landscapes of Memory. The theory of this new approach is presented in a way that will appeal to both the general and the specialist reader. Later chapters examine the Western Front and the battlefields of the Somme, Flanders, and beyond.

In the interval between the first and second editions of the book, the last survivors of the First World War have passed away. Modern conflict archaeology has, in a sense, come of age: it is now the only method capable of generating wholly new data. This book points the way forwards.

Review by John B Winterburns

History Press, £13.49

ISBN 978-0752456027