Monday, July 28, 2008

Digging deep to reveal the human cost of war
But Pollard, director of the university's Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, which he co-founded in 2006, has always kicked against the stereotype of the military historian as the schoolboy who never grew up. He is concerned about what he regards as archaeology's failure to give due attention to war and conflict, particularly the human experience of it. "When I was at university, it would have been very unfashionable to profess an interest in military history," he says. "You had to vote for Maggie Thatcher and play war games, which is plainly not the point. I think in archaeology there has been a tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles and ignore the fact there's always been conflict in human society."

That conviction has made him a world authority in the new discipline of battlefield archaeology. For him, establishing which army was positioned where is not the attraction. "There are those who are content to sit down and measure musket balls, but I'm more interested in the human experience of warfare," he says. "At times, archaeology is the closest thing you get to a time machine. When you're handling stuff for the first time in 250 years and you think this bullet may have marked someone's last moments on this earth', it's a very visceral experience."

It's certainly becoming more accepted. I remember a few years ago when I first linked to a couple of stories on battlefield archy, I thought it was restricted to relic hunters and reenactment buffs.