Commemorative tales: archaeological responses to modern myth, politics, and war

  • Helle Vandkilde
  • Published 2003


Academic archaeology of the twentieth century has strangely ignored warfare and violence as relevant aspects of past human activity despite sufficient evidence of war-related traumata , weaponry, warrior burials, and war-celebrative iconographies. Instead – and relatively independently of paradigmatic shifts – two commemorative tales about warriors and peasants in the European societies of the Stone and Bronze Ages have been created. The two archaeological tales are stereotypes positioned at opposite ends of the scale, and they confirm or react against contemporary politics, ideologies, gender hierarchies, and wars. The generally weak presence of war and the final breakthrough of war studies in the mid-1990s can indeed be linked to contemporary politics and war. They are simultaneously entrenched in two myths about the primitive other, which have persuasively influenced European thought at least since the seventeenth century. The emergence of warfare studies in archaeology can be understood as a social response to the many ethnic-based wars of the 1990s. Yet the theme of war is treated in a rational manner, which belies the disaster, suffering, and horror involved in all wars, past or present. This rationalization of prehistoric war begs further consideration: through a comparison with the newest anthropology of war it is discussed how the archaeology of war can avoid becoming celebration of war and thus reproduction of the war mythology of the nation state.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Vandkilde2003CommemorativeTA, title={Commemorative tales: archaeological responses to modern myth, politics, and war}, author={Helle Vandkilde}, year={2003} }