Archaeology of the First World War poses unique challenges and resources that are not usually encountered in “conventional” Archaeology. The excavated structures were only used for a very short period of time. Yet the availability of archival information, aerial photographs, trenchmaps, witness testimony and innumerable contemporary accounts and war literature offer invaluable information in locating and identifying features found in the excavation.
What special role can archaeology plan in the study? Historians have long studied this period quite intensively, and theories about some aspects still change every year. Typologies exist for most of the objects which are found. Nevertheless, archaeology can uncover a sometimes forgotten material reality. Even some of the best known battles are not completely clear to scholars studying the First World War. The archaeological excavations make the horror of soldiers’ existence during the First World War more real and immediate than paper relics. Living in trenches, waiting for the next charge in a shelter: the entire picture becomes clearer as the archaeologist reveals more remains. In addition, trench maps and contemporary aerial photographs offer a snapshot of the terrain, but these are narrowly restricted in time. Excavations often reveal a constant and swiftly changing terrain where trenches and fortifications were constantly adapted to new threats and needs. Given this situation, archaeological research provides another dimension to the available information and helps to locate unknown structures and remains.
In terms of physical conservation, the most important threats to the remains are erosion, construction activities, illicit excavations by collectors, and the natural processes of corrosion and decay. It is therefore necessary to recover and collect for conservation exposed remains as quickly as possible.