Introduction to Battlefield Archaeology

The goal of archaeology is to recreate the past from what those that lived it left behind. History, it is said, is written by the victors and nowhere is this more true then in the recorded accounts of battles. Archaeologists are able to step in, recreate these battles and discover if the official account was correct.

Whether troops fought immediately upon arriving at the scene or waited, whether they were evenly matched in numbers and whether they stood their ground until the bitter end or retreated can all be deciphered by studying the battleground and surrounding area . Battlefield archaeology has been used to dissect many American as well as English civil war battles and was even used to gain insight into the Battle of Little Big Horn also referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.

There were no survivors from the US Armies side of the battle at Little Big Horn except for one badly wounded army horse. Indian accounts of the battle varied due, perhaps in part, to the desired reaction of whites or to the unreliability of witnesses to any event. By examining the human and animal remains and shell casings archaeologists were able to determine that the soldiers were completely surrounded and that the shot their own horses in order to use the bodies for cover. It was even possible to track individual soldiers by the cartridges from their guns. These cartridges carried unique firing pin patterns which made it possible to track the movement of the firearm from which they came and by association the unnamed man who carried it. The past come to life, in order for us to learn from it.