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Old 2nd August 2008, 01:14   #1
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Default Battlefield Archaeology

Battlefield archaeology is an emerging discipline. It reportedly began in 1983 with Dr. Douglas Scott's study of the battle of Little Bighorn. Unfortunately, although the discipline has grown ever since, there is as yet no established definition of battlefield archaeology. In fact there are several competing terms - archaeology of battles and archaeology of conflict – to name two.

Never-the-less archaeologists are using archaeological methods to determine where fighting took place, where units deployed, and how battles unfolded. Some of the methods used to locate physical evidence on the battlefield are: earthwork surveys, geophysical surveys (mapping the location of equipment, weapons, and ammunition), metal detector surveys, fluxgate gradiometers and electrical earth resistance meters (to locate mass graves and sub-surface structures), and field walking surveys (to locate and document above ground artifacts).

Battlefield archaeology was recently popularized in a few books and in television shows such as "Battlefield Detectives" and "Two Men in a Trench.” Yet, an Internet survey turns up only a hodge-podge of material.

The only introductory document on the topic can be found here; the British Archaeology Job Resource’s Battlefield Archaeology – A Guide to the Archaeology of Conflict:” http://www.bajr.org/Documents/BAJRBattleGuide.pdf

On the lighter side, one person’s view of battlefield archaeology (including some fascinating videos):

Post your thoughts and examples of battlefield archaeology here!
Cheers, MR
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Old 5th October 2008, 02:10   #2
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Default Belgium's new department of First World War archaeology

Antiquity Vol 78 No 301 September 2004
From: http://antiquity.ac.uk/ProjGall/saunders/index.html

On 10 November 2003, a unique event in world archaeology took place in the Belgian town of Ypres. Minister Paul van Grembergen announced the official opening of the Department of First World War Archaeology, part of the Institute for the Archaeological Heritage of the Flemish Community (IAP). The new department is supported by the province of Western Flanders, the combined Flemish universities, the Belgian Army's Service for the Disposal and Demolition of Explosives (DOVO), associations of amateur archaeologists, and a wide range of international collaborators.

The aims and objectives of the department are clearly defined, and can be expanded as required. The first goal is undertaking archaeological research, making inventories, and site management - all integrated aspects of the region's First World War heritage. It is hoped that one result of this initiative will be to produce databases that will unlock Western Flanders' war-related archaeological heritage, and support many kinds of associated cultural and tourism initiatives.

Equally important will be the new department's responsibility for directing, monitoring, and co-ordinating the abundant and diverse private activities and initiatives undertaken by museums, amateur excavators, historians, and other interested parties. A unique feature of the First World War is that, in addition to military historians, it attracts a large and wide-ranging number of specialist groups. Together, they form a rich repository of specialised knowledge on such varied topics as trench and dugout construction, military maps, uniforms and equipment, armaments, munitions, and memorabilia. The department's formation provides a legally constituted scientific forum for this vast amount of currently fragmented expert knowledge. This forum will be a critical resource for the IAP's professionals, who in turn will provide a modern archaeological context and guidance for amateur groups that will result in greater understanding and co-operation.

First World War archaeology is a distinctively new kind of archaeology (Saunders 2002:107), and part of a larger enterprise, the archaeology of twentieth-century conflict. First World War battlefields are multi-layered and deeply ambiguous landscapes. They can be considered, variously, as

... industrialized slaughterhouses, vast tombs for 'the missing', places for returning refugees and contested reconstruction, popular tourist destinations, locations of memorials and pilgrimage, sites for archaeological research and cultural heritage development, and as still deadly places full of unexploded bombs and shells. (Saunders 2001:37).

This complexity demands a multidisciplinary archaeological response, informed by anthropology, and drawing on the expertise of military history, cultural geography, museology, and those who specialize in forensics, cultural heritage, and tourism to mention only the most obvious.

The initial stimulus for the department's creation was the IAP's excavation at Pilckem Ridge in the middle of the infamous Ypres Salient battlefield. Pilckem Ridge saw fierce fighting and terrible losses on both sides during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in July and August 1917, and lay on the route of an extension to the A19 motorway. The IAP has been conducting archaeological reconnaissance in the area since 2002.

The investigations quickly demonstrated the need for professional archaeological engagement with the First World War. Site damage by construction activities, illicit digging by collectors of military equipment, and natural erosion represented serious losses of archaeological information. The IAP decided to act, and gave the highest priority to creating the first ever department dedicated to First World War Archaeology. This was a bold step for a new and as yet un-theorised kind of archaeology confronted with formidable methodological challenges.

n landscapes containing innumerable human remains mixed with volatile ordnance in front-line trenches, bomb craters, emergency hospitals, and dugouts, new investigative techniques had to be developed. Building on the IAP's longstanding expertise, these techniques embraced and adapted GIS modelling, systematic metal detecting, geophysical research, trial trenches, and open-area excavation. The A19 excavations have played, and continue to play, a critical role in shaping a highly-focused methodology for First World Archaeology in this small part of Western Flanders.

The IAP's preliminary research at the Pilckem Ridge site consisted of an extensive survey of the literature, trench maps, and contemporary 1914-18 aerial photographs. Trench systems (marking successive front lines), barbed wire entanglements, bunkers, and dugouts were plotted on modern maps. Subsequent field-walking helped fill in the picture by finding the remains of bunkers and concentrations of other wartime material. An important anthropological dimension of this work was the creation of a battlefield ethnography - contacts and interviews with local residents that proved very informative. In light of this preliminary research, nine zones were selected along the route of the planned A19 extension.

To date, two of these zones have been investigated by trial trenches, and two other areas are being fully excavated. The results so far are promising: trenches and shelters are very well preserved. The remains so far show a clear distinction between German and British structures. Besides a clear chronological development, a military evolution can also be discerned. There is also a diversity of smaller, portable, archaeological remains such as ammunition, entrenching tools, soldiers' equipment, and utilities.

Military actions are most comprehensible when human remains are found. So far, seven different individuals have been recovered. Two were preserved with their full equipment (i.e. webbing, entrenching tool, pistol, bayonet, and ammunition pouches). These remains are now awaiting reburial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The IAP will be actively seeking co-operation with international specialists and institutions, amongst others, who can help in the multidisciplinary approach that a scientific archaeology of the First World War requires. The input of international researchers is seen as vital to the success of the new department. Information and expertise provided by universities, museums, and other organizations will enable the IAP's local archaeologists to identify and interpret recovered structures, artefacts, and human remains. It is acknowledged that it will take many years to build an appropriate methodology for this new kind of archaeology within the Flemish archaeological community.

• Beleidsbrief 2004 Monumenten, Landschappen en Archaeologie. Beleidsprioriteiten 2004. Ingediend door de heer Paul Van Grembergen, Vlaams minister van Binnenlandse aangelegenheden, Cultuur, Jeugd en Ambtenarenzaken (ministerial policy).
• BOSTYN, F. 1999 Beecham Dugout, Passchendaele 1914-1918. Zonnebeke: Association for Battlefield Archaeology in Flanders, Studies 1.
• SAUNDERS, N.J. 2001 Matter and memory in the landscapes of conflict: The Western Front 1914-1999. In, B. Bender and M. Winer (eds), Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place:37-53. Oxford: Berg.
• - 2002 Excavating Memories: Archaeology and the Great War, 1914-2001. Antiquity 76: 101-8.

Accompanying photos courtesy of Institute for the Archaeological Heritage of the Flemish Community (I.A.P). From left to right:
  • Aerial view of the Cross Roads site.
  • Removal of top soil at Cross Roads site.
  • The remains of a British soldier found at the Cross Roads site.
  • Part of the equipment of a British soldier of the Royal Sussex regiment.
  • Shoulder badge of a British soldier of the Royal Sussex regiment.
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Cheers, MR
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Old 27th January 2009, 23:59   #3
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Here is a nice article about battlefield archaeology in Great Britain

Battlefield Archaeology
By Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver
28 January 2009
From BBC

Battlefield sites provide rich seams of frozen history: skeletal remains, weaponry, artefacts and ammunition can bring skirmishes and conflict vividly back to life, and sometimes revise accepted views of history. Military archaeologists Neil Oliver and Tony Pollard describe the array of techniques employed to reveal the past.

Voices from the field

'We've spent a whole rainy morning sweeping an exposed field near Flodden, in Northumberland, with a metal detector, when suddenly the detector emits a screech - there's a metal object buried in the ground beneath our feet. We dig carefully with our trowels and, out of the earth, pluck a soil-covered lump. We weigh it in our hands and marvel at its heft, smearing away the dirt to reveal a pock-marked lead sphere, a bit smaller than a tennis ball. It's a cannon ball.' Neil Oliver.

Some time in the late afternoon of 9 September 1513, it had been fired by English gunners against the army of James IV of Scotland, who himself was to die before the day was done. Did it find its target, cutting its way through ranks of men? Or did it drop short, in front of the Scottish line? Whatever the case, we're the first people to touch this object for 500 years.

We came across these finds having embarked upon the biggest ever archaeological investigation of British battlefields. The project was ambitious, and we were fully aware that we would have to cut our own path through largely uncharted territory. What we needed was a new way of 'doing' archaeology - finding new techniques, new ways of thinking and taking advantage of the very latest technology at our disposal.

Unearthing the finds

Battlefield archaeology is nothing if not a challenge. Much more than toy soldiers that are moved about on a board, people in a battle are living out events of the greatest moment and greatest intimacy. As archaeologists we are uniquely qualified to look for traces of these events - and the archaeological remains of battle have much to tell us about the very real lives, and so often the deaths, of those who played their part in them.

Over recent years battlefields have become regarded more and more as important elements of the world's cultural heritage. As a result they have increasingly become subject to the scrutiny of archaeologists - who are concerned with understanding humankind's past through the examination of the physical remains of that past. Battlefields are ideal places to find debris abandoned by our forebears, although they are obviously a special type of site.

Many sites tell us about how people lived, perhaps through the remains of their houses, or about what they ate, from food remains deposited in middens. Others tell of how our ancestors treated their dead, through their tombs and graves - which have often been excavated by archaeologists. Battlefields, for their part, tell us about where, when and how people died.

History written by the victor?

Battlefields may also provide evidence for events that occurred over very short periods of time, with the Battle of Shrewsbury, for example, lasting for less than three hours. In this they differ from most investigated archaeological sites, which (with a few exceptions, including hunter-gatherer hunting camps) represent repeated and long-lasting areas of activity. However, even though battles may have taken place within a short time-span, the events that preceded them, perhaps in campsites near the battlefield, are also important, as are those that took place in the battle's aftermath, which may have resulted in the creation of features such as graves.

he study of battles has long been the domain of historians, who obviously play a vital role in advancing our understanding of the past. There is a saying that goes 'history is written by the victor', and there is undoubtedly some truth to it. Particularly so in the case of a battle, where it is the victor who is most obviously left at liberty to revel in post-battle glory, and to exaggerate the magnitude of his victory.

Victory in the long term can also ensure that short-term defeats are underplayed, or written about in such a way as to make them glorious and noble last stands against overwhelming odds. This point is often apparent in the case of colonialist conflicts, where indigenous people might have won some mighty battles against their invaders, but then gone on to lose the war as a whole, and much else besides.

Piecing the evidence together

The historian relies greatly on documents and written accounts to describe warfare and place it within a social and political context, although it is recognised that these written sources are often biased or inaccurate. The archaeologist, on the other hand, deals with physical remains to piece together a version of historic events. On an ancient battlefield an archaeologist, rather like the forensic scientist at a crime scene, may be able to use physical evidence to piece together a quite objective picture of the battle. This can then be used to augment or question historical records, and provide a well-founded account of events.

Before we get too carried away, however, it should be said that archaeological techniques are not infallible, and in these post-modern times most of us are aware that interpretations of archaeological evidence are influenced by the time and the place inhabited by the archaeologist. Battlefield archaeologists cannot operate usefully without historians - without a historical framework the evidence floats around as meaningless data - but they can help to test historical accounts and accepted truths.

Battle of Little Bighorn

The archaeological investigation of battlefields has been pioneered in the United States, with the best-known work being that undertaken at the site of the battle of the Little Bighorn. During that project the recovery and mapping of discarded weapons and ammunition - through metal detector survey - allowed archaeologists to recreate a vivid picture of how the battle unfolded. The survey even provided, through ballistic analysis, an impression of the movements of individual weapons and their users across the battlefield. Other techniques can also be used, including topographic survey, Geographical Information System (GIS) modelling, geophysical survey and the analysis of human remains.

The main form of archaeological evidence from most battlefields takes the form of metal artefacts dropped during the fighting, sometimes scattered over a wide area. The metal detector has a vital role to play here, but although archaeologists over the past few years have come to recognise the usefulness of this tool, there can be no doubt that its image has not on the whole been a good one. Metal detectorists have been viewed with suspicion, sometimes with just cause, as protected sites are plundered and important elements of the archaeological resource disappear into private collections. Many detectorists, however, welcome the opportunity to work alongside archaeologists and are willing to learn the techniques that ensure finds are accurately recorded.

An example of successful deployment of metal detectors on a battlefield would be at Culloden, in Scotland, where permission to use them was granted to this writer by the National Trust for Scotland. Our work established not only the exact location of the left flank of the Hanoverian line, but also the point at which this was hit by the Jacobite right as it charged onto the Hanoverians. We also established that the battlefield covered a much wider area than is traditionally thought.

Bringing the battlefield to life

There was a dedicated team of specialists who joined us to uncover the secrets of these battlefields. Topographical scientists create detailed contour maps of the battlefield and its place within the wider landscape. Geophysicists analyse sub surface features using state of the art machinery that are otherwise invisible to the eye. Local teams of metal detectorists mark the locations of dropped metalwork; field directors and senior excavators reveal sections of the buried landscape, keeping detailed notes, making scale drawings and taking photographs as they delve deeper into the ground. Conservators detail the artefacts recovered by the excavators and metal detectorists and make sure that they are damaged as little as possible by exposure to the air. Physical anthropologists study any human remains and glean information about the age and sex of the people who died in the battle - as well as their physical health at the time of death and historical weapons experts assist in making sense of all the metal artefacts we recover. Little by little, this small army of experts can build up a picture of the events which took place on this epic sites and profiles of the people who fought there.

A battlefield is a unique place that represents a special moment in the lives of the people involved - a point well understood by social historians, novelists and others, who have given a great deal of thought to the lives and personalities of these warriors and their families and communities. The historians who make it their business to understand warfare and battle, however, have tended to overlook the fact that the figures moving about on the landscapes of war were people just like us - and it is at this point that the archaeologist steps in.

Battlefield sites

See map below.

Shrewsbury, 21 July 1403

The bloody slaughter at Shrewsbury on a hot afternoon in July marked the climax of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy's attempt to overthrow King Henry IV. The battle took place less than a mile outside the town of Shrewsbury, close by the border between Wales and England. Percy's rebel army took up a strong position along the crest of a ridge, overlooking the massed Royal army on the relatively flat ground below. For the first time in British history longbow faced longbow, and a devastating rain of arrows from both sides signalled the start of what would prove to be the bloodiest battle fought in England during the whole period of the Hundred Years War. Hotspur was killed by an arrow to the face as he led an ill-fated attack on the King, and in the rout of the rebels that followed as many as 3,000 are said to have been slain.

Barnet, 14 April 1471

One of the pivotal battles of the Wars of the Roses took place just outside the village of Barnet on the outskirts of London. Fighting to reclaim his throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI, the Yorkist warrior king Edward IV brought an army of around 10,000 to bear against perhaps 15,000 led by the legendary 'Kingmaker' Warwick. The two opposing forces struggled to find one another on a battlefield wreathed in early morning fog. There was confusion throughout the fighting - which took its most severe toll on the Lancastrians, who eventually fell to fighting one another. In the rout that followed, Warwick the Kingmaker was among those cut down as he attempted to flee the field.

Flodden, 9 September 1513

A defeat that struck at the very heart of the Scottish nation was dealt here, on a Nothumbrian hillside, when the Scottish King James IV himself fell in the thick of the fighting, surrounded by thousands of his nobility and his subjects. With Henry VIII making war in France, the English force was led in his stead by the septuagenarian Earl of Surrey. Disastrous tactics on the part of the Scots, coupled with an unsuitable choice of weapons, assured an English victory and a death toll among the Scottish army that was to affect the national psyche for many generations to come.

Siege of Newark 1642 - 1646

While the English Civil War is famous for set-piece battles such as Edgehill, Marston Moor and Naseby, the eventual victory was decided by the long-running sieges that were waged to gain and keep control of the principal towns and cities of the land. Among the most famous and long-lasting of these sieges is that which beset the Royalist stronghold of Newark, on and off, for four years. The Parliamentary screws were tightened further between October 1645 and May 1646 - through the orders of General Poyntz - and this finally secured the surrender of the town. The legacy of that bloody period is marked today by some of the most impressive and well-preserved field fortifications anywhere in Britain.

Culloden, 16 April 1746

Of all the battles that resonate in the hearts and minds of Scottish patriots, none has a greater effect than that of Culloden. The culmination of the attempt by the House of Stuart to wrest the Scottish crown from the House of Hanover, the battle took place on a rain-blasted moor outside Inverness, and has been romanticised almost since the day and hour when the fighting stopped. Led by the charismatic Bonnie Prince Charlie, the second Jacobite rebellion was finally crushed by the now infamous 'Butcher of Cumberland', the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II, in the last pitched battle ever to be fought on British soil.

Defence of the Forth, 1939 - 1945

In the early days of World War Two, the invasion of Britain by German forces seemed a very real threat. The Firth of Forth on Scotland's east coast had, since the early 20th century, served as one of the most important naval bases on the British coastline, and was therefore considered by many to be one of the most obvious targets for such a move. The story of how the tiny island of Inchkeith, which had been fortified for centuries, played a role in defending the Forth at this time, reveals how quickly even relatively recent military sites can vanish from the landscape and provide a challenge for archaeologists.

Find out more


Archaeological perspectives on the Battle of Little Big Horn by D Scott, R Fox, M Connor, D Harmon. University of Oklahoma, 1989

Two Men in a Trench by Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver. Michael Joseph, 2002

Battlefield Archaeology by John Laffin, Ian Allen, 1987

Battlefields of England by A Burne, Methuen, London 1950

The Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain by D Smurthwaite, Penguin, London, 1984

Battlefield Archaeology by John Laffin, Ian Allen, 1987
Places to visit

Site of the Battle of Shrewsbury: now farming land, bordered by the A5124 to the south, the A528 to the west and the A49 to the east. The battlefield is most accessible from the A49 north out of Shrewsbury itself.

Site of Battle of Barnet: accessible from the London Underground station of Barnet; a ten minute walk in a northerly direction brings you to Hadley Green.

Site of Battle of Flodden: more accurately known as Branxton Hill. Take the A698 out of Berwick-on-Tweed and turn left at the roundabout on to the A697 to Wooler. After about two miles you will see Branxton village and the battlefield sign posted to the right.

Newark: the Civil War siege-works of Newark are without equal. The Queen's Sconce was the scene of the most stubborn resistance, are just south of the town centre.

Culloden: Culloden battlefield is located three miles to the south-east of Inverness, which sits next to the A9. Take the B9006 and follow the signs. The battlefield is owned by the National Trust for Scotland who have done much to preserve the site.

Firth of Forth: for a grandstand view of the defences, take the A90 road out of Edinburgh.

About the author

Tony Pollard is one of Britain's leading battlefield archaeologists. He has worked with the Field Archaeology Unit of University College, London, and is currently a senior project manager at the University of Glasgow. He has carried out pioneering work on battlefields in Zululand and North Africa, and as a forensic archaeologist he has worked with police forces throughout Britain.

Neil Oliver read archaeology at Glasgow University, where he met Tony Pollard. A leading archaeologist, he has worked on many sites, including the battlefields of Zululand - often in collaboration with Tony Pollard.
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Cheers, MR
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Old 28th January 2009, 08:28   #4
Adrian Stevenson
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Interesting article. I like the two guys who wrote it, whom you may have seen in their TV series "Two men in a trench"

Cheers, Ade.
See how I spent my weekends: http://www.2ndguards.com
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Old 6th March 2009, 14:14   #5
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Default Why undertake WW1 archaeology?

Interesting article from the webpage of the British National Army Museum


Unearthing the Past

Why undertake WW1 archaeology?

World War One was photographed, filmed, and recorded in thousands of documents. Surely archaeology can’t tell us anything new about the War? Archaeology has proved that historic trench maps can be highly inaccurate.

Most surviving photographs are official records and don’t show the details that we need in order to reconstruct soldiers’ lives. For example, there are few photographs of trench toilets, a mundane yet important part of daily life in the War.

Historians have realised that battlefield archaeology can reveal another layer of experience, that adds to and builds on what we already know about life during the War. It can show the reality of life and death with an immediacy that the other sources do not always achieve. Only small portions of the trenches are visible on the surface today. Most have been filled in, ploughed or built over.

Detailed research using maps, historic documents and aerial photographs, together with various scientific field survey techniques, are required to locate them. For example, overlaying a wartime aerial photograph on a modern photograph helps archaeologists identify potential areas for investigation where little war-time landscape is still visible.

Painstaking process

Archaeology is not simply digging up objects. Excavation is a painstaking and detailed job. The historical story is told not only by the finds themselves, but also by where they are found, and even the character of the soil around them.

By bringing all the skills and techniques of modern archaeology to war sites more of this information can be analysed and understood.

Unexploded shells

Approximately 720 million shells and mortars rounds were fired on the Western Front between 1914-1918. Millions did not explode. Many were recovered after the War, but experts estimate there may still be as many as 30 million shells and gas cylinders just from British guns lying in the earth along the front line.

Iron harvest

Known traditionally as the ‘Iron Harvest’, local farmers plough out unexploded shells every season. These munitions remain dangerous and fatalities occur regularly. Gas shells and canisters contain agents that remain as lethal as the day they were manufactured.

Despite being 90 years old ammunition – however large or small - can still explode, and in some cases becomes more dangerous with time. Professionally trained bomb-disposal experts always monitor excavations on site.

Law and responsibility

Digging, metal-detecting, or removing any objects from the fields of the Western Front without special permission is not only potentially dangerous, but also illegal. All battlefield sites are protected under French and Belgian archaeological law.

Where human remains are discovered, further responsibilities arise. First, local police must be informed. After the remains are shown to date from the War, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is called in to ensure that the individuals uncovered are given an appropriate burial.

Photos from webpage:
- Archaeologists bagging finds at Loos.
- The site of an excavation, near Ypres in Belgium.
- Live ordnance unearthed near Beaumont Hamel.
- Looted battlefield artefacts for sale at a car boot sale in Britain.
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Old 16th April 2009, 18:20   #6
Richard Kimmel
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After all has been said and done, now enters Paranormal Archeology. Artifacts can talk and, should you be a believer or not, when there may be a spirit connected to the artifact first-hand information may be obtained. Information that may not have previously been known or documented which, quite possibly may change an entire picture or part of a battle or situation.

Pictured below are two such battlefield dug artifacts that have spirits still attached to them. Through psychic intervention unusual information come forth.

During an excavation on the Belgium-Luxembourg border a unique footprint in time was uncovered from a WWII battle site. Just below the ground's surface, a deteriorating sole from the boot of a German soldier slowly became visible.

Unique may not be the word to use for this find; eerie may be more appropriate. A long lost sole of a tortured soul.

Startling psychic intervention revealed it's hidden past.

Unearthed during the Battle of the Bulge in the Northern Ardennes, somewhere along the infamous Siegfried Bunker Line was a rusty, triangular shaped piece of iron that was once a part of a U.S. Sherman tank. Identified as a track coupling it lay there undistribed along with many other pieces for over fifty years in their earthly bed, just below the surface.

There appears to be a haunted combination of residual and interactive energy associated with this rusted wartime artifact.

Exciting psychic intervention revealed what happened on that fateful day when this tank and it's crew were blown to pieces.

All that I can suggest is that you read my book for the information on these and on fifty other artifacts each is a chapter itself.
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Last edited by Richard Kimmel; 16th April 2009 at 19:05..
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