2014 | 62 | 165-181
Article title

Od pola bitewnego do obozu pracy: archeologia wojny domowej i dyktatury w Hiszpanii

Title variants
From the battlefield to the labour camp: archaeology of Civil War and dictatorship in Spain
Languages of publication
Modern wars transform entire landscapes: from the trenches in the frontline to the internment camps and weapon factories in the rearguard, no place is spared. The material effects outlast the conflicts themselves and shape daily experiences and memories for decades. In the case of totalitarian regimes, spaces of internment often follow the end of hostilities and continue the politics of war in times of peace. Modern conflicts are messy. They blur the distinction between war and peace, combatant and non-combatant, producing hybrid sites: bombed civilian settlements, clandestine detention centres and guerrilla bases. This paper aims to create an archaeological account of the period, that is, to write history from things; to demonstrate the relevance of materiality in modern conflict; and to deconstruct a geography largely shaped by the subsequent politics of the victors’ regime (1936–1975). Three archaeological landscapes that exemplify the cycle of conflict will be discussed: a history of violence that starts with the siege of Madrid in November 1936 and ends in the same place with the closure of the forced labour camps 15 years later. The fist case study concerns a history of violence of the Battle of Madrid that began on 8 November 1936 and ended two weeks later with the Nationalist army deeply entrenched inside the campus but unable to proceed any further. In November 2008, we began to research the once-forgotten traces of the war, which, surprisingly, proved to be plentiful and ubiquitous. The act of retrieving these remnants was rewarded with another version of the past, owed to another way of exposing it. The project was designed to locate trenches in order to sample the materiality of both Nationalist and Republican soldiers. In the paper I analyze material culture and other kinds of archaeological evidence (e.g. remains of shelters, pits, hearths) that enable us to present this battle from an archaeological point of view. The second case study is based on excavations of the concentration camp of Castuera. Although, the plan of the camp was contained in official records and in a drawing by a prisoner, to which an archaeological plan has been added. There were two rows of barracks either side of a rectangular parade ground, dominated at one end by a large cross, the concrete foundations of which still survive. The excavated material culture (e.g. ink bottlers, tin cans, potsherds) makes it possible to draw some general observations concerning a live in a concentration camp. For example, testimonies collected from former camp prisoners describe the latrines as an instrument of “moral destruction” (Lafuente 2002: 148) as well as infection. The abundance of medicines dug up during the research is seemingly at odds with a population of mostly young adults, who should be the least affected by illness, but it was precisely the conditions of imprisonment that favoured contagion. When prisoners were treated like animals, showing a skill by doing specialised work was a way of counteracting the prevailing ideology. Historians have studied similar tactics of resistance, but they have invariably focused on artists and intellectuals. Archaeology can deliver here a microhistory. Finally, excavations of a forced labour camp in Bustarviejo near Madrid, where between 1944 and 1952 hundreds of political prisoners laboured in the construction of a tunnel and railway bridge in a mountainous area, were the third case study. The site where the workers lived has survived untouched, with its barracks, staff houses, stalls, quarries and the railway itself now abandoned. The main building had a filthy communal latrine and large communal bedrooms where the prisoners had to sleep crammed on the floor. However, in general the situation was not as harsh as in the concentration camps; after all, this was the last step in the process of rehabilitating the prisoners. And I analyse this process of rebuilding the country by ‘slaves’ through material evidence that was dig up during the excavations. The three case studies makes it possible to draw some conclusions concerning archaeological approaches into the recent past taking as an example material remains of the Spanish Civil War. Archaeological remains reveal aspects of daily, intimate lives in the trenches in a poignant way. Archaeology rescues microhistories that are revealing of the nature of the war on both sides. Material culture, however, also tells about macrohistory: under archaeological scrutiny, the landscapes and activities of the Spanish Civil War look much more similar to those of the First World War than the Second, despite the historiographical tenet that the conflict was the prelude of the second global conflagration. The armies of Spain look almost preindustrial, with their vernacular stone pillboxes and makeshift uniforms. Archaeology shows that the threads of history are always multiple and intertwined. This may not change grand historical narratives, but it can allow us to see and understand them differently.
Physical description
  • Institute of Heritage Sciences, Spanish National Reserch Council
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Document Type
Publication order reference
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