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In the present, we like to conceive of peace as the absence of its perceived opposite: we imagine it to be the normal, permanent state of society, which is only occasionally (and hopefully extremely rarely) interrupted by an abnormal, different state, that of war. Peace, in this context, we imagine as the near-complete absence of violent conflicts. War, on the other hand, we see as characterised by a significantly increased occurrence or even dominance of violent means of resolving conflicts.
This conception, we also like to transfer onto the (close and more distant) past, in which we seem to mostly be interested in war (which sometimes is even referred to as the ‚father of all things‘). The reason for this, particularly in prehistory, seems to be that war seems to have left more archaeologically identifiable material traces than peace. Starting with weapons and other instruments of warfare via direct traces – whether anthropologically identifiable as trauma on skeletal remains, or archaeologically by stray finds of weapons on ‚battlefields‘ – to defensive and offensive architecture; war seems to be relatively easily traceable by archaeological means. Peace, on the other hand, seems only identifiable negatively, through the absence of evidence for war.
As understandable as this conception may be, so misleading it is: peace is not a natural state, occurring automatically if nobody goes to war. Rather, much like war, it requires social organisation and also enforcement, often with violent means. An executioner’s sword is not a weapon of war, nor the head severed by it an injury of war, but rather a trace of the violent enforcement or re-establishment of peace. It is thus argued in this contribution that much of what we, as yet, have understood to be the ‚archaeology of warfare‘ might as well be an ‚archaeology of peace‘, since war and peace can hardly be distinguished from each other by archaeological means.


  • Archaeology, Prehistory, War, Peace, Europe
Original languageGerman
Pages (from-to)49-73
JournalMitteilungen der Antropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2018

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