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Case study: Centre of Archaeology

About the Centre of Archaeology's research

The Centre of Archaeology undertakes pioneering work to apply new forensic archaeological methodologies to uncover evidence of conflict and genocide. From mapping camps of Nazi terror and identifying killing and burial sites of the Holocaust, to mass grave investigations from modern conflicts, the Centre’s work has great impact upon individuals, families, local communities, national governments and international organisations. Led by Professor Caroline Study Colls, the results of our work have resonance in modern society, particularly with the growth of terrorism across the world, and our methods are being adopted by a wide range of individuals and organisations in many countries.

Speaking of Professor Sturdy Colls’ approach to the investigation of the Holocaust, Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, described it as “the perfect balance between science and religion”, given the respect that is afforded to the sites being examined and the religious beliefs of the communities from which the victims came.

Collaboration

Our dedicated team brings together specialists to complete investigations including archaeologists, forensic scientists, historians, geographers, cultural scientists, psychologists, digital experts, and PhD students. We recognise that no missing persons investigation could be completed without local expertise and knowledge as well as close working relationships with local communities, volunteer groups, regional governments and national leaders.

Making a difference

Over the last decade, members of the project team have examined over 50 Holocaust and other conflict sites across Europe, leading to the discovery of new evidence connected to genocide, the commemoration of Holocaust sites and mass graves, and the provision of information to communities, family members and survivors.

The methodological approaches are being adopted for other conflicts. This has included the search for missing individuals in Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, and work is underway to record and document the slave labour camps associated with the Soviet uranium mines in the Czech Republic.

In addition to academic publications, we strive to find innovative ways to show the results of these projects to aid in education and remembrance, particularly given that the events of the Holocaust are moving out of living memory. We’ve collaborated with artists, museums, film makers, TV companies, web and app designers, and theatres.

Key publications

  1. Sturdy Colls, C. and Branthwaite, M. (2017) “This is proof”? Forensic evidence and ambiguous material culture at Treblinka extermination camp’. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 22, 3: 430-453. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-017-0432-3.
  2. Sturdy Colls, C. 2016. The Investigation of Historic Missing Persons Cases: Genocide and ‘Conflict Time’ Human Rights Abuses. In Morewitz, S. and Sturdy Colls, C. (eds) Handbook of Missing Persons. New York: Springer.
  3. Sturdy Colls, C. (2015) Holocaust Archaeologies: Approaches and Future Directions. New York: Springer.
  4. Sturdy Colls, C., Bolton-King, R., Colls, K., Harris, T. and Weston, C. (2018) Proof of Life: Mark-Making Practices on the Island of Alderney. European Journal of Archaeology. https://doi.org/10.1017/eaa.2018.71.
  5. Abate, D. and Sturdy Colls, C. (2018) A Multi-Level and Multi-Sensor Documentation Approach of the Treblinka Extermination and Labour Camps. Journal of Cultural Heritage 34: 129-135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2018.04.012.
  6. Sturdy Colls, C. (2017) The Archaeology of Cultural Genocide: A Forensic Turn in Holocaust Studies?. In Dziuban, Z. (ed.) Mapping the ‘Forensic Turn’: The Engagements with Materialities of Mass Death in Holocaust Studies and Beyond. Vienna: New Academic Press.