Guest Column with Jessie Birkett-Rees
Gallipoli holds particularly significance in the Australian record of the First World War (1914-
1918). In the days following the 25 April landing at Gallipoli, the ANZACs were ordered to 'dig
in', beginning to excavate the complex networks of trenches and tunnels that characterise the
battlefields of the First World War. These trench networks form an enduring material record of
the conflict, incised in the landscape of Gallipoli on both the ANZAC and Ottoman sides.
Almost 100 years since their construction, these earthworks are still visible between the
cemeteries and memorials which now define the Peace Park.
The events of the First World War (1914-1918) have occupied historians for decades, but it is
only very recently that we archaeologists have begun to investigate the complex material
record of this first global, industrialised conflict. I am one of two Australian archaeologists
working on the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey (JHAS) of the Gallipoli battlefields, a
multi-national and multi-disciplinary project whose team has completed two seasons of non-
invasive survey of the Gallipoli battlefields. We are using historical documents, modern spatial
technologies and archaeological survey methods to research the Gallipoli battlefields,
recording the location and condition of the remaining trench networks and the artefacts
associated with them. Many people contribute to the success of our fieldwork at Gallipoli,
notably the Department of Veterans' Affairs who fund our fieldwork.
Archaeology is most closely associated with excavation, but it is often not possible to excavate
battlefield sites; this is certainly the case at Gallipoli, which is reserved as an open cemetery
and remains a sensitive place in the public and political spheres of Australia, Turkey and New
Zealand. In place of excavation, we are using spatial technologies such as GIS, Differential
GPS (DGPS), aerial photography and geophysical methods to enhance the capabilities of
archaeological surface survey, making it possible to study the material record of the battlefield
without breaking the surface.
I handle the spatial data for the JHAS project, using precise DGPS to record the lengths of
trenches and locations of dugouts, camps and artefacts that make up the Gallipoli battlefields.
These results can be imported into a Geographic Information System (GIS); in this framework
the digital map of the survey results can be analysed alongside other modern and historical
maps. These include historical topographic maps used by the ANZACs for the 25 April
landings, trench maps created during the campaign and wartime aerial reconnaissance
photographs. Analyses of modern satellite imagery also provide us with details on the
historical landscape and the modern commemorative park, and geophysical methods will allow
us to investigate the subsurface of the battlefield. The digital map we are building of the
remnant WWI landscape provides a template for research, a precise record of the remains of
the 1915 conflict in the context of the modern commemorative landscape.
My postdoctoral fellowship from the Faculty of Arts has given me the opportunity to devote
some time to the archaeological investigation of Gallipoli, along with my other research
interests in landscape archaeology. The Gallipoli peninsula contains some of the world's least
disturbed WWI sites; it is a privilege to have access to the battlefields and, as the centenary of
the campaign approaches, to investigate the archaeology of conflict and the cartography of
war at Gallipoli.
Jessie Birkett-Rees is a Faculty of Arts Postdoctoral Fellow working in the School of
Historical and Philosophical Studies. Her degrees in archaeology and earth sciences
and PhD in archaeology and geomatic engineering are put to use working on
archaeological field survey, non-invasive investigation methods and the application of
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to archaeological contexts. Jessie's research
focusses on landscape archaeology, the archaeology of conflict and the use of spatial
technologies in cultural heritage conservation.