Digging for physical memories at Mt Tumbledown

Archaeologists and veterans are researching what remains on the Falkland Islands’ battlefields.

The unique project documents several Argentine defensive positions in the 1982 war, in particular for the decisive encounter at Mount Tumbledown.

The team mapped rock-built fortifications, shooting trenches, and mortar and artillery craters.

They also recovered personal items and equipment to try to better understand what happened in the conflict.

These objects include kitchen stands made from fence wire, oil drums cut to sheet metal to build shelters, bullets and bomb fragments.

Pairs of civilian shoes were found carefully stored in rock crevices in some of the Argentinians’ temporary fortifications, or sangars.

This footwear was “utterly unsuitable” for the Falklands climate and terrain, but was “carefully” placed there for safety, said project co-director and University of Oxford archaeologist Tim Clack.


Argentine shoes in rock sangar position, untouched for 40 years

Studying the memories of veterans alongside historical sources and archaeological remains would allow for a unique and “enhanced understanding of events”, he explained.

The project is a joint venture between the University of Oxford, the University of Glasgow, veteran charity Waterloo Uncovered and the Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust.

Islanders also got involved, as did British Army veterans and even an artist.

In addition to obtaining archaeological findings, the entire project is designed to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) come to terms with their experiences.

Two worn brass casings

Round spent rifle shells provide direct evidence of a moment in battle

‘Abundance’ of finds

Mount Tumbledown was where the war ended. When British troops finally captured the heights above Port Stanley in fighting on 13 and 14 June, the Argentine occupying force promptly surrendered.

But during the two and a half months before this final confrontation, the high ground in front of the capital was where the Argentines had dug – in cold, dark, windy and snowy conditions.

The archaeological team found an “abundance” of recovered metal, including fences and train tracks, sleeping bags, blankets and entrenchment tools that spoke of “makeshift housing” and “anticipation of the struggle to come,” Clack said.

Project directors Tim Clack and Tony Pollard

Project directors Tim Clack and Tony Pollard at the battlefield location

The researcher said the first such survey proved that the positions held by the 5th Battalion of Argentine Marines were more extensive than historical sources indicated.

The number and variety of features came as a surprise, he added, and the research made it clear that events on other battlegrounds towards the end of the war, such as Mount Longdon, had an effect on Argentina’s defense of Tumbledown.

“There’s still a lot of material out there and if your location is recorded it still has stories to tell,” commented project co-director Tony Pollard of Glasgow.

Archaeological evidence painted a “vivid picture”, allowing the team to “not only map these remains on the landscape, but also trace the footsteps of those who fought on that incredibly rugged terrain,” he continued.

3D model of fall

A 3D model of a section of the Mount Tumbledown drone survey

3D archeology

The team conducted a detailed drone survey of various areas of the battlefield to quickly and accurately record what currently survives in the field.

Three-dimensional digital models are being made of various structures such as bunkers and sangars.

This, said archaeologist Stuart Eve, would make it possible to “simulate the different fields of fire” and record the conditions that combatants faced during the campaign.

“The models and data surveyed also act as a digital archive of the condition of the battlefield and remains, before they deteriorate and are lost forever,” Eve said.

Forty years of exposure to the Malvinas’ harsh climate take their toll. Cattle grazing doesn’t help either.

The team also found evidence of illegally excavated Argentine bunkers.

“Unfortunately, we will likely never know what was found and taken by those who took it upon themselves to dig into the battlefield without permission,” added Clack.

Doug Farthing

Doug Farthing at a teaching session at the Falkland Islands Community School in Port Stanley

helping veterans

The project is the first time that war veterans have participated in an archaeological survey of their own battlefield.

For John, one of two former Scottish guardsmen involved, it marked his first visit to the Falklands since fighting in the battle for Tumbledown.

“It was the trip of a lifetime to be part of the project and face some demons; It was life changing,” he explained.

“It’s been emotionally very difficult and pleasant and a pleasure at the same time – just like the four seasons in a Falkland weather day.”

Jim, who served alongside John, had visited the islands four times prior to fieldwork. He said the project helped him “go through the journey without too many setbacks”.

The project “opened my eyes to a wider view of what happened in all areas of Tumbledown during the battle,” he added.

Rusty country kitchen scraps

The remains of Argentine country kitchens known as ranchos at the eastern end of Tumbledown

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Rod Eldridge of Waterloo Uncovered assisted the project as a mental health professional and said the archaeological work helped support “new and updated veterans’ assessments of what happened during the battle for Tumbledown”. This, said Eldridge, brought “new, useful, cathartic thoughts and feelings.”

“Long-term exposure to their dreaded stimulus, battle, while traveling reduced anxiety levels.

“Knowing the Falkland Islanders who are so grateful for their sacrifice meant their war was not forgotten.”

The insights the veterans provided, Pollard said, created a “unique intersection” of physical remains, landscape and memory that “brought the past into the present.”

“Having someone by my side who was actually there, and able to tell me, among many other things, that a rubber cylinder, the size of a pen tip, was the connector between a Milan missile and its guidewire was another. experience entirely,” explained Professor Pollard.

Mount Tumbledown painting

Artist Douglas Farthing painted the mountain at the point of advance

Museum sessions

Teaching sessions combining archeology and art at the museum and community schools were also led by the project’s artist – Major Sergeant (retired) Douglas Farthing MBE.

Painting from the landscape, working with the team and local people created a “powerful” connection, he said.

Emma Goss, Heritage Conservation Officer at the Falkland Islands Museum, also said the project is unique both in using the perspectives of ex-combatants and “in the future, utilizing the first-hand perspectives of islanders who were heavily involved in the war.” .

“All of this adds a richness to field archeology – which is not often seen,” he added.

“The military and women who championed these freedoms should be proud of what I see today: the happy, smiling faces of children, a growing economy, wildlife conservation and a protected landscape,” said Farthing.



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