Battle Scars: War & Geology

Trainee Paratroops, 06 August 1945
Trainee Paratroops, 06 August 1945

In this article, in the New Scientist, Jan and Mat Zalasiewicz discuss war from the perspective of mother nature, specifically the geological legacy which we have left for future generations to ‘discover’.

Verdun, The Somme, Passchendaele, Gallipoli – the battles of the first world war have become bywords for death, destruction and human misery. Historically, they are just the tip of the iceberg. There have been countless thousands of battles, and still they go on: around 50 armed conflicts are raging right now. War shapes the past, destroys our present and will determine our future.

But could the scars run deeper? Does conflict leave a permanent mark within Earth itself? It turns out war isn’t just for the history books – it can shape the geological strata in which Earth’s narrative is written. The earliest evidence of armed conflict dates back to around 13,000 BC and a mass grave in northern Sudan. Here 59 human skeletons were discovered, many bearing signs of violent death such as spear and arrowheads embedded in their bones.

The wars of the ancients give some guide to how long the marks of war might last. The old battlegrounds were picked over, as the dust and smoke settled, by vultures, rats and human scavengers. Much later, teams of archaeologists moved in, finding smashed human skeletons and the remains of weapons such as flint arrowheads. Could these objects last longer and become geology rather than archaeology?

For the full article, see the reference below.


Zalasiewicz, J. & Zalasiewicz, M. (2015) Battle Scars. New Scientist. 28 March 2015, pp.36-39.


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