Preserving Gallipoli battlefield artefacts and features

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Preserving Gallipoli battlefield artefacts and features

Struggling through the rugged terrain of Gallipoli to survey the battlefield.

An online database captures landscape features and artefacts from the 1915 Gallipoli battlefield, providing perspective from both sides of the World War I campaign.

The outcome

A deep circular well, lined with stones and still filled with water. A bullet-torn water bottle made of tin, with a blue enamel finish.

These are two of more than 2000 items captured in the University of Melbourne’s Anzac Gallipoli Archaeology Database.


Explore the database


The database is a digital archive of the World War I battlefield at Anzac on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It holds records of artefacts and landscape features, such as trenches and dugouts, from both the Turkish and Anzac areas of the battlefield.


Database Artefact No: 145. Water bottle. Blue enamelled tin container with likely bullet holes. c1915.

This resource preserves information about the campaign and reveals what life was like at the time for soldiers on both sides. For example, researchers were able to understand the diet and likely calorie intake of Turkish soldiers. The remains of a Turkish brick oven, tin-plated steel cans and glass bottles reveal differences in diet between the two sides – the freshly cooked meals that Turkish soldiers ate, compared to the largely tinned food that the Anzacs ate. The diets of soldiers, and the sickness that often struck them, can guide historians on how the conflict played out.

The database includes the precise locations of artefacts and features such as trenches. These can be used to guide changes in the landscape. As erosion continues to obscure and erase visible traces of the Gallipoli campaign, this information will become increasingly valuable. It can be used alongside historical and modern maps, and satellite imagery.

The database is useful not only for researchers and amateur historians from the three countries involved, but also for the general public and descendants of the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli.

The need

Most of what is known about life for the Turkish and Anzac soldiers during the eight-month Gallipoli campaign comes from written accounts such as letters, diaries, official documents or maps. Although artefacts from the battle are still embedded in the land, many of them are deteriorating at an alarming rate. This is due to age, erosion caused by the peninsula’s extreme weather conditions, tourists exploring the site, and relic hunters. New roads, monuments and buildings are being built around the site to accommodate increasing numbers of tourists – worsening the damage.

Despite the enormous amount of research and public interest in the Gallipoli campaign, the battlefield had never been investigated using high-tech archaeological survey methods.

The Gallipoli campaign was an unsuccessful attempt by Allied forces during World War I to cut off the sea route from Europe to Russia by taking control of the Dardanelles strait and capturing the Turkish capital.

The initial assault was by sea (18 March 1915), but this was a disastrous failure. On 25 April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on Gallipoli near what has become known as Anzac Cove. During the campaign that followed, around 58 000 Allied soldiers (including 11 000 Anzacs) and 87 000 Ottoman Turkish troops died.

Developing the solution

The database is the result of the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey, the first project since 1919 granted access to study the Anzac battlefield.

The survey team was led by the late Professor Antonio Sagona from the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne and Professor Chris Mackie, now at La Trobe University. It included archaeologists, historians and classicists from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey – all nations involved in the World War I battle at Anzac.

The team conducted five archaeological surveys of the site between 2010 and 2014, in the lead-up to the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign in 2015. The surveys focused on the frontline of the battlefield near Anzac Cove, but also included other Anzac and Turkish areas, especially those vulnerable to new roads or other development work.

This was a non-invasive archaeological project.  Only the surface of the site was surveyed – no digging was involved. The rugged terrain meant the researchers could not use a standard grid search. Instead, they criss-crossed the land, digitally recording their movements and documenting relevant artefacts and landscape features.

Where possible, the team used ground-penetrating radar to explore underground conditions. They uncovered evidence of tunnels in several areas, including Lone Pine Cemetery, The Nek and Quinn’s Post.

A member of the survey team using the Trimble GPS (global positioning system), Anzac area, Gallipoli.

All visible artefacts and landscape features related to the conflict and significant to both Anzac and Turkish forces were identified and recorded. They include visible remnants of trenches and dugouts, and the location of tunnels – revealed by slumps in the ground and by radar.

Artefacts from the campaign were either left in place or collected and analysed by Turkish archaeologists and stored in Turkey’s Çanakkale Naval Museum.

The survey team referred to maps and plans that Allied forces and the Ottoman Empire had made before, during and after the Gallipoli campaign. These documents provided details of the battlefield landscape and allowed the team to match features found during their surveys with historical records.

Over the course of the surveys, the team identified more than 2000 items and 16 kilometres of trenches. Their precise positions were recorded using highly accurate differential GPS, creating a digital map of the network of trenches, dugouts and surface artefacts.

Artefacts and features were described and photographed on site. The team entered this information, along with the GPS data, into a geographic information system (GIS) developed for the project.

The survey team then worked with the Digital Scholarship team at the University of Melbourne to create the publicly accessible Anzac Gallipoli Archaeology Database.

Funding

University of Melbourne

Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA)

Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi, Turkey

Turkish Government

New Zealand Government

Publications

Sagona A et al (2016) Anzac Battlefield: A Gallipoli Landscape of War and Memory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 9781107111745

Sagona A et al (2011) The ANZAC [Arıburnu] Battlefield: New perspectives and methodologies in history and archaeology. Australian Historical Studies 42(3): 313-336. doi: 10.1080/1031461X.2011.595012

Images: Sarah Midford/Antonio Sagona/Department of Veterans’ Affairs

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