Professor Nicholas J Saunders

B.A. (Hons) Prehistory and Archaeology (Sheffield), M.Phil. Social Anthropology      (Cambridge), PhD Archaeology (Southampton)

Department of Archaeology & Anthropology
University of Bristol
43 Woodland Road

Tel: +44 (0) 117 331 1188
Fax: +44 (0) 117 954 6001
E-mail: Nicholas.Saunders@bris.ac.uk

Dr Nicholas Saunders



  1) The Great Arab Revolt Archaeological Project (GARP)

Ottoman trenches and redoubt at Ma-an Station

Excavations at Akabat Hejaz Railway Station

This is an interdisciplinary archaeological-anthropological project co-directed with Dr Neil Faulkner, and in co-operation with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the Department of Archaeology, al-Hussein Bin Talal University, the Hashemite Royal Court, and Istanbul University. It is a ten-year project (2006-2016), which involves survey and excavation of conflict landscapes - trenches, fortifications, tented encampments, and standing buildings - along the militarised southern Jordanian section of the Hejaz Railway. The railroad was a major focus of hostilities in 1916-18 between the Ottoman Turks and the Arab forces of Sherif Hussein and T.E. Lawrence, in what became known as the Great Arab Revolt - itself embedded within the First World War. The success enjoyed by the mobile Arab and British forces against the largely immobile Ottoman army is famously enshrined in Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and is regarded as the template for modern guerilla warfare. Fieldwork has focused on investigating the sites of Ma'an Station, Wadi Rutm, Batn Al-Ghoul, and Tel Shahm - all Ottoman-built stations or associated fortifications. Extensive landscape investigations have been supplemented by research in document and photo archives, oral history, aerial reconnaissance, and the invaluable support of Jordanian and Turkish colleagues. Almost a century after the First World War ended, the archaeological legacy of a conflict involving Arab peoples, the Turks, and the British, is being investigated by an international team from those same countries.

Ottoman fortification protecting a railway viaduct

2010 Field Team

  2) The Isonzo Valley 1915-2018: Conflict Landscapes on the Slovenian-Italian Border

Figure 1

Memorial to an Italian soldier at Redipuglia, Italy

The Isonzo Valley on the Slovenian-Italian border is both physical place and symbolic landscape – a powerful embodiment of Europe’s twentieth century military, political, and cultural transformation in microcosm. Between May 1915 and October 1917, an extraordinary First World War conflict landscape was created, at the cost of around 1.5 million casualties (dead, wounded, imprisoned). The resulting archaeological record is a well-preserved palimpsest of modern warfare and its complex enduring legacies. In wider focus, Mussolini’s experience of fighting on the Isonzo inspired his post-war political ambitions by mobilizing what he called the ‘trenchocracy’. One consequence was his re-shaping of the valley’s war landscape through establishing visually impressive memorials, ossuaries and cemeteries, and by building part of his Vallo Alpino defensive line between 1936 and 1943 - embedding a Second World War conflict landscape in that of the First World War. A reconnaissance phase of this research (2009-2011) has established the framework for a larger trans-national project which draws on archaeology, anthropology and history. The project’s aim is to investigate the various archaeological and anthropological layers of these conflict landscapes by documenting the cultural memory and material and visual culture associated with them. Aerial and ground-level survey, targeted excavation, and ethnographic interviews, together with the study of museums, memorials, private collections and heritage sites create a unique multidisciplinary understanding of the character of the war experience and its aftermath.

Memorial to the fallen made of war debris at Monte San Michele, Italy

Excavation on Mt Kuk, Tolmin, Slovenia

  3) Image and Culture at Nazca, Peru 

Walking and mapping the Nazca desert

Nazca geoglyph built between low-lying hills

This project co-directed with Professor Clive Ruggles from Leicester University and Dr Ivan Ghezzi of Yale University is an archaeological/anthropological investigation into large-scale designs made in the desert of south coastal Peru, and involves survey, inventory, and investigating the overlapping construction/re-use of the images between ca. 200 BC and ca. AD 800. The project involves a combination of satellite digital mapping and an experiential mode of inquiry acquired by extensive field-walking, together with the detailed examination of horizontal stratigraphy and surface artefacts. This approach was adopted because we considered that to understand the physical and perceptual relationships of those who created Nazca's geoglyphs and their landscape, we needed to develop our own equally haptic familiarity with that same environment. The project includes a study of the material culture of tourism in Nazca, especially the current utilization of prehistoric iconography as symbols of local and national cultural identity in the cultural heritage arena, and the role of Maria Reiche in this process.  Press release detailing Dr Saunders' work in Peru.

Distinctive Nazca geoglyph, bordered by small heaps of stones

Nazca Town memorial to local potter

  4) Archaeology, material culture, and cultural memory of 20th-Century Conflict

This is a long-term archaeological and anthropological project which initially focused on 'trench art' - 3-D memory objects that embodied the different experiences of war for makers and consumers between 1914 and 1939 (i.e. soldiers and POWs, and refugees and internees). It has grown to include more recent work in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in relation to concepts of ethnicity and materiality, and also to the wider exploration of related issues concerning conflict landscapes, nationalism, religion, heritage and museums, tourism, and commemoration. It has led to exhibitions and collaborations with the Imperial War Museum (London), The Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), In Flanders Fields Museum (Ieper, Belgium), the Historial de la Grande Guerre (Péronne, France), and the Ludwig-Uhland-Institut für Empirische Kulturwissenschaft der Universität Tübingen (Tubingen, Germany). It has also led to regular conferences on Material Culture and Cultural Memory of 20th Century Conflict at the Imperial War Museum - next one to be in 2013 - to a 5-year rolling exhibition on trench art at the In Flanders Fields Museum, and to First World War-related archaeological and anthropological investigations in Belgium, France, Jordan, Slovenia, and Macedonia (FYROM).

  5) Brilliance and Colour in the Americas

This research focuses on the proposition that there exists an 'aesthetic of brilliance' among native peoples of the Americas (past and present). The significance accorded to shiny matter is regarded as emanating from deeply embedded ideas about and attitudes concerning the significance of light and colour.The research has three distinct-but-interlocking parts: (i) investigation of indigenous philosophies of light and colour via ethnohistory and ethnography, (ii) the ways in which these are embodied in archaeological material and visual culture (e.g. obsidian, jade, mirrors) of the pre-Columbian period, and (iii) the role of this aesthetic in the indigenous experience of the Spanish conquest (physical and spiritual), colonial art, and folk art today.

  6) Animal Symbolism in Pre-Columbian and Native America 




This long term research interest is concerned with the construction and use of animal symbolism in Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Amazon - during pre-Columbian and more recent times. It has been mainly concerned with issues of ‘predator categories’ of animals, and the ways they have been symbolically constructed/acquired by social elites through political ideology and mythology as expressed in archaeological, and more recent ethnographic material culture. A particular focus has been on the use of the Jaguar and other felines as natural prototypes for symbolic expression, and a detailed case study of this for the pre-Columbian Aztec civilization of Mesoamerica.







  • Saunders, N.J. and E. Baquedano. (2015) Symbolizing Tezcatlipoca. In, E. Baquedano (ed.), Tezcatlipoca: Trickster and Supreme Deity, pp 1-6. Boulder:University of Colorado Press.


  • Saunders, N.J. and P. Cornish. (2014) Bodies in conflict: Corporeality, materiality and transformation. London: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2014) Bodies in trees: a matter of being in Great War landscapes. In, Paul Cornish and Nicholas J Saunders (eds.), Bodies in conflict: Corporeality, Materiality and transformation, pp 22-38. London: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. and N. Faulkner. (2014) Excavating a Legend: Lawrence of Arabia’s Desert Campsite at Tooth Hill. Current World Archaeology 66 (August-September): 30-35.
  • Saunders, N.J., J. Schofield, and E. Glass. (2014) The Home Front (1914-1918) and its Legacies: A Pilot Study for a national public archaeology recording project of First World War Legacies in Britain: 2014-2018. English Heritage, University of Bristol and University of York. Swindon: English Heritage.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2014) The Poppy: A History of Conflict, Loss, Remembrance and Redemption. London: OneWorld.


  • Saunders, N.J., N. Faulkner, U. Kosir, M. Cresnar, and S. Thomas. (2013) Conflict Landscapes of the Soča/Isonzo Front, 1915-2013: Archaeological-Anthropological Evaluation of the Soča Valley, Slovenia. Arheo 30: 47-66.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2013) Trench Art: The Dawn of Modern Conflict Archaeology. Current World Archaeology 62: 40-45.


  • Ruggles, C. and N.J. Saunders. (2012) Desert labyrinth: Lines, landscape and meaning in Nazca, Peru. Antiquity 86 (334).
  • Saunders, N.J. (ed.) (2012) Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow. 
  • Saunders, N.J. (2012) Transformations: Les Objets, Les Individus, L’Art et La Guerre.      (‘Transformations: Objects, Individuals, Art and War’). In, C. Garnier and L. Lebon (eds.) 1917. [Exhibition Catalogue], pp 58-62. Metz : Éditions du Centre Pompidou-Metz.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2012) Travail et nostalgie sur le front de l’Ouest : l’Art des tranchées chinois et la Première Guerre mondiale (Labour and Longing on the Western Front: Chinese material culture and the First World War). In Li Ma (ed.), Chinese Workers in the First World War/ Les Travailleurs Chinois dans La Premiere Guerre Mondiale, pp 435-451. Paris: CNRS.
  • Saunders, N.J. (ed.) (2012) Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas. (paperback ed.). London: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. (in press) The Great Arab Revolt Project: 2010 and 2011 Field Seasons. American Journal of Archaeology, (Archaeology of Jordan Newsletter).
  • Saunders, N.J. and M. Wenzel. (in prep) Fighting with style: Material culture, ethnicity, and conflict in Sarajevo. 
  • P. Cornish and N.J. Saunders (eds), (in prep) Bodies in conflict: Corporeality, materiality, and transformation.
  • Saunders, N.J. (in prep) Bodies in trees: a matter of being in Great War landscapes. In, P. Cornish and N.J. Saunders (eds), Bodies in conflict: Corporeality, materiality, and transformation.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2012, in press) Espíritus que se materializan: Humo y poder en el continente Americano (Materialising Spirits: Smoke and Power in the Americas). In, C. Martinez and A. Llamazares Sarasola (eds.), The Art of Tobacco in Ancient America. Buenos Aires: CEPPA.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2012, in press) Glisten and gleam: ‘Sacred Moisture’ in the Americas. In F. Stevens and R. Whitehouse (eds.), The Archaeology of Water: Social and Ritual Dimensions. Left Coast Press.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2011) First World War Archaeology: Between Theory and Practice. Archeologia della Grande Guerra: Atti del Convegno Internazionale 23/24 June 2006 pp 37-53. Trento: Stampalith.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2011) Shimmering Worlds: Brilliance, Power and Gold in Pre-Columbian Panama. In, R.G. Cooke, N.J. Saunders, J.W. Hoopes and J. Quilter, To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama, pp 78-113. Gilcrease Museum and University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Shqiarat, M., Z. Al-Salameen, N. Faulkner, and N.J. Saunders. (2011) Fire and Water: tradition   and transformation in the archaeology of steam locomotion in a desert war. Levant 43 (1): 98-113. 
  • Saunders, N.J., and N. Faulkner. (2010) Fire on the desert: Conflict archaeology and the Great Arab Revolt in Jordan, 1916-18. Antiquity 84 (324): 514-527.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2010) Obsidian Mirror or Portable Altar. In, S. Toby Evans (ed.), Ancient Mexican Art at Dumbarton Oaks, pp 76-77. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.
  • Paisley, S. and N.J. Saunders. (2010) A God Forsaken: the sacred bear in Andean iconography and cosmology. World Archaeology 42 (2): 245-260.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2010) Killing Time: Archaeology and the First World War (2nd ed. paperback). Stroud: The History Press.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2009) People in objects: Individuality and the quotidian in the material culture of war. In, Carolyn White (ed.), The Materiality of Individuality, pp 37-55. New York: Springer. 
  • Saunders, N.J. and Paul Cornish (eds). (2009) Contested Objects: Material Memories of the Great War. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Dewilde, M. and N.J. Saunders. (2009) Archaeology of the Great War: The Flemish experience. In, N.J. Saunders and P. Cornish (eds), Contested Objects: Material memories of the Great War, pp 251-265. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J., Jean Bourgeois, Birger Stichelbaut, and Piet Chielens (eds) (2009) Military Aerial Photography and Archaeology. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2009) ‘Ulysses’s Gaze: The panoptic premise in aerial photography and Great War archaeology. In, Jean Bourgeois, Birger Stichelbaut, Nicholas J Saunders, and Piet Chielens (eds) Military Aerial Photography and Archaeology, pp 27-40. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2008) Response to, ‘Time to destroy, An archaeology of supermodernity’, by A. Gonzalez-Ruibal. Current Anthropology 49 (2): 268-9.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2007) 'Killing Time': Archaeology and the First World War. Stroud: Sutton.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2005) Peoples of the Caribbean: An Encyclopedia of Caribbean Archaeology and  Traditional Culture. Oxford and San Diego: ABC-Clio.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2005) Culture, Conflict, and Materiality: The Social Lives of Great War Objects. In, B. Finn and B.C. Hacker (eds.) Materializing the Military, pp 77-94. London: Science Museum.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2004). The Cosmic Earth: Materiality and Mineralogy in the Americas. In N. Boivin and M.A. Owoc (eds.), Soil, Stones and Symbols: Cultural Perceptions of the Mineral  World, pp 123-141. London: UCL Press.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2004). El 'Estético de Brillo': Chamanismo, Poder, y el Arte de Analogía. En, A.M. Llamazares y C. Sarasola (eds.), El Languaje de los Dioses: Arte, Chamanismo y Cosmovisión Indígena de Sudamérica, pp 127-140. Buenos Aires: Fundacion Desde America.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2004) Matters of Conflict: Material Culture, Memory and the First World War. (ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2003). Crucifix, Calvary, and Cross: materiality and spirituality in Great War Landscapes. World Archaeology  35 (1): 7-21.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2003) Trench Art: Materialities and Memories of War. Oxford: Berg.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2003). 'Catching the light': Technologies of power and enchantment in Pre-Columbian goldworking. In, J. Quilter and J.W. Hoopes (eds), Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, pp 15-47. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Nick Saunders, Salisbury Plan (1958)

Nick Saunders, Salisbury Plain (1958)

Nick Saunders, Salisbury Plain (2008)

Nick Saunders, Salisbury Plain (2008)


  • Saunders, N.J. (2002). The Colours of light: Materiality and Chromatic cultures of the Americas, In, A. Jones and G. MacGregor (eds), Colouring the Past: The Significance of Archaeological Research, pp 209-226. Oxford: Berg.
  • Politis, G., and N.J. Saunders. (2002). Archaeological correlates of ideological activity: Food Taboos and spirit animals in an Amazonian rainforest hunter-gatherer society. In, P. Miracle (ed.), Consuming Passions and Patterns of Consumption, pp 113-130. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2002). Excavating memories: archaeology and the Great War, 1914-2001. Antiquity 76 (291): 101-8.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2002). The ironic 'culture of shells' in the Great War and beyond. In, J. Schofield, W.G. Johnson, and C. Beck (eds), Matériel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict, pp 22-40. London: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2001) A Dark Light: Reflections on Obsidian in Mesoamerica. World Archaeology, 33 (2):220-236.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2001) Matter and memory in the landscapes of conflict: The Western Front 1914-1999. In, B. Bender and M. Winer (eds), Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place, pp 37-53. Oxford: Berg.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2001). Apprehending Memory: Material Culture and War, 1919-1939. In, J. Bourne, P.H. Liddle and H. Whitehead (eds), The Great World War, 1914-1945. Vol.2, pp 476-488. London:HarperCollins.
  • Saunders, N.J. (2000) Bodies of metal, shells of memory: 'Trench Art' and the Great War Re-cycled. Journal of Material Culture, 5 (1):43-67.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1999) Biographies of brilliance: Pearls, transformations of matter and being, c. AD 1492. World Archaeology 31 (2): 243-57.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1998) Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas. (ed.).New York and London: Routledge.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1998). Stealers of light, traders in brilliance: Amerindian metaphysics in the mirror of conquest. RES: Anthropology  and Aesthetics 33 (1): 225-52.
  • Saunders, N.J. and D. Gray. (1996) Zemís, trees and symbolic landscapes: three Taíno carvings from Jamaica. Antiquity Vol 70, No.270, pp 801-812.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1994) At the mouth of the Obsidian Cave: Deity and Place in Aztec Religion. In, David L Carmichael, Jane Hubert, Brian Reeves, & Oudhild Schanche (eds), Sacred Sites,  Sacred Places. pp 172-183. Routledge, London.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1994) Predators of culture: Jaguar symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites. World Archaeology  Vol. 26:1, pp 104-117.
  • Saunders, N.J. and C.L.N. Ruggles (eds) (1993) Astronomies and Cultures. (co edited with C.L.N. Ruggles), Niwot: University Press of Colorado.
  • Saunders, N.J. (ed). (1992). Ancient America: Contributions to New World Archaeology. Oxbow Books, Oxford.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1990) Tezcatlipoca: Jaguar Metaphors and the Aztec Mirror of Nature, in R.G Willis (ed.), Signifying Animals: Human Meaning in the Natural World, pp 159 177, Unwin Hyman, London.
  • Saunders, N.J. (1988) Chatoyer: Anthropological Reflections on Archaeological Mirrors. in N.J. Saunders & O. de Montmollin (eds), Recent Studies in Pre Columbian Archaeology. BAR International Series 421, pp 1 40, Oxford; British Archaeological Reports.

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