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The Archaeology of WWII Karst Defences in the Pacific

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Julie Mushynsky

on 16 August 2014

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Transcript of The Archaeology of WWII Karst Defences in the Pacific

Welcome to an introduction to my PhD project: The Archaeology of WWII Karst Defences in the Pacific
A bit about WWII in the Pacific if you didn't already know
Archaeology of Defensive Structures
How do I study karst defences archaeologically? Archaeology is about studying PEOPLE from the things they leave behind, so what sorts of research questions can I ask and will the answers tell me a little bit about the people who used and/or constructed these sites? And so begins an entire year of this...
Why does all this matter?
It hasn't been done in Saipan before, so its original research. It would also be the first study in the Pacific to analyse and interpret these sites in the ways I'm suggesting.

This is a fairly under-studied and unknown component of WWII history so it helps fill that knowledge gap.

Where are karst defences located?
Those of the Japanese variety could exist any place in the Pacific with karst topography, that is, any place with caves that was occupied by Japan in the 1940s.

Where do I know they exist? On an island called Saipan. According to the Huffington Post...
Are there different Japanese army and navy caves and tunnels?
Analysing artefacts
artefacts at karst defences are deposited over a period of days rather than years. So I am in a position to possibly identify individual behaviours of people who used these sites and can maybe identify distinct moments during the war.

I will also relate these structures and artefacts to wider societal attitudes and conditions
Research Questions
(Butler and DeFant 1991:6)
some archaeologists have attempted to identify fear, threat and coping mechanisms through artefacts at defensive structures. For example, a piano found at a defensive site in Sydney, Australia may be an indication of low fear/threat. But emotions such as fear are difficult to determine because they are so subjective. See the little girl on the right? Is she fearful? Or maybe she is scared. Maybe that's a look of defeat. It almost looks like she has given up trying to fight that little boy off. Hard to determine, right? Even harder to determine through material remains...

But I do have artefacts to analyse:
For example:
do karst defences differ across the island? Would the sites in the south where the battle began differ to those in the north when the Japanese military were nearing defeat?

Were people using different defence tactics at different times during the battle and in different areas and is it related to the general social atmosphere (ie. we are strong and united or we are getting battered, scattered and starting to panic)? How would these sites relate to what was happening to the Japanese in the entire Pacific theatre?
Saipan was also home to the Battle for Saipan, a major battle in the Pacific War lasting from June 15 to July 9, 1944.
The archaeology of WWII MUST also engage with people in the present. Why?

1. People's memories and oral histories add to the understanding of sites and artefacts.

2. It helps archaeologists understand whether these sites and artefacts are significant to people.

3. Local memories and oral histories help establish a more local WWII story. Many of the oral histories from Saipan probably didn't make it into the history books. Incorporating what locals know makes for a more inclusive and holistic study.

4. Studying WWII can conjure up some bad feelings and memories for some people. So in order to make this study worthwhile it needs to incorporate these memories into the study. So when people visit these sites, local people are heard, seen, felt and responded to through the existence of these sites.
From history/government documents:
- the Japanese used them during the battle for shelter, storage, combat, etc.
- civilians hid inside these caves and tunnels during the war
- many people died inside these caves and tunnels
- the Japanese were rushed in constructing karst defences

From geological studies:
- karst defences exist almost anywhere in the limestone and 75 percent of Saipan's surface is limestone. That's a whole lot of potential sites!
1. What were the defence strategies and tactics people employed at karst defences and what influenced these tactics? (what were people doing at these sites and why).

2. How did karst defences change as the war progressed in Saipan? How do karst defences in Saipan relate to the wider Japanese defence strategy in the Pacific?

Thanks for watching my presentation. I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the project. I'd also be interested in hearing about what you know about WWII in the Pacific. You can send me an email with your comments:


If you ever find yourself in Saipan in 2014/2015, email me! I'm always looking for assistance with archaeological survey.
How will I do this?
I'll need to spend a little time (up to one-
year) recording a large sample of these sites, their construction and their related artefacts from different areas of the island. With local

I also need to collect oral histories and information from locals.

Map Design by James W. Hunter III, Ships of Discovery
but then I found several other researchers were studying defensive structures and were asking questions I could also ask.
For example, take a look at this photo. Using the remains from this "battlefield," I could probably reconstruct the moments of the night before. I could maybe tell how many people were there and exactly where they were sitting. Based on the brand of beer I could maybe tell what "type" of people were here (young, poor people looking to drink alot of cheap commercial beer or those with more income and looking to savor the taste of more finer beers). One oral history from someone who was at this site described a game of something called "beer darts" which ensued and one person was struck in the foot with the dart. I wonder if the dart is still there? What does this game say about the cultural group these people were a part of? As you can see, by studying artefacts and how they are spaced out, I can gather details of the people and behaviours from that night. Or maybe it was an afternoon...
Why on earth would people have had these types of hair styles? Was this part of some cultural ritual? Probably not. Did their hair serve a practical purpose like maybe they were used to scrub the walls in their house? I doubt it. A more probable explanation is that these hairstyles were related to the larger societal attitudes and conditions of their time. It was "in style" and it was acceptable to have your hair this way. These types of hairstyles were probably inspired by what people thought was "cool" at the time. This same idea can be applied to karst defences. Not that the construction of these sites were "in style," but if they are related to what was going on at the time
Do you recognize this photo? It's a photo of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. Generally speaking, it marks the day that WWII in the Pacific began.
After Pearl Habour, Japan invaded several other areas of the Pacific.
As the war progressed, the Japanese started losing their battles. This meant they had to prepare for more defensive measures which included the construction of "karst defences."
What is a karst defence?
Karst defences refer to caves and tunnels used during WWII. Both the Japanese military and civilians modified natural caves and excavated new ones into the limestone.
the battle began where the red, green, yellow and blue bits are and ended in the north. More than 30,000 people lost their lives in the battle

what do we know about karst defences in Saipan?
in 1945, a Lieutentant in the US naval reserve found distinct army and navy caves in Peleliu.
He found that army and navy tunnels were dug out in different configurations
and overall, army tunnels were smaller and were used for combat. Navy tunnels were bigger and
used for shelter.

This is an aerial view of what is described as a navy tunnel dug out in a U-shape. The notches were used for shelter.

Also an aerial view, this tunnel is described as an army tunnel dug out in a Y-shape. Weapons were mounted at one entrance and the other tunnel was used for quick escape and the other for storage.
We know from historical documents that the Japanese army and navy weren't united and often competed for resources, so maybe distinct army and navy karst defences exist in other parts of the Pacific, like Saipan. That could tell me a little bit about the Japanese military in Saipan.
Take a look at these photos. Look at the hair.
Do you have 9 minutes? Click to watch the video for an overview of the battle. Have a spare 40 minutes? Watch all 5.
press play
• To determine what variations are present in the placement, design and construction of karst defences in Saipan, and the materials associated with them.
• To examine how closely Saipan’s karst defences (including their form, function and change over time) resemble similar fortifications in other parts of the Pacific.
• To understand the human behaviour around karst defences, including individual and group responses to the Battle for Saipan as it progressed.
• To identify the contemporary significance of karst defences to the Saipan community.

Social Significance
Locals are interested in more information for possible heritage tourism

Contextualise for bone collection missions
Map of the Pacific During WWII
Japanese Air-Raid of Pearl Harbour and Explosion of USS Arizona
Civilians hiding in Cave in Saipan
Tunnel in Saipan
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Cave in Saipan
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Tunnel in Saipan
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Cave in Saipan
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
View of Saipan's Western Coast
Map of the Pacific
Japanese Storage Cave in Saipan
photograph by W. Eugene Smith
Civilians Hiding in Cave
Map of the Pacific
Phelan 1945:7
U-Tunnel in Peleliu
Phelan 1945:11
Y-Tunnel in Peleliu
"Battlefield" in Saskatchewan
photograph courtesy of Tyler Harnett
The Subjectivity of Emotions
photograph courtesy of Tyler Harnett
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Gas Mask Diaphragm
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Child's Shoe and Adult's Jikatabi Shoe
Cache of Tinned Food inside Cave in Saipan
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Sake Cup
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Bullet Shell
photographs courtesy of Tyler Harnett
My In-Laws' Hairstyles
photograph by Julie Mushynsky
Memorial Offerings at Cave
US Marine Lifting Infant from
Full transcript