Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

7

The archaeology of scientific experiments at a nuclear testing ground

COLLEEN M. BECK


INTRODUCTION

A hallmark of the twentieth century was the exponential growth of technological innovation. With two world wars and a worldwide Cold War, international competition was intense to develop and apply new technology in order to maintain military superiority. The development of nuclear energy led to one of the most significant twentieth-century military inventions, the atomic bomb. During the Cold War, nuclear-related tests were conducted over forty-one years in the state of Nevada in the southwestern United States with the aim of refining nuclear capabilities. The built environment associated with this testing is a physical record of the events that occurred at this location, endeavours that were regionally, nationally and globally significant.

The archaeological study of nuclear testing provides an opportunity to document a class of historic constructions that, for the most part, are either unique or limited to only a few locations in the world. Over the past decade, research has been conducted on some of these structures providing information regarding the nature and scope of this class of recent historic sites at the Nevada Test Site, an operating government facility in the remote Nevada Desert under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Energy.


ATOMIC BOMBS AND TESTING GROUNDS

United States scientists secretly developed the atomic bomb in the early 1940s (Smyth and Morrison 1990). The security around this project meant that the rest of humanity had no knowledge of the new level of devastation that would be possible with this technology. It was the actual use of this weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 that announced to the world the existence of the atomic bomb and alerted all to its destructive power, irreversibly changing world politics and the nature of international confrontations. After the Soviet Union successfully fielded their atomic bomb in 1949 (Walker 1999:42), the world entered the era known as the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union, poised as enemies each ready to strike a deadly blow, dominated world events with their

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