Conflict, Heritage and World-Making in the Chaco

War at the End of the Worlds?

Esther Breithoff

ISBN: 9781787358065

Publication: August 06, 2020

What is this?

Conflict, Heritage and World-Making in the Chaco documents and interprets the physical remains and afterlives of the Chaco War (1932–35) – known as South America’s first ‘modern’ armed conflict – in what is now present-day Paraguay. It focuses not only on archaeological remains as conventionally understood, but takes an ontological approach to heterogeneous assemblages of objects, texts, practices and landscapes shaped by industrial war and people’s past and present engagements with them. These assemblages could be understood to constitute a ‘dark heritage’, the debris of a failed modernity. Yet it is clear that they are not simply dead memorials to this bloody war, but have been, and continue to be active in making, unmaking and remaking worlds – both for the participants and spectators of the war itself, as well as those who continue to occupy and live amongst the vast accretions of war matériel which persist in the present.

Framing the study as an exploration of modern, industrialised warfare as Anthropocene ‘hyperobject’ (Morton 2013), This book shows how the material culture and heritage of modern conflict fuse together objects, people and landscapes, connecting them physically and conceptually across vast, almost unimaginable distances and time periods. It offers a unique perspective on the heritage of conflict, the natural environment, practices of recycling, the concept of time, and the idea of the ‘Anthropocene’ itself, as seen through the lens of the material legacies of war, which remain firmly and stubbornly embedded in the present and which continue to actively shape the future.

The book makes a major contribution to key debates in anthropology, archaeology, environmental humanities, critical heritage and material culture studies on the significance of conflict in understanding the Anthropocene, and the roles played by its persistent heritages in assembling worlds.

Esther Breithoff is Lecturer in Contemporary Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London, and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow. She joined the department in 2019 after holding postdoctoral positions at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Her research spans the fields of Contemporary Archaeology and Critical Heritage Studies and has ranged across a number of different topics, including war, natural and cultural heritage, nuclear and petroleum industries, dictatorships and biobanking, but traces a common set of interests in the relationships between conflicts, resources, recycling and rights across the human/non-human divide in the Anthropocene.

List of Figures



1. Introduction: War at the End of the Worlds?

2. ‘Sin vencedores ni vencidos’: The Chaco and its Forgotten War

3. Dwelling Place, Promised Land and Green Hell? The Many Worlds of the Chaco

4. Trade, Trash, Treasure: Recycling Conflict, Making Worlds

5. Ruins of Modernity: Archaeology and Heritage in the Chaco

6. Anthropocene Hyperobjects: Persistent Heritages beyond the Chaco War


‘The war, as Breithoff eloquently proves, was much more than a conflict between nations: it was a war of worlds at the end of the world, a clash of divergent ontologies that has had myriad iterations ever since. It left an enduring legacy in the form of ruins, waste, heritage and artefacts, which have been curated, appropriated or disavowed in different ways ever since the end of the war in 1935. Through her rich exploration of violence and its afterlife, Breithoff reinvents conflict archaeology and the study of negative heritage. This fascinating book will remain a landmark in those fields for many years.’ - Alfredo González-Ruibal, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)


Format: Open Access PDF

74 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2020

ISBN: 9781787358065

Publication: August 06, 2020

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