Skip to main content Accessibility help

Proof of Life: Mark-Making Practices on the Island of Alderney

  • Caroline Sturdy Colls (a1), Rachel Bolton-King (a2), Kevin Colls (a1), Tim Harris (a3) and Czelsie Weston (a1)...


Currently, mark-making practices as a form of identification and proof of life are an unrealized resource. Over a three-year period, systematic walkover surveys were conducted on and within fortifications and other structures on the island of Alderney to locate historic and modern marks. The investigations presented in this article demonstrate the importance of non-invasive recording and examination of marks to identify evidence connected to forced and slave labourers, and soldiers present on the island of Alderney during the German occupation in World War II. Names, hand and footwear impressions, slogans, artworks, dates, and counting mechanisms were recorded electronically and investigated by using international databases, archives, and translation services. We discuss the value and challenges of interpreting traces of human life in the contexts of conflict archaeology and missing person investigations and underline the need for greater recognition of marks as evidence of past lives.

L’étude des marques comme forme d'identification et de preuve de vie est un domaine actuellement peu exploré. Une enquête systématique, dont le but était de repérer des signes d’époques historiques et modernes, a été menée sur une durée de trois ans autour et à l'intérieur des fortifications et autres structures de l’île d'Alderney. L’étude présentée ici démontre l'importance des relevés de surface et de l'examen des marques laissées par les prisonniers, forçats et soldats présents sur l’île d'Alderney au cours de son occupation pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Les recherches ont révélé des noms, des empreintes de mains et de chaussures, des slogans, des œuvres d'art, des dates et des systèmes de comptage qui ont été enregistrés, numérisés et étudiés à l'aide de bases de données internationales, d'archives et de services de traduction. Notre discussion porte sur la valeur et les défis posés par l'interprétation de traces de vie humaine dans le contexte de l'archéologie des conflits et des enquêtes sur personnes disparues et souligne le besoin de prendre davantage en compte le marquage en tant que preuve de vie. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Heute stellen Markierungen als Ausdruck der Identität und als Nachweis eines Lebens eine nicht ausgebeutete Quelle dar. In den letzten drei Jahren wurde eine systematische Aufnahme von verschiedenen Zeichen auf und innerhalb der Festungen und anderen Anlagen auf der Insel Alderney durchgeführt. Das Ziel war, Markierungen aus historischer und moderner Zeit zu dokumentieren. Die in diesem Artikel vorgestellten Untersuchungen unterstreichen die Bedeutung von nichtinvasiven Aufnahmeverfahren und der Auswertung von Kennzeichen, die es ermöglichen, die Anwesenheit von Zwangsarbeiter, Häftlingen und Soldaten auf der Insel Alderney während des Zweiten Weltkrieges zu beweisen. Namen, Abdrücke von Händen und Schuhen, Leitsprüche, Kunstwerke, Daten und Zählsysteme wurden elektronisch erfasst und mit Hilfe von internationalen Datenbanken, Archiven und Übersetzungsdiensten ausgewertet. Im Vordergrund der Ausführungen stehen der Betrag und die Schwierigkeiten hinsichtlich der Interpretation von Spuren menschlichen Lebens im Rahmen der Konfliktarchäologie und der Suche nach vermissten Personen. Diese Diskussion unterstreicht die Notwendigkeit einer besseren Anerkennung von Markierungen als Lebensbeweise in der Vergangenheit. Translation by Madeleine Hummler



Hide All
Agutter, R. 2014. Marking Time: Graffiti at the Adelaide Gaol. Adelaide: Flinders University of South Australia, Department of Archaeology.
Åström, P. 2007. The Study of Ancient Fingerprints. Journal of Ancient Fingerprints, 1: 23.
Aubert, M., Brumm, A., Ramli, M., Sutikna, T., Saptomo, E.W., Hakim, B. et al. 2014. Pleistocene Cave Art from Sulawesi, Indonesia. Nature, 514 (7521): 223–27.
Baird, J.A. & Taylor, C. eds. 2011. Ancient Graffiti in Context. New York: Routledge.
Bashford, A., Hobbins, P., Clarke, A. & Frederick, U.K. 2016. Geographies of Commemoration: Angel Island, San Francisco and North Head, Sydney. Journal of Historical Geography, 52: 1625.
Bennett, M.R. & Morse, S.A. 2014. Human Footprints: Fossilised Locomotion. New York: Springer.
Bonnard, B. 2013. The Island of Dread in the Channel: The Story of Georgi Ivanovitch Kondakov. Stroud: Amberley.
Brown, M. 2017. Karen Nichols’ Blog: WW1 Trenches Beneath Wiltshire Reveals an Australian Hero [online] [accessed 6 November 2017]. Available at <>
Bunting, M. 1995. The Model Occupation; The Channel Islands under German Rule 1940–45. London: HarperCollins.
Burton, J.F. & Farrell, M.M. 2012. ‘Life in Manzanar Where There is a Spring Breeze’: Graffiti at a World War II Japanese American Internment Camp. In: Mytum, H. & Carr, G., eds. Prisoners of War (Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology, 1). New York: Springer, pp. 239–69.
Carr, G. 2010. Shining a Light on Dark Tourism: German Bunkers in the British Channel Islands. Public Archaeology, 9: 6484.
Carr, G. & Sturdy Colls, C. 2016. Taboo and Sensitive Heritage: Labour Camps, Burials and the Role of Activism in the Channel Islands. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 22: 702–15.
Casella, E.C. 2009. Written on the Walls: Inmate Graffiti within Places of Confinement. In: Beisaw, A.M. & Gibb, J.G., eds. The Archaeology of Institutional Life. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, pp. 172–86.
Casella, E.C. 2014. Enmeshed Inscriptions: Reading the Graffiti of Australia's Convict Past. Australian Archaeology, 78: 108–12.
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014a. Standard and Guidance for Archaeological Field Evaluation. Reading: Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists 2014b. Standard and Guidance for Desk-Based Assessment. Reading: Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.
Cocroft, W., Devlin, D., Schofield, J. & Thomas, R.J.C. 2006. War Art: Murals and Graffiti – Military Life, Power and Subversion. York: Council for British Archaeology.
Cruikshank, C. 1975. The German Occupation of the Channel Islands. London: Oxford University Press.
Czarnecki, J.P. 1989. Last Traces: The Lost Art of Auschwitz. New York: Atheneum.
Daniell, C. 2011. Graffiti, Calliglyphs and Markers in the UK. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, 7: 454–76.
Davenport, T. 2003. Festung Alderney: The German Defences of Alderney. Jersey: Barnes Publishing Society.
Davenport, T. 2009. Alderney's Victorian Forts and Harbour. Alderney: Alderney Society and Museum.
Driscoll, P. 2010. The Past in the Prehistoric Channel Islands. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, 4: 6581.
Drollinger, H., Falvey, L.W. & Beck, C. 2015. Protest Graffiti at the Historic Nevada Peace Camp. Paper presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, CA, 15–19 April.
EDINA 2014. Fieldtrip GB download [online] [accessed 1 February 2017]. Available at <>
Edwards, H.G.M., Drummond, L. & Russ, J. 1998. Fourier-Transform Raman Spectroscopic Study of Pigments in Native American Indian Rock Art: Seminole Canyon. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 54: 1849–56.
Forty, G. 1999. The Channel Islands at War: A German Perspective. Sheperton: Ian Allan Publishing.
Frederick, U.K. 2009. Revolution is the New Black: Graffiti/Art and Mark-Making Practices. Archaeologies, 5: 210–37.
Frederick, U.K & Clarke, A. 2014. Signs of the Times: Archaeological Approaches to Historical and Contemporary Graffiti. Australian Archaeology, 78: 5457.
Freeman-Keel, T. 1995. From Auschwitz to Alderney and Beyond. Malvern Wells: Images Publishing.
Giles, K. & Giles, M. 2010. Signs of the Times: Nineteenth–Twentieth Century Graffiti in the Farms of the Yorkshire Wolds. In: Oliver, J. & Neal, T., eds. Wild Signs: Graffiti in Archaeology and History (BAR International Series 2074). Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 4759.
Gillings, M. 2009. Visual Affordance, Landscape and the Megaliths of Alderney. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 28: 335–56.
Hobbins, P., Frederick, U. & Clarke, A. 2016. Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia's Immigrant Past. Sydney: Arbon Publishing.
Holmes, L. 2016 Missing Someone: Exploring the Experiences of Family Members. In: Morewitz, S. & Sturdy Colls, C., eds. Handbook of Missing Persons. New York: Springer, pp. 551–74.
Huiskes, M. 1983. Die Wandinschriften des Kölner Gestapogefängnisses im EL-DE-Haus 1943–1945. Köln & Wien: Böhlau.
IBM n.d. Locale Quick Reference [online] [accessed 29 January 2018]. Available at <>
Ismail, S. 2011. The Syrian Uprising: Imagining and Performing the Nation. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11: 538–49.
Jung, W. 2013. Wände, die Sprechen [Walls that Talk]: Die Wandinschriften im Kölner Gestapogefängnisses im EL-DE-Haus [The Wall Inscriptions in the Cologne Gestapo Prison in the EL-DE House]. Köln: Emons.
Kendrick, T.D. 1928. The Archaeology of the Channel Islands. London: Methuen.
Králík, M. & Nejman, L. 2007. Fingerprints on Artefact and Historical Items: Examples and Comments. Journal of Ancient Fingerprints, 1: 415.
Lennon, J.F. 2016. Trains, Railroad Workers and Illegal Riders: The Sub-Cultural World of Hobo Graffiti. In: Ross, J.I., ed. The Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 2735.
Mackie, M.E. 2015. Estimating Age and Sex: Paleodemographic Identification Using Rock Art Hand Sprays, an Application in Johnson County, Wyoming. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 3: 333–41.
McAtackney, L. 2011. Peace Maintenance and Political Messages: The Significance of Walls During and After the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. Journal of Social Archaeology, 11: 7798.
McAtackney, L. 2014. An Archaeology of the Troubles: The Dark Heritage of Long Kesh/Maze Prison. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McAtackney, L. 2016. Graffiti Revelations and the Changing Meanings of Kilmainham Gaol in (Post) Colonial Ireland. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 20: 492505.
Merrill, S. & Hack, H. 2013. Exploring Hidden Narratives: Conscript Graffiti at the Former Military Base of Kummersdorf. Journal of Social Archaeology, 13: 101–21.
Migeod, F.W.H. 1934. Report on Excavations at Longy Bay, Alderney, 1934. Report and Transactions, 12: 134.
Monaghan, J. 2011. Alderney: A New Roman Fort? Current Archaeology, 261: 2833.
Myers, A.T. 2008. Between Memory and Materiality: An Archaeological Approach to Studying the Nazi Concentration Camps. Journal of Conflict Archaeology, 4: 231–45.
Nelson, E., Hall, J., Randolph-Quinney, P. & Sinclair, A. 2017. Beyond Size: The Potential of a Geometric Morphometric Analysis of Shape and Form for the Assessment of Sex in Hand Stencils in Rock Art. Journal of Archaeological Science, 78: 202–13.
Packe, M.J. & Dreyfus, M. 1990. The Alderney Story. Alderney: Alderney Society and Museum.
Palmer, D. 1997. In the Anonymity of a Murmur: Graffiti and the Construction of the Past at the Fremantle Prison. Studies in Western Australian History, 17: 104–15.
Pantcheff, T.X.H. 1981. Alderney Fortress Island. Sussex: The History Press.
Roberts, M.R. 2010. ‘Footprints in the Concrete’: A Study of the Chemin des Juifs (Jews' Road), Jewish Slave Labour Camps, and Related Sites, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. The Historic Environment: Policy & Practice, 1: 70102.
Sanders, P. 2005. The British Channel Islands under German Occupation 1940–45. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
Steckoll, S. 1982. The Alderney Death Camp. London: Mayflower.
Stephenson, C. 2013. The Channel Islands 1941–45: Hitler's Impregnable Fortress. London: Osprey.
Sturdy Colls, C. 2012. Holocaust Archaeology: Archaeological Approaches to Landscapes of Nazi Genocide and Persecution (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Birmingham, UK).
Sturdy Colls, C. 2015. Holocaust Archaeologies: Approaches and Future Directions. New York: Springer.
Sturdy Colls, C. 2016. The Investigation of Historic Missing Persons Cases: Genocide and ‘Conflict Time’ Human Rights Abuses. In: Morewitz, S. & Colls, C. Sturdy, eds. Handbook of Missing Persons. New York: Springer, pp. 551–74.
Sturdy Colls, C. 2017. The Archaeology of Cultural Genocide: A Forensic Turn in Holocaust Studies? In: Dziuban, Z., ed. Mapping the ‘Forensic Turn’: The Engagements with Materialities of Mass Death in Holocaust Studies and Beyond. Vienna: New Academic Press, pp. 119–41.
Sturdy Colls, C. & Colls, K. 2014. Reconstructing a Painful Past: A Non-Invasive Approach to Reconstructing Lager Norderney in Alderney, the Channel Islands. In: Ch'ng, E., Gaffney, V. & Chapman, H., eds. Visual Heritage in the Digital Age. New York: Springer, pp. 119–46.
Sturdy Colls, C. & Colls, K. forthcoming. Adolf Island: The History and Archaeology of the Occupation of Alderney. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Taş, H. 2017. Street Arts of Resistance in Tahrir and Gezi. Middle Eastern Studies, 53: 802–19.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Proof of Life: Mark-Making Practices on the Island of Alderney

  • Caroline Sturdy Colls (a1), Rachel Bolton-King (a2), Kevin Colls (a1), Tim Harris (a3) and Czelsie Weston (a1)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.