Historical Archaeology

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 193–204 | Cite as

Defining Karst Defenses: Construction and Features

  • Julie MushynskyEmail author
Technical Brief


During World War II, in the Pacific theater, the Japanese military and civilians used “karst defenses”—caves and tunnels—for various purposes. Despite their widespread distribution across the Pacific, karst defenses have received little historical and archaeological attention. As a result, archaeologists record and describe these sites inconsistently. A project in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, sought to record karst defenses in order to understand the defensive strategies and tactics people employed at them during World War II. This article discusses the karst defenses constructed and used by the Japanese military and offers a basis for recording them. The information presented will be of value to both archaeologists and historians studying World War II defensive strategies in the Pacific.


Karst defenses Saipan World War II Japanese military caves tunnels 


Durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, en el teatro de operaciones del Pacífico, el ejército y los civiles japoneses utilizaron defensas "cársticas"—cuevas y túneles— para varios propósitos. A pesar de su amplia distribución en todo el Pacífico, las defensas cársticas han recibido poca atención histórica y arqueológica. Como resultado, los arqueólogos registran y describen estos sitios de forma inconsistente. Un proyecto en Saipán, en la Mancomunidad de las Islas Marianas Septentrionales, intentó registrar las defensas cársticas para comprender las estrategias y tácticas defensivas que utilizó la gente en ese lugar durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. En este artículo se analiza las defensas cársticas construidas y utilizadas por los militares japoneses y se ofrece una base para registrarlas. La información que se presenta será de utilidad para los arqueólogos e historiadores que estudian las estrategias defensivas de la Segunda Guerra Mundial en el Pacífico.


Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, dans la région du Pacifique, l’armée et la population civile japonaises utilisaient des karsts, soit des caves et tunnels, comme systèmes de défense, et ce, à diverses fins. Malgré leur distribution marquée dans la région, ces karsts stratégiques ont fait l’objet de très peu d’attention historique et archéologique. Les archéologues consignent et décrivent ainsi lesdits sites de façon incohérente. Un projet réalisé à Saipan, Commonwealth des îles Mariannes du Nord, a tenté de consigner des karsts défensifs pour comprendre les stratégies et tactiques de défense qu’on y mettait en œuvre durant la Seconde Guerre. Le présent article traite de ces systèmes de défense construits et utilisés par l’armée japonaise, et offre une base pour les consigner. Les renseignements présentés seront utiles aux archéologues et historiens qui étudient les stratégies défensives de la Seconde Guerre dans le Pacifique.



I would like to thank Jennifer McKinnon, Fred Camacho, Genevieve Cabrera, and all the property owners and participants in Saipan who helped make this project possible. Thanks are extended to Tyler Harnett for his copyediting and to two anonymous reviewers whose comments have improved this manuscript. This work was supported by Flinders University and the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, a nonprofit, private corporation funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ReginaReginaCanada

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