The Ephemeral and the Enduring: Trajectories of Disappearance for the Scientific Objects of American Cold War Nuclear Weapons Testing

Todd A. Hanson



The historic material culture produced by American Cold War nuclear weapons testing includes objects of scientific inquiry that can be generally categorized as being either ephemeral or enduring. Objects deemed to be ephemeral were of a less substantial nature, being impermanent and expendable in a nuclear test, while enduring objects were by nature more durable and long-lasting. Although all of these objects were ultimately subject to disappearance, the processes by which they were transformed, degraded, or destroyed prior to their disappearing differ. Drawing principally upon archaeological theory, this paper proposes a functional dichotomy for categorizing and studying the historical trajectories of nuclear weapons testing technoscience artifacts. In examining the transformation patterns of steel towers and concrete blockhouses in particular, it explores an associated loss of scientific method that accompanies a science object's disappearance.


Cold War; Bikini Atoll; bunkers; nuclear weapons testing; zero towers

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