Fulford Battlefield

The latest analysis from the Fulford Battlefield dig:-

After sorting the Fulford finds, a clear picture emerged of iron items: they are in the flow of what we can now identify as the ancient course of Germany Beck. With a few exceptions  the iron was found in this restricted location and is focused in one layer. (There are some images of finds in the dig 2016 folder on the Fulford Battlefield website)

The ‘anvils’ are the exception to this rule. Wooden models of three of the items were identified by Scandinavian experts recently as likely tools used by metal-workers to planish the surface of sheet metal; so they could have been employed to remove dents from shield bosses and helmets. These items lie just above the stream bed.

The suggestion is that they arrived here attached to a block of wood into which they were driven in order to be used by the ancient armourers. This prevented their easy recovery and the rising tides in the days following the battle (all the recycling sites identified were beside the beck) floated away. The ‘anvils’ would have acted as a keel causing them to remain submerged and when found, the items all have their pointed end above the head, suggesting some buoyancy at the tip. The first two finds of the season were two further ‘anvils’ making a collection of 5. We also know these, and the finds from 2013-2015, were all along the ancient line of the beck which would account for the deposition of these finds.

The survival of metal within the stream is taken as support for the recycling hypothesis which suggests that the battlefield was thoroughly cleared of metal debris and only items that were submerged in the beck avoided the clearup. The identification in 2004 of so many metal working tools and now the identification of the ‘anvils’  leave little doubt that something dramatic happened to interrupt the work and the suggestion is that this was the destruction of the Norse army at Stamford Bridge.

With the exception of a few pieces of lead all the other items were iron and this itself is noteworthy since normal metal surveys produce a greater number of non-ferrous items. So the domination of iron in the sample is interesting but just what one might expect in a battle area.

Among the finds are an unusual number of intriguing objects that are currently awaiting xray. During the initial cleaning and find sorting, three tubular objects were found the likes of which have not been seen before and we also have what has been catalogued as a ‘long flat object’.

The work has also allowed us to refine the dating model for the layers:  The stone layer was stable from  pre-historic, through Roman times and ends about the time of the battle. It was only in the century after the battle that sediments began to accumulate, probably caused by the influx of alluvium from the Ings.  We then have a deep layer of sand and alluvium which rapidly accumulated possibly associated with the construction of the bridge. This restricted the ebbing of the water allowing more material to be deposited. This buildup also caused the course of the beck to move a little to the north.

The road which we have variously described as a causeway, mediaeval track is looking increasingly as if it is a Roman military road. The width and construction are consistent with that interpretation but we need to do a little more work. The surface layers show many signs of repair which continued into Tudor times.
We will be extending this trench to the east to see what lies beyond the edge of the road. If any members are available this weekend, their help would be appreciated to carry out this work.

The final headline is the remains of what appears to be a small horse. It will be worth investigating if the pieces of horse vertebrae recovered at a slightly higher context in previous digs are ‘related’ to this horse because only skeletal elements that would have been close to the ground have been recovered this year. It is not easy to imagine why a horse wold have been left to rot near the crossing but that is what appears to have happened.

There is lots more analysis to do but the model of the battlesite is even clearer after all your hard work.
Thanks very very much.

Commemorating 950th anniversary of the battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge

Digging at Fulford, 2015

Digging at Fulford, 2015

Chas Jones has kindly sent details of this year’s commemorations of the battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge. Fulford was the first and arguably largest of the three battles in the autumn of 1066. Five days after the battle of Fulford the Vikings were caught off guard at Stamford Bridge by King Harold II and badly defeated. These two Yorkshire battles contributed to the defeat of King Harold a few weeks later at Hastings because his army was no longer fresh after its long march up to Yorkshire and back.

The archaeological digs of 2014 and 2015 on the site of the 1066 battle of Fulford yielded many fragments of bone, which appeared to be human. Sadly it was not possible to extract collagen for a carbon date or to do isotope analysis on these bones.

The work will resume this summer with more trenches where the bones were found. Another trench will expose a further section of the ancient road leading to the ford which was discovered last year.

Chas recently launched a ‘Crowdfunder’ appeal, featuring a film by Dan Snow, to get the money to open the site to visitors. As a part of the 950th anniversary of 1066 the site, which is on public land, will be open for families during the summer holidays to visit and dig some of the intriguing archaeology that was  uncovered last year.

There will be a number of events to commemorate the Fulford and Stamford Bridge battles, culminating in a battle re-enactment at Stamford Bridge on 25th September, the 950th anniversary date of that battle before the trek south to Hastings. This is being organised by English Heritage.

Chas has spoken to Medieval Section in the past. Chas hopes some of our members might venture over to Fulford to do some digging or just to come and have a look. He also runs newsletter to which you can sign up.

July

  • As a part of the Council for British Archaeology, festival of archaeology, starting on Saturday 16 July we will be digging at the ford to expose more of the ancient road and land surface of 1066
  • When the dig is over on 31 July the site will be covered over to protect it from the weather and prepared to allow visitors to inspect the battle surface

August

  • Open Fulford site with free public access to the archaeology.
  • Site is open 11-4 every day but accessible outside these hours for unguided access
  • Access is free but a £10 family ticket is planned for those wanting to take part in the dig
  • A living history camp will be making items and talking to visitors
  • Prepare tableaux of three battles with panels to explain the history and the battles

September

The site will remain open to visitors as long as weather conditions permit. The hope is to keep them open until the battle of Hastings in mid-October, weather and floods permitting, to maximise visitor opportunities

Saturday 17

  • Riccall Rampage – 9.00 Talk at Riccall and Viking ‘breakfast’ when the walk reaches Fulford. The walk takes about 3 hours and is along paths and bike tracks
  • Living history and site open all day with several battlefield walks during the day
  • Workshop for school children make armour and paper weapons for the battle, 1-4
  • Private feast for supporters and sponsors on the site starts at 5

Sunday 18

  • 00 Judging the best dressed Viking prior to Children’s re-enactment of the battle
  • 10 – 12.30 Battle on the playing fields with children and some Viking leaders. Parents must stay behind the barriers. Only children and Vikings allowed on the battlefield. Great photo opportunity as the battle moves back and forth on the surface where the battle was fought
  • Living history and site open all day with several battlefield walks during the day

Monday 19

  • Site will be configured to receive field trips from local schools

Tuesday 20  (950 anniversary)

  • Dedicate the memorial for the warriors of the battle.
  • Mid-day walk round the battlefield
  • Focus will be on attracting media attention in the build up to the Stamford Bridge weekend

Wednesday 21

  • 11-4 Brainstorm Conference “Where did the 1066 battles actually take place”
  • Themed Poetry and music evening in Fulford

Thursday 22

  • Tadcaster to Stamford Bridge ride & stride

Friday 23

  • Embroidery day with dye workshop on site

Saturday 24

  • Full day of events at SB including a battle
  • Victors feast and celebration for warriors in the evening

Sunday 25  (950 anniversary)

  • Second day of events at SB
  • 5pm English Heritage ride to Hastings sets off from central York

October 15

  • English Heritage commemorates 1066 at Battle Abbey with a massive re-enactment

 

Animated Bayeux tapestry

Early Medieval battle reenactment. Image courtesy of Ian Uzzell and Vikingasaga
Early Medieval battle reenactment. Image courtesy of Ian Uzzell and Vikingasaga

It is not so long ago that a Time Team reappraisal of the topography at Battle revealed a better candidate for the site of the battle of Hastings than the traditional (English Heritage) site. This should come as no surprise to members of the Medieval Section because a number of our lectures this last year have focused on Medieval battles (Fulford, Chester and Bosworth – the lecture summary for this should be available shortly) and in all of them the site of the battlefield has proved to be debatable or subject to revision in the light of new evidence.

I am grateful to Medieval section Treasurer, Jo Heron, for sending a link to an animated presentation of the Bayeux tapestry by PotionGraphics. Jo says she loves the sound effects and asks if it is worth putting on the website?

The tapestry is only partly animated but it really does bring it alive to see people swinging axes to chop down trees or to see the wheels revolving on a cart that’s being pulled along. The action scenes are well done with a compulsory beheading scene which isn’t too shocking and won’t give the children nightmares.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch it for yourselves and let me know what you think. I’ll post comments for other members of Medieval Section to read, gladly.
On the subject of medieval battles, if it is not obsessing on the topic, Medieval Section member Rita Wood has suggested running a medieval Battles in Yorkshire dayschool this autumn. May I take a quick straw poll to find out what the members think? If positive, do you have any suggestions for presentations and speakers?
Battlefield casualties at Hastings
Battlefield casualties at Hastings

Trowelling Opportunity at Fulford

Members will no doubt remember the fascinating tour of Fulford that Chas Jones led back in September. Chas has been in touch to say that in August a trial trench was dug at the ford which is believed to have been at the heart of the 1066 battle of Fulford. A significant quantity of iron was found on, and between, the stone surface of the ford. Chas and co-workers are preparing to extend the work which, because of the planning threat, cannot be postponed until next summer but the work dates have not yet been fixed. If any members are experienced ‘trowlers’ (sic) or have conservation skills and would be able to help for a day (the work will be spread over about 2 weeks) could they please let Chas know at fulfordthing@gmail.com

Medieval Section Excursion to the Forgotten 1066 Battlefield of Fulford

 

Scandinavian casualtiesBattlefield casualties

Fulford is arguably the battle that made the Norman Conquest possible, although it has largely been overshadowed by the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. Over the last years a considerable amount of work has been done to try and identify the site of the battle. On Saturday 21st September Medieval Section members visited Fulford  for a tour of what is very probably the site of the 1066 battle. Our guide, Chas Jones, is careful to point out that it is the evidence that points to Fulford as the site of the battle, not him, and English Heritage are unambiguous in saying that this is the likely location.
Fleet
Scandinavian fleet (from Chas Jones The Forgotten Battle of 1066 Fulford)

The historical context for the battle is as follows. In the summer of 1065 the Northumbrians rebelled against the unpopular rule of Tostig. Having lost control of northern England Tostig appealed to his brother Harold Godwinson of England to reinstate him but when Harold refused, Tostig sought help from abroad. In September 1066 whilst Harold was waiting for the Normans to land on the south coast, Tostig and Harald Hadrada of Norway landed in East Yorkshire and sacked Scarborough. They sailed up the Humber with a large fleet, exploiting high tides to land at Riccall about 3.5 miles from Fulford. Tidal rises of between 7 and 11m have been recorded which would have helped the Scandinavians. In the Domesday Survey Tostig is recorded as the owner of the manor and 25(?) hides at Fouleforde, and so he must have been familiar with the phenomenon of high tides at this time of year. Earls Morcar and Edwin moved their forces to cover the likely invasion routes on the rivers Wharfe and Ouse. The Northumbrian army marched out from York to meet the invaders. Chas points out that all of the experts who have looked at the evidence (e.g. the English Heritage Battlefields Panel) say that Germany Beck is the’ probable/most likely place’ for the battle. A plaque in the playing field commemorates what an earlier generation of researchers thought to be the site, very close to where Chas and other reserachers also believe the battle took place.

Commemorative plaque for the battle of Fulford
Commemorative plaque for the battle of Fulford

Sources for the battle are sketchy at best but Chas has drawn on material from Scandinavian sagas and related it to the topography at Fulford. Though written down in the 13th century there are grounds to suppose that the composer was concerned to record historical information accurately.

Chas Jones
Chas Jones

Having set out the historical context for the battle, Chas explained the topography at Fulford, which is crucial to understanding the battle. The glacial moraine on which the village now stands is key. It overlooks low-lying swampy ground and there are steep slopes on either side, so that the defending force would have its flanks protected. In addition the watercourse, Germany Beck, would have served as a moat, protecting the approach to York from the south along the moraine.

the slope down to the Germany Beck
the slope down to the Germany Beck

Chas drew on the Icelandic Saga written by Snorri Sturluson after 1220 to give us an account of the battle. An excerpt appears in Joan Pickering and Irene Briddon’s A History of Fulford, a copy of which can be found in the Yorkshire Archaeological Society library at Claremont:-

Harold (Hadrada) began to array  his men. One wing stood upon the river bank, and the other higher up, near ditch, which was deep and broad and full of water. The jarls (Jorvik men) let their arrays go down along the river and most of their men in line. The standard of Harald was near the river, there the ranks were thick, but they were thickest at the ditch, and least to be depended upon. Thither Morkere came down with his standard. The wing of the Northmen by the ditch retreated, and the English followed them, thinking they were going to flee, but when Harald saw that his men retired along the ditch, he ordered a war-blast to be blown and urged them on. He had the standard ‘Landwaster’ carried forward, and made so hard an attack that all were driven back. There was great slaughter in the Jarl’s host. Walthof (Morkere’s brother) had had his standard brought along the river, downward against the army of Harald, but when the king hardened the attack, the Jarl and his men fled along the river upward. Only those who followed him escaped, but so many had fallen that large streams of blood in many places flowed over the plain. When the Jarl had fled, Harald surround Morkere and the men who had advanced along the ditch with him. The English fell by hundreds. Many jumped into the ditch and the slain lay there so thick that the Norsemen walked across it with dry feet on human bodies. there Morkere perished.

This is a slightly looser excerpt from the Heimskringla or The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway (Saga of Harald Hardrade sections 87 & 88).

What seems to have happened is that Tostig’s forces tried to cross the Germany Beck but were thrown back by Morcar and the Northumbrians. However, the Northumbrians were then taken in flank by Hadrada’s Scandinavians who, having pushed back Edwin’s men along the river bank, had been waiting for their moment in low-lying ‘dead’ ground close to the River Ouse. Perhaps the falling tide allowed them to cross the Germany Beck which had earlier proved too great an obstacle. A scene in the Fulford Tapestry sewn in the style of the Bayeux tapestry shows the battle. The Northumbrians fled along the Germany Beck to escape encirclement and Chas told us about archaeological work in the area immediately north of the battlefield which has revealed hearths and furnace bottoms where broken arms and armour were recycled. Chas showed us the centre of the battlefield on the moraine, the Germany Beck and the ‘dead’ ground near the river from which the Scandinavians attacked. Walking back to the village it was striking just how steep the edge of the moraine is.

edge of moraine
edge of moraine

Over a number of years Chas has sampled various areas of the battlefield looking for evidence. He thinks he may well have this confirmatory evidence but unfortunately he couldn’t show us any military finds when we visited because the objects are in the York conservation lab. However, he did say that iron nails and furnace bottoms found along the supposed line of the Northumbrian retreat have excited considerable interest amongst Scandinavian archaeologists.

A short time after the battle King Harold arrived, having marched the length of England at great speed. He caught Hadrada, Tostig and part of their army by surprise at Stamford Bridge on 25th September. Orders were sent back to the fleet at Riccall for reinforcements but the Scandinavians suffered heavy casualties. It was said that only a small fraction of the original invasion fleet returned to Norway. Having learnt that William of Normandy had landed, Harold  returned south. His men were tired after their epic march and not all of the reinforcements had arrived. At Hastings on 14th October Harold was killed with many of his closest supporters and William I became king of England.

Sadly the site of the battlefield is threatened by development – a housing estate and a road – surprisingly located on low-lying ground liable to flooding. Chas has challenged the development in the courts but the battlefield is still under threat. For trowelling opportunties in advance of development see http://www.medieval.yas.org.uk/bl0g/?p=218

One of the suggestions that came out of this our first meeting of the new Medieval Section programme for 2013-14  was that we hold a dayschool looking at Yorkshire and Yorkshire related Medieval battlefield archaeology. Chas’ talk at Fulford certainly gets us off to a good start if this is something members would seriously like the Committee to explore. Any thoughts?

Viking warrior
Viking warrior