tanged arrow from Fulford

 Recording the events of September 1066
yorks releif map
Previous archeology
Soil survey
The Ford
Landscape model
Adjusting dates
Tide predictions
Size of the armies
Weather and light on the day of the battle
Still to do



The Final Report

Finding Fulford cover

The Fulford Tapestry

Experts have their say


This is the way the project planned to go about the search for the battlefield and is here, with some notes (in italic), for the record. It was not possible to do everything we planned and techniques have advanced in the decade+ since this plan was formulated.

Introduction: The location of an ancient battlefield is difficult to prove.

  • There are no structures and until the advent of trench fortifications, there was no ‘building’ and few earthworks to mark the spot.
    • Therefore much of the work will concentrate on the environment and environmental archaeology to determine the shape of the ancient landscape.
  • Before the use of firearms, the weapons of war would be recycled both during and after the battle. Archers could collect and return arrows previously aimed in their direction if they could collect them. The Roman pilum was engineered to prevent such re-cycling!
    • So one is only likely to find small relics. (This has turned out to be the case)
  • Ancient weapons required the ‘personal’ approach making for relatively compact battle sites. Modern weapons produce more debris but larger battlefields.
    • It should be possible by estimating the numbers to define the size of the site. (Various models for this will be published along with the data - the shape of the land makes it difficult to be accurate. What a pity battle are not fought on a flat, dry landscape!)
  • The location of mass graves appears to be rare. The nature of the soil and subsequent activity will determine the fate of the mortal remains.
    • But there might be some geophysical evidence of the disturbed ground, especially if the site is well stratified geologically. (This work is still pending partly due to the lack of access but this is not seen as a profitable avenue of research)

To try to identify the site and course of the Battle at Fulford, the following methodology is being adopted. A bid is being prepared to raise the money for various projects.

1. A study of the literature

The references provide many clues about the location but there is no known, definitive record of the battle's location. 

It has allowed

  • the leaders,
  • likely approach routes,
  • the composition and size of the armies,
  • weapons and tactics employed to be assessed. Coupled with the local geology, the literature is very useful at localising the site.

The literature and comparison with other battles is most likely to tells us the size of the forces. (The primary and secondary literature guided the early work with half a dozen possible sites identified. When Germany Beck was identified as the most likely site, the precise meaning of 'The Kings' Saga' as  recorded by Snoori made even more sense which was a good result.)

2. Examine all the mapping evidence

Early maps help to show that key features have not moved. Around Fulford, this is confirmed by the local geology which explains the reason for the wet-lands to the east and Ings to the west of the Fulford moraine. There is more work to be done on old maps but it should help define the zone in which the battle could have taken place. The old maps will hep to define the areas where it is worth focusing the work and help rule out 'false positives' caused by later building work etc.

The map research should identify all possible sites and their extent. (Studying old maps has useful  for planning metal survey work and also to see how little the landscape has changed. Recognising the modern Fulford as a post conquest settlement  was another piece in the puzzle. Maps also caused us to reassess the St Oswald's road area as a site for the battle as we believe that this is the locus of the village of Gate Fulford. )

3. An examination of the underlying geology

The deposits left by the last ice sheet created the high ground that links York to Fulford. At 'Foul Ford' the moraine is breached to provide a drain for the Walmgate, Heslington and Fulford wet-lands to the river Ouse. The location of these marshes fits well with the literature. Almost as important, the geology appears to precludes most other possible sites.

The geology should corroborate the map evidence and allow one to limit the extent of our battle site. (Geology has been a key component is identifying the site. At the end of the last great era of glaciation, Germany Beck was carved as the only drain from the Heslington hinterland towards the rive Ouse.)

4. Environmental archaeology and soil survey

Analysis of soil samples in the area will allow the shape and the texture of the land to be assessed. If much of the land can be shown to have been waterlogged in 1066, it will help to localise the site. One piece of work has been undertaken and the results are consistent with site being investigated.

The alluvial and marsh deposits should allow us to further refine the mapping evidence. It should be possible to reconstruct the landscape of the battle. (The extensive soil survey work allowed us first to model the changes caused by the regular flooding of the Ings. This work then allowed the complex way the crossing place for the beck has moved over the last 1500+ years to be plotted. What emerged was a landscape that made perfect sense when the literature was re-examined which was very satisfactory. Geology and soil survey work have allowed us to describe the land surface on which the battle was fought in 1066.)

5. Metal survey work

It is possible that small fragments of armour, parts of weapons and projectiles might have been lost in the wet conditions. The area has been cultivated for centuries but the adjacent marsh might have retained items.

  • There is no recognised way to analyse ferrous material found out of its context and this issue must be explored.
  • The work will throw up an interesting assortment of metal and pottery.
  • It will take several years to assemble enough evidence to assess any relevance of the pattern of finds.
  • The location of identifiable, fragments such as axe heads would be welcome but inconclusive because it is unlikely to be in context.
  • No complete weapons are to be expected as these would have been recovered and other battlesites have not yielded any weapons.
  • Survey will be extended to approach routes and possible escape roads as such areas might have have been missed in the tidy-up after the battle.
  • The marshes will also be examined if possible if these might have provided a suitable hiding places for wounded warriors.

There is no recognised method to assess the significance of the pattern of finds over an extensive area so this work is being undertake (2003/04) to see if it can provide any pointers. This statistical approach will look for 'hot spots' which might give a pointer to any lost burial sites. (The metal work was undertaken more in hope than expectation. The hypothesis that no complete weapons would be found, remains valid. The identification of evidence of metal working was not expected but validates the decision to search beyond the area of the fighting. The work so far allows us to claim that this was indeed the site of the battle.)

6. Geophysical survey

It is known that a ditch played an important part in the battle. A survey using various techniques might help reveal the whereabouts of likely sites. To be meaningful, it would be necessary to map the whole area.

The technique will be used to confirm the clues produced by other investigations and help to identify anomalies to be investigated with metal detection. (Lack of access has prevented this work)

7.  Aerial mapping

The Vales of York has been well mapped thanks in part to the number of air fields in the vicinity. These have been catalogues by English Heritage. The are nearly 600 photos covering the area of investigation.

The air photos will support the other investigations but will particularly useful in excluding disturbance caused by recent building work. (The air photos were interesting rather than useful.)


Taphonomy is the study of what happens to an organism, such as a body, after its death and until its discovery. This includes decomposition, post-mortem transport, burial, compaction, and other chemical, biologic, or physical activity which affects the remains of the organism.

A battlesite might well have produced chemical changes in the soil but the techniques for undertaking this work are expensive and the interpretation is still being developed. During this project, the aim will be to ensure that any evidence is not destroyed.

The hope is that a systematic bio-chemical survey of the area will be undertaken to see if there are enhanced phosphate, calcium or ferrous levels.


The ambition of the project must be to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, the location of the battle.  When all the evidence is gathered in, it is probable that several interpretations will still be possible. The project will have succeeded if these arguments are about detail within an agreed framework which defines the main battle.

Chas Jones 11/02 (Comments in italic added 4/07)


Last updated May 2012