Unlike most archaeological investigations,
we knew that no single piece of evidence was going to be conclusive - One
sword or axe head cannot define a battlesite. And because no sites of this
antiquity have yielded any weapons, or recognisable fragments, we had no
reason to believe that Fulford would be any different.
Little did we expect that Fulford would
explain why battle sites from this era were not littered with broken
weapons. Many metal re-processing sites have been found along the ditch that divided the armies: So we were right
to expect to find no weapons. There is an exciting project in prospect to investigate these
metal working areas properly
since we were prevented from re-visiting them during our project.
There were really two,
logical stages to the project:
The first task was to understand the
area so we could identify possible candidates by referring to the
literature and applying some simple rules about where battles would be
Next we had to investigate all candidates and see if the body of evidence favoured one location ( and
ideally excluded the others).
So the 'finding' objective meant that we
had to look at an extensive area and gather whatever it had to offer. Once
we had a candidate site the collected material from that area could be interpreted.
But it was invaluable to have material collected in the same way from the other areas for
So we devised a broad project to discover
where that battle took place.
The Methodology employed is outlined.
Below are the sections which roughly correspond to the methodology that
was planned. These are the components of the research that are reported in
'Finding Fulford' which contains the analysis and conclusions.
1. The literature
- There are several references to
the battle in the AS
Chronicle. Limited data emerges from this primary source except that there was a battle on Wednesday 20th
Sept 1066 (Julian Calendar) along a ditch to the south of York.
- Heimskringla or Saga’s of the
Nordic Kings, was written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and
historian Snorri Sturluson. This provides a rare narrative of the
battle. It is useful to understand how the process
of recoding history in a written form replaced the oral tradition.
- Symeon of Durham and Geoffrey
Gaimer provide the two earliest namings
of Fulford as the place of the battle.
- John of Worcester also includes a
mention of the battle.
- William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon
and Orderic Vitalis provide
some contextual information
- Vita Eadwardi Regis
which provides a history of the Godwinson family is sadly silent
- The place name of Fulford and
Germany Beck indicates that the location can be closely linked to this area.
- You can read a description of a contemporary battle in the
Song of Maldon to help understand the
dynamics of a battle from this era.
2. Landscape studies allowed the surface on which the battle was
fought in 1066 to be reconstructed
- LIDAR provides an accurate picture
of the local landscape, making ancient channels visible. These helped
understand the descriptions from the literature.
- The Ings provided hay and grazing during the post-conquest period.
Analysis of surviving pollen indicates that before that it was
marshy at the time of the battle so not a candidate for the battle.
- But the work also produced a model for the way the level
of the Ings has risen and that allowed the development of the
Ford to be understood - In the centuries after the departure of Roman
influence, tidal flooding reached through the breach in the the moraine
and the ford developed.
- The work undertaken by core sampling confirms the
stability of the course of Germany Beck at the centre of the battle site. The
course of the beck has been altered by
the two bridges and the route across the Ings has moved as the
alluvial mud has built up.
- The landscape to the east that has been revealed during the
investigation matches the Nordic literature remarkably well. In fact
the soil survey evidence makes more
sense of Snorri's account.
- There is a discussion of the oldest
maps and how they allow us to interpret the evolution of the place
we call Fulford. The location of late Saxon settlements found during
other archeological work suggest that the
land along the Beck was not built on which matches our view of the
land where a battle might be fought.
- The many other maps plot the likely evolution
- This has been interpreted as a 3D
Work began in 2001. Over 5000 metal items were recovered during the monthly
fieldworking during 03/04.
- The non-ferrous material has provided
much evidence of how the land has been used over the years but no
article or fragment could be related to the battle. This
is what we expected.
- Similarly, a sample of pottery was collected from each area to help
date human activity in the areas visited. This confirmed the dating derived
by studying previous archeology and
charters covering the area of Fulford.
- The overall pattern of metal finds was also conjectured as significant but there is no
methodology available yet to assess this. But we are working to develop such a model in
case the distribution indicates hotspots of fragmentary metal. And, so
far, it looks promising with the metal working sites all identifiable
from the statistical analysis as 'hot spots'..
- In line with the plan we set out for the project, the ferrous items
were collected and conserved before a sample was selected for Xray and
examination. This would not happen until all of the collecting had been
- Initially 1/4 of the iron material was inspected
- The most significant find was evidence of metal
- The metal finds included hearth bottoms, metal working tools and
- These metal working sites could also be related to slag and ceramic
- Subsequently, the areas that had yielded the metal working material
were re-inspected. The sorters were able to identify many more billets.
Equally important, the other collections from areas which had not yielded
any metal working, did not produce a single billet.
- This can be interpreted as
an indication that there was a lot of metal in the
- It was hoped that this can be further investigated but the
developers have repeatedly refused access so much more work remains to
All of the material recovered has been subjected to XRF
examination. This has confirmed that none of the material contain
any modern alloying elements but there is an intriguing pattern of trace
impurities which might indicate that the iron comes from a number of discrete
This pattern of finds appears to be unique. Why should tools and finished
material be abandoned? The explanation offered is that the metal workers were
forced to flee 5 days after the battle of Fulford when the Norse invaders were
not simply defeated, but apparently almost wiped out, by King Harold at Stamford
Bridge and their base at Riccall. Flooding and the remoteness of this site has
allowed much of this material to survive.
The importance of this site cannot be overstated
because in archeological terms it offers the prospect of a 'Pompey' moment with
the activities of the metal workers frozen in time.
The subsurface structure is revealing. It explains why the Beck breaks
through to the river at that point. The geology does not reveal any other drainage
ditches in the vicinity of Fulford or indeed between Fulford and York. No drain could have existed for at least a kilometre north or
south of the proposed site. The location of a significant ditch, with
associated wet lands, is important because it is identified in the
One key finding was the steady deposit of alluvial material caused by tidal
flooding as it allowed the development of the fording place across the beck to
be understood. This tidal flooding has added over 1mm each year. It
should be of concern to planners that even though the lock at Naburn now
prevents the tide reaching up river, the rate of deposition soon recovered as
exceptional flood events brought alluvial material onto the land and has
maintained the historic rate of deposition. This has been ignored in the flood
planning for the proposed development.
Core samples have plotted the line of the Beck which can be traced
back to the retreat of the last ice sheet. The alignment of the
explains the current route that the Beck takes towards the river.
There is environmental evidence that
the Ings existed in 1066 and were just as wet and so an unsuitable place
for a battle.
The geology therefore precludes much of the
area of our research as suitable locations for fighting.
4. Topography and Maps
The suggested site at Fulford is on the direct route
from Riccall to York. The location of the old roads is far from certain.
However, there are a limited number of identifiable
routes. However the modern
routes linking modern settlements follow the underlying geology south of the
site suggesting that these are the 'natural' routes. A community walk along a
new footpath from Riccall to Fulford took 2 hours.
Apart from periodic flooding, the area has
seen little change. The silt deposited by the regular flooding would have been
matched by the flushing effect from the catchment area, extending as far as
Heslington, drained by the Beck.
However, heavier material gradually built up along the bank beside
the river, creating the alluvial plains behind this dam. This embankment
provided a causeway between the river and the Ings.
The only significant change to the area under
examination was when spoil from construction of the Ring Road was dumped to
raise the area between the cemetery and the A19 above the flood level. This
area is at the very centre of the suggested battle site and the previous
layout is consistent with the literature which describes weaker elements of
King Harald of Norway's army being sent into a swampy area against which
Earl Morcar's troop
made some progress before becoming bogged down, surrounded and destroyed. The
cores taken in this area confirm the
interpretation of the battle given on this site.
- The ford is a 'choke point' where
routes to the
city from the south converge. So this was the perfect, and only, place to
block the advance of the invaders.
- The location has very good flank protection.
There was no easy way for the invaders to bypass the blocking force.
- This site provided the defenders with a
natural barrier in the form of the banks which were very steep in
- No other site in the area has suggested itself to the experienced military
eye. In military terms, it is easy to envisage the course
of the battle given in the narratives including the encirclement of part of the army if the flank on
the riverbank was lost.
6. The environment
Most of the Ings, with the exception of the area of the suggested battle
site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) managed by English
Nature. Consultation with them did not yield the hoped for soil profiles which
might allow the age and history of the area adjacent to the river to be
plotted. English Nature is concerned with the surface. But in their view, this
environment has been stable for at least 1000 years with the drier parts of
the Ings providing summer grazing for sheep.
7. Size Matters
A collection of the various strands of evidence about the number of troops
taking part in the battle.
8. The Tidal Ouse &
York as a tidal port
Colin Briden has kindly let us reproduce his work on the tide in the Ouse.
The ebb and flow of the river is relevant to any interpretation of the battle.
- The tide would affect when and how far
king Harald's army could travel
up the Ouse towards York
- The tide might affect the significance of the river as an effective
flank. In living memory the river has been fordable at Fulford. The battle
took place at a time of very high tides.
- As items might have been flushed into the Ouse, it is relevant to
study the pattern to see where there items might have been carried.
So what did all of this produce......
Evidence presented to the public inquiry:
Supervisory failures and defects in the work done
potential of the area
impacts that will flow and what the rules say
exclusion of the community and their rights and role in the planning process
Script for the presentation
Closing statement (with call in letter for