Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2015 dig

The Fulford Tapestry

2014 dig

Summary of published report

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Saturday 12 July 2014

The first trench was sited to the east of the depression (Site plan at end). Bagged the topsoil to act as a berm within this depression in case the beck flooded – The beck was just a trickle but rose 50cm following heavy overnight and early morning rain but our ‘dam’ was never really tested.

Kevin took the lead role as the profile was not what was expected and gave indications that there was a causeway. There was no sign of the iron-rich layer encountered to the west (and later confirmed in trench 2). Day 1 was slow going as we attempted to understand the soil profile. There were very few finds even among the modern surface material. However, the lack of dating evidence or any good datable archaeology at the end of day 1 was a bit disappointing (just like Time Team).

Sunday 13 July

     

In order to investigate the causeway, work had to pause while it was being documented. So a continuation trench (noted as 1.2) was opened.

A few finds were documented in the continuation trench and it was impressive how much soil was removed and checked during the day

Monday 14 July

The workforce was reduced after the weekend. So we removed the berm (aka trench 1.3) and joined the trenches and tidied the base. This confirmed the causeway and revealed its profile. Two sections of stone were removed, partly in the hope of finding dating evidence for the causeway but also to give an idea of the structure of the causeway and base.

 

 

From the east edge of the causeway, the first iron find emerged. It was too light for a hearth bottom and CT scan shows it is hollow. Conservation is planned.

By the end of weekend 1 we had a clear causeway, some excellent profiles, a limited number of finds and a real puzzle about what went on to the west of the causeway.

Tuesday 15 July

I used the auger to sample the soil to the east and west of trench 1. The profiles to the east showed that the base of stone extended over clay in that section of the ford. So any warriors in the ford would have firm footing and not have sunk or got stuck in the clay.

But to the west, there was a disturbed profile consisting of alluvium and clay. The earlier assumption, based on old maps, was that this depression was dug 50 years ago to provide a ‘swimming pool’. But two old locals who visited the site, independently said that this depression was known as a treacherous spot with a very soft bottom. So the posts and barrier we used as our base had been erected to prevent people falling into this natural depression.

This is interesting as a few years ago the stone base of Germany Beck was removed perhaps by atural scouring after severe recent flooding, or deliberately by the Drainage Board. I used to be able to walk along the beck, but once the stones were removed the underlying clay became saturated and it is now extremely dangerous to enter the beck. Did the same thing happen when the causeway was constructed? Did the removal of some stones to build and maintain the causeway lead to the creation of a treacherous zone to the west and extending to the area where trench 2 was constructed? The hydro-dynamics of this process will be investigated but early tests suggest that the boulder clay quickly absorbs water to create a very soft and sticky layer.

Friday 18 July

Work began on trench 2 and by the end of the day the topsoil had been removed and the iron rich layer was exposed. Three pieces of ceramic material were found in the context that capped the iron-rich layer which were provisionally dated at YAT to the late 12 and mid 13 century. So the iron-rich layer pre-dates those dates and moved us close to the time of the battle at this muddy ford.

The spoil from trench 1 was also checked with a metal detector and confirmed that the surface layers were not archaeologically rich. Work started to the west (marshy) side of the causeway in order to identify the way this depression was created. We encountered what smelt like raw sewage so this was abandoned and the area covered in clean yellow sand taken from the far end of trench 1. This area will be explored later using augers.

More auguring and sampling of the soil profile to the west was undertaken and confirmed that the ford had a firm stone base as far as Fordlands Road. The causeway, which is only 10-20 cm above the ford base, would have allowed people to cross without getting wet, or dryshod as the ancient skald suggested, at most times except when the tide was high.

A section of the base of the causeway was removed. It is illustrated alongside a section of washed stones from the base of trench 2 below. The sample from the causeway has larger stones set at the edge and some flat stones on the surface but otherwise the material is geologically very similar in composition and size distribution, suggesting that the causeway was primarily constructed of local material. (The right-hand photo does not show-up that almost every stone from trench 2 had iron staining or significant iron deposits on the surface reflecting the iron rich layer in trench 2).

Saturday 19 July

With the help of the full weekend workforce the causeway could be further cleared and a sub-trench on the south side of trench 1 exposed the natural boulder clay layer which was surveyed. The width and direction of the causeway was also assessed. The edging stones were about 2.4 m apart and the surface appeared flat along its North-South axis and level for at least 1 meter at the centre of the span.  When the direction of was plotted on an OS map, the causeway aligned well with the modern Fulford Road.

 

Sunday 20 July

Iron finds began to emerge from the base of trench 2, aided by the metal detector. But careful troweling also revealed a piece of bone – This has provisionally been identified as from a large bird. Several other pieces from the same context were identified subsequently. The dating potential of the bones is still being assessed.

 

Monday 21 July

A non-digging day! But an early call from the Drainage Board resulted in the need to remove the spoil on the beckside of trench 1.  This was unfortunate since we had detected, but not excavated, metal at the east end of the trench. It also denied the flow of visitors the chance to see and stand on the causeway that crossed the muddy ford in medieval times. (The work was covered and will be resumed in 2015).

Friday 25 July

Having verified that trench 2 had a similar, iron and find rich seam to the trial trench of 2013, the trench was extended. With the spoil now being systematically metal detected and examined for dating evidence, the upper layers still proved to be archaeologically poor. This was consistent with previous work and in line with our understanding of the way the land has been used and changed.

The stone wash table provided a good place to prop the daily briefing board and the board proved useful for visitors who came each day to find out what was going on. The washing of stones from the base of the trenches (which had provided the rich haul of iron the previous year) was ruled out by the Drainage Board who did not want any water extracted from the beck, which was at historically low levels for most of the dig.  

Saturday 26 July

With trench 2 complete, the profiles could be drawn and Ken worked on through our lunch break to accomplish this so that progress with finding and recovering the iron was not delayed. 

Sunday 27 July

The final day began with the normal brief, followed by a visit to the trench where what had been assumed by the diggers to be the natural base was in fact a mix of stone, gravel and clay that caps the natural boulder clay. This was the layer that had produced almost all of the iron finds as well as the fragmentary iron in 2013. So a 30x40cm section was lifted and washed later to reveal the iron.

Throughout the project, 20 core samples were taken (but nobody thought to take any images of all of those toiling to drill down to the clay layer). Analysis of the results will guide the projects that are planned for next year.

The steps at the west end of trench 2 were then removed. Here the persistence and instinct of two diggers paid off since we postponed back filling until after the final walk of the battlefield and were rewarded with two more large pieces of iron.

Backfilling, knowing all the sweat expended, is always poignant especially as the trench has more to reveal. It was lined to mark the surface we had reached and with a significant number of the public watching in respectful awe, the surface was very quickly restored. We will be back.

We then headed to the Bay Horse and sitting outside (it would have been anti-social to sit too near normal people on such a hot day) we quenched our thirst. It was a great climax to an exceptional day and an exciting few weeks.

Monday 28 July

Up early to get everything washed and ready to return or to put back in our store. In a busy round the community equipment was returned to Dr Jon Kenny at YAT, followed by the augers to Dr Helen Goodchild at Dept of Arch, Kings Manor. Then there were the spades to be returned to Stuart, the Cemetery manager and all of the soil samples to be moved into the finds store at Fulford Social Hall. Then there was the trusty tent to drop that had survived the three weeks. This same tent has provided shelter to the project during our field work for over 15 years. There was a lot of hauling of wood to the store and other equipment to pack ready for the next dig.

Wednesday 30 July

A chance to wash the sample of stone taken from trench 2. It did not disappoint. The stone wash is now being redesigned to recycling the water and collect sediment in settling tanks so we can wash ceramic & stone finds on site for future digs. The work of cleaning and photographing the ceramics began so that it could be sent away for dating by YAT.

   

What has happened since the dig

A paper was distributed a week after the dig finished which outlined what was found. This discussion paper was designed to invite comment since the text books do not cover much of what was found. There is no literature for medieval fords while archaeologists, agronomists, chemists and geologists all discuss iron pan, none provides any quantitative references among their diverse approaches. So further research is being planned. The finds from the iron layer were similarly enigmatic.

Dating the base of this iron layer was critical. This is somewhat hampered because so few of the ceramic finds could be dated, many being worn which suggests they were not in their deposited location, making them unreliable date reference point. I have used 2 models; If one assumes that the surface rose at the same rate as the Ings beyond the moraine breach, it would date the top of the finds layer and sudden rise in iron, to before 1160. However, referring back to trench 1, the rate at which the surface has risen, caused by sand flowing from the east and alluvium from tidal flooding, flowing from the west, suggests a lower rate of surface build-up and consequently an earlier date for the layer of interest at 1050. I must caution that there is a margin for error in both estimated dates.

  

However, the dating of a horseshoe fragment within the date-range late 11th to 13th century was an excellent find. It was above the finds-rich layer. So this layer of great interests predates the late 11th century, i.e. the time of the battle of Fulford. We also seem to have one of the horseshoe nails. 

I am now extremely confident that the material in the iron-layer comes from the time of the battle. These estimates will be refined as more sophisticated and expensive techniques, such as carbon dating, are applied to the finds. But with three separate techniques dating the ‘finds layer’, I can say we are dealing with material from the time of the battle and that important fact will not change. So what were the finds from the iron layer?

We were extremely fortunate to be able to have some of the items scanned by Dr Hill in the Portman Hospital. You can see how much more information is revealed by CT scanning compared with an xray (right-hand image). While the xray give you a clue to the shape, the CT scan shows the item and is able to provide a 3D image which comes with the bonus of measurements. Three of the larger objects were bars where the top surface was being worked. (Images below are all copyright Dr Hill and the Portman Hospital).

What are these ‘mushrooms’? Nobody knows; I am investigating the possibility that they might be shield bosses but it might just be the way that bits of iron were forge-welded together. The consensus is that they are definitely items that are being worked on. These finds are consistent with the post-battle, recycling hypothesis which emerged when several collections of hearth debris were found in 2003/2004. These finds also provide very strong, evidential support to date the extensive recycling debris, found along Germany Beck, to the time of the battle.

Part of the fun of scientific archaeology is that you have to review previous assumptions. The new evidence has led me to reassess the number of ‘anvils’ that have been recovered during the battlefield project. It looks as if the method of making items was to make a spike, drive it into a block of wood and then fashion items before, presumably, cutting them off the spike to make another. When the bar was reduced to a stub, it would be hard to withdraw from the wood which might account for the number recovered, and this stub might even have then served as an anvil. It is so shameful that the recycling sites identified along Germany Beck are being ignored by the city of York planners and Persimmon, who want to develop this site.  It is shocking that the archaeologists who are supposed to represent the public have ignored the evidence. They are currently clearing the area in a way that will avoid identifying this unique evidence in spite of multiple complains from me.

CT scanning has another big advantage; it allows items to be identified without the expensive and time consuming need to remove all of the concretions. However, there is a great deal of metallurgical evidence within the iron, so at least one of the items will be sent for analysis as soon as funds have been obtained.

The ‘iron layer’ itself is also producing some fascinating results. The initial results show that the iron is concentrated in the base layer. The first experiment shows that the iron is 30% of the mass of the samples tested while the higher layers very quickly fall to under 10% by weight. This layer is about 20cm deep, but it is the bottom 5 cm where the iron is concentrated.

A method to determine if this can be accounted for by natural processes is still an active area of research. The mineral material for the iron layer is quite different from the layers above. The iron layer is an ultra fine sand, while the layers above are darker sand. The reason for this horizon in the late 11th century will be the subject of further research.

Some blocks of the iron layer, that Simon extracted, have been encased in a wonderful resin that has been manufactured for us which has such a low viscosity and surface tension that it can penetrated the dense iron matrix. The hope is to CT scan these blocks since we have observed what looks like item of manufactured iron within this layer. These observed ‘pieces of iron’ are far too rusted to extract so scanning is the only way to see if they are manufactured or natural in origin.

It is worth recalling what brought us to be digging in this area; An experiment in 2009 had shown that rust is mobile in areas of tidal flooding. (We identified this on the Ings near a known dump of industrial machinery). Because we know how fast the ground builds up, an enhanced iron layer would give us a way to date the battle if we measured its depth. When testing this hypothesis in 2013 we found this visibly iron-rich layer. We were expecting traces of iron of a few percent but what we discovered was ore-grade iron. Now we can date this deposit to very near the time of the battle, this iron layer provides another confirmation for the site of the battle, pending any natural explanation for this phenomenon.

In Conclusion!

Sadly I am having to spend a disproportionate amount of my time on the legal defence of the site and that is seriously impeding the research. However, I wanted to get this out to the whole Fulford team so that you will be the first to know that we have proved Germany Beck to be the site of the 1066 battle. I am working hard to get a preliminary report together to formally release these initial finds but publication is still some months away and the final report will have to wait for the 2015 findings.

We have achieved something remarkable as most experts say that nothing survives from battle as ancient as Fulford. But we have not only proved them wrong but the iron layer and the recycling hypothesis almost certainly explain why nothing normally survives. (Which I guess mean the experts are ‘right’!) I am happy to say that we have located the site of the battle of Fulford.

Acknowledgements and sincere thanks

I am extremely grateful to every one of the team that made their special contribution to make this possible; along with the support from Fulford Parish Council, Council for British Archaeology and the Mick Ashton Archaeology Fund, YAT, Dr Robert Hill and the Portman Hospital plus the many universities that have patiently answered my questions and loaned equipment or facilities to me.

 

Chas Jones  22 November 2014
 

What next?

Work will resume next July (11-26). I hope to have details of the dig on the fulfordbattle.com website very early next year. Trenches 1 & 2 are both candidates for extension. Metal detecting had already pointed to finds at the east end of trench 1 which could not be recovered because of the obligation to back-fill ahead of schedule. The base layer of trench 2 was not fully explored and with so many large finds around the edge, it could provide a starting point for a wider exploration of the iron-rich seam in 2015. The soil cores allowed the profile of the surface left and right of the causeway to be plotted. The aim for future work is to find the edge of the stone ford and the edge of the iron rich layer.

But not all of the questions I posed for the project found answers. For example, the trial trench gave a clear indication that the base stones were aligned by glacial action. But in trench 2 there was no clear layer of large stones on top of the boulder clay and the striations, when found, pointed in many directions. One perverse stone even had the striations on the top surface! That’s what makes these investigations such fun!

 

Text Box: Trench 2 (left) & trench 1 (right) in blue.    The original plan had to be modified following consultation with the Drainage Board

 

Related sites Facebook  Twitter (@ helpsavefulford)        Visiting Fulford        Map York

There is a site devoted to saving the battlesite: The site has the story of the process that has allowed the site to be designated an access road to a Green Belt, floodplain housing estate.

And another website for the Fulford Tapestry that tells the story of the September 1066: This tells the story embroidered into the panels.

The author of the content is Chas Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com  last updated June 2015

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