Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2014 dig

The Fulford Tapestry

Norse anvils

Summary of published report

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Anvils

A number of objects have been tentatively identified as anvils. There are very few objects of this type that have yet been identified in the UK and there is no known catalogue of anvils. The varied pattern of this collection suggests that the users fashioned the anvil to suit their immediate needs. Anvils were driven into wood and provided a working surface. The smith would employ an oblique blow with the hammer to shape the metal and avoid driving the anvil too deep or splitting the log. The item top left might have been a chisel or even a wedge but the lack of a cutting edge makes this interpretation less likely.


Their design allowed these items to be driven into a log so that the hot metal could be worked. The anvil has a working surface with a splayed edge, caused by repeated impacts. The fact that these were driven into wood might account for the numbers that have been found, since they would not have been easy to remove if those using them left in a hurry. One can also speculate that they might have been buried by vegetation and flooding at a rather later time than other items if they were embedded in the top of logs. If this speculation is correct then other items might lie at a lower level.

An earlier interpretation that these items were nails was revised when it was noticed that they all display evidence of having several facets and a thin, almost sharp edge to their top surface which one would not expect to find in nails. But this edge would result if hot metal was being beaten on the surfaces.[i] Many early nails were found during the project and none display such a deformed or large head as this small selection.

It was pointed out by those who experiment with ancient metalworking techniques that vertical impacts would drive the anvil into the wood whereas an oblique impact would effectively weld, spread or shape the item being worked. Only two of the examples of tools recorded from Coppergate and Bedern (14864 and 13701) exhibited such asymmetric heads and they might be woodworking tools.

The possibility that some of these ‘anvils’ were wedges, used for splitting wood, was entertained and has not been dismissed. Splitting wood was an everyday activity but it is not clear why such a set, with disparate designs, should have been be found in a place where the pollen record and evidence of habitation does not make log-splitting a probable explanation. These items could have had several uses. No similar items made of iron could be located in the catalogues of other local excavations.

Modern hardware shops sell steel wedges for splitting logs. Iron wedges might have served the same purpose in earlier times. Craftsmen of the medieval time could have employed a metal wedge for working with wood, iron or stone. However, the boat builders at Roskilde use wooden wedges and there are examples of wooden wedges from the 10th century in their museum.[ii]

The best-known example of a tool chest from the 11th century is from the Mastermyr collection. Other examples are being identified [iii] and there might be a catalogue of metalworking tools in due course but none was found for anvils.

Using the photographic records, 20 items of a similar shape to these anvils were identified and removed for closer inspection. They all had symmetrical heads and no thin fringes were evident, so most could be clearly categorised as bolts, rivets or nails. None shared the key features noted in the items pictured above.

If further research does confirm that these did function as anvils, this raises a number of issues:

It might not be possible to make an item such as one of the axe billets found nearby on any of these small anvils, so have we failed to find the larger anvils? Only one possible anvil has been noted in zone 3, which appears to be the ‘heavy engineering’ area. It is possible that larger anvils might already have been found since the field was regularly ploughed, unlike zone 4 which has only been ploughed in the last 50 years. Did the proximity to the flood plain in zone 4 assist the survival of the smaller anvils by burying them, leaving larger anvils exposed?

The number of anvils found also suggests that reprocessing was not carried out by one or two specialists but was rather more of a free-for-all, with many participants working to repair items or, perhaps, making tradable billets.

Investigating these issues will be another exciting project.

Post Script

Another anvil emerged from the trial trench in 2013. See also comments in the diary of 2014 dig.


[i] Jorgen Jensen from the Ale centre has drawn my attention to the fact that many of the surviving hammers had faces that were not perpendicular to the body and so would have hit the anvils at an oblique angle.

[ii] For instance, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

[iii] Copies of drawings from many finds in Poland and Russia have been seen. These anvils are larger than those identified at Fulford.

 

 

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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 November 2014

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