Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2014 dig

The Fulford Tapestry

Quality control

Summary of published report

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During the project, for the purposes of comparison, two areas were chosen in the third year of the project that were outside what was emerging from other work as the suspected battle area.[i] These areas yielded very little, possibly because the soil depth was not assessed beforehand and the land chosen was prone to build-up by flooding. Both of these areas were in, or near, places mentioned as possible sites for the battle and had been suggested by archaeologists as having a similar agricultural and settlement history during the last millennium.

Subsequent landscape evidence and analysis suggests that both the comparative areas can be ruled out as battle sites and absence of any finds is entirely consistent with their landscape history. The real lesson was that an understanding of the landscape was necessary if comparisons of find patterns and densities were to yield relevant comparisons. Put another way, a simple comparison between areas is not always meaningful.

We also returned to another two areas to test how much was missed on the first pass. The results are also not conclusive because those undertaking the work, who did not know this was a second visit, became bored by how little they were finding and abandoned the search.  Both of the re-visited areas were unploughed areas, but it does reinforce my confidence in the professionalism of the metal detectorists who appear to have missed very little. This did provide some measure of control for our work.

This is not to claim that nothing was missed. Other work on ploughland suggests that much is missed on the first pass, so the experience in this project might not be typical. The process of ploughing can be expected to move material since the very purpose of ploughing is to invert the surface layer. The claim made is that almost all of the material available at the time of the survey was located, and so it provides a consistent basis for statistical analysis.

In the early stages of the project, the detectorists were able to inspect the results of finds by metal-type so that those who forgot to set their detectors correctly to ensure ferrous material was detected were identified and the problem did not persist. Any distortion the oversights made to the data are deemed to be insignificant.[ii]

The analysis is based on the area covered, with the various caveats already noted. But the time spent, the number of detectorists, their relative skill and the quality of their equipment are all variables for which it is impossible to control. The early attempt to have two detectorists share the work of one block revealed no significant difference between their find-rate. Some detectorists work much faster than others and so the time spent per area was monitored on a number of occasions but revealed nothing significant. In a number of the searches[iii] the patterns that emerge in one row or block can be traced into the adjacent areas. This gives me confidence that, for all of the imperfections, the methods adopted provide a good picture of what was there to be found.

Identification and interpretation of some ferrous finds

With the benefit of hindsight it is surprising that some objects, such as the axe-shaped or arrow-shaped pieces, did not arouse more interest when they were found but in their part-manufactured form, they looked more like pieces of broken agricultural implements. It was only after the identification of metal working tools and smithing evidence near where they were found that their significance was realised.

The possibility that this methodology could be tautologous was recognised. It would be too easy to assign significance to every lump of rust once the area was deemed ‘significant’. A system was quickly introduced to guard against such feedback.

When the first possible hearth was identified (area 10), two experienced metal detectorists were briefed to go through this assemblage again, plus two other assemblages (4 and 9), to look for items that might be turned into weapons, the so-called ‘billets’. Collection 9 produced 15 and collection 4 just 2. The latter items were clearly modern, as they had drillings or threads tapped into them, while the former identified what we called ‘the iron hoard’ from area 9.[i]

The same metal detectorists were then fully briefed on the situation, given the assemblage from area 10 and more potential billets were extracted from that collection. Their non-descript shape had led most of them being assigned as category III pieces, not destined for further study.

The identification of so many items, and from such a restricted zone within area 9, sparked more research of that assemblage. A similar test, conducted at a later date, within area 9 compared the rows A-G with rows H-N, since the ferrous find-density peaked in the latter rows while the non-ferrous density throughout the area remained relatively constant. It was the later rows that produced more items for ‘the hoard’. So it was the analysis of the pattern of finds that facilitated the isolation of the relevant material.

By good fortune a Swedish archaeologist, Mari Wikerts, attended one of the open sorting days arranged during the Jorvik festival and was given the residue of the area 9 material to weigh and pack. She identified even more billets plus a second hearth bottom which had previously been excluded from the expert inspections. The large quantity of bonfire debris after rows M had masked the significance of some ferrous material that was spotted by her experienced eye.


[i] Two areas of Middlethorpe Ings and Walmgate Stray were examined for comparison. 

[ii] But see note on area 10.

[iii] For example 9 and 10.

There is a chart of the areas discussed in this text.

 

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 February 2015

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