Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2015 dig

The Fulford Tapestry


Summary of published report

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The Fulford Tapestry

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Most of the finds were identified when they fell off the drying surface of the stones. The density of these fragments distinguished them from other stones as it was possible to rub the sand from the surface of stones but the metal objects had a sandy core that could not be penetrated with a trowel. A magnet was used to confirm the iron core within these cemented lumps. No iron was visible and the items were sealed within their ‘concrete’.

The items were xrayed and shown to a number of experts. (Image 2)


The items were initially stored in a desiccating environment for several months. To remove the concretion, the items were soaked in a weak acid (citric and later tartaric acid) and periodically immersed in an ultrasonic bath. Over 4 days the larger items were cleaned to the base metal.

Work was stopped on most items when

  • Structure was identified that needed special attention
  • No further material was removable (normally caused by a large pebble
  • Or the loss of the concretion meant that the item was in danger of breaking up.

Only three of the larger items could be cleaned to expose some of the base metal using this method. The items have now been thoroughly washed and dried in an autoclave before returning to the desiccating storage.

ANVIL See also

The largest item is an anvil. It is very similar in design to items previously found in one of the hearth areas. The spike would be driven into a bock of wood and the top surface would be used to hammer material being worked.

This anvil is of very poor construction. It has substantial fissures running down the spike. This would not have impaired its utility since the spike would still have been effective at holding the working surface in place. However, had the blacksmith ever withdrawn this anvil one might speculate that it would not have been used again since the spike would have splayed in a way that would have prevented it being knocked into wood again.

The surface is also smooth and unpitted which support an interpretation that this anvil had not been repeatedly used and looks ‘new’. Was this the one and only time the anvil was used? Why did the blacksmith not recover this large piece of iron? Because anvils were driven into large blocks of wood, it was speculated in Finding Fulford that it would not be easy to remove these items when the sites were abandoned. The number found during the project might also be explained because they would have stood above the surface and so would not have been buried so deep by the tidal flooding. The wood in which the anvil was fixed might also have given the anvil some mobility because of its buoyancy which could have carried the anvil downstream by the flow of the beck. It is not suggested that this anvil was being used at the location where it was found. It should however be noted that the other anvils were co-located with hearth debris suggesting they did not move. The identified recycling hearths were located near a tributary of the beck so the tidal flooding was probably not forceful enough to translocate those anvils.

The item invites more study but the find is consistent with the interpretation that some make-shift metal-working had taken place in the vicinity. The rationale for post-battle recycling was discussed in Finding Fulford. And another anvil matching the pattern already found, and away from sites of known manufacture, fits the hypothesis promoted by Finding Fulford that the post-battle recycling resembled a ‘gold-rush’ with many small scale operations.


‘ITEM 1’

This was one of the items that was found within the stone surface. Prior to the first stage conservation several experts were consulted about the likely shape of weapon tips and also about the likelihood that weapons would snap in such a way as to leave them embedded. While the xray profile is consistent with sword tips from that era, the consensus was that the tip of a weapon would not fracture, even if wedged between stones. However, buried weapons on display as part of the 2014 Viking exhibition at the British Museum have their tips missing.

It was decided to remove some of the surface concretion using the technique described earlier in order to better understand this fragment. When filaments of iron wire detached from the surface, cleaning was stopped. The surface has many more of these strands visible on the surface. These filaments lie on another piece of iron which has a right-angle bend along one edge, that itself curves.

It is not yet possible to understand this item. It has some similarities to fragments of chain-mail but no rivets were evident. There is some suggestion of a platted pattern. This item embodies some sophisticated technology.

‘ITEM 2’

This was another item that was found within the stone surface. During the cleaning, the top, straight edge revealed that the iron on the outer surface surrounded an inner core of iron that was not solid. Further advice will be sought to understand this item. As with item 1, there is a thin outer casing of iron that encloses what might be a wire core.


The other items were too fragile to conserve. One item has been tentatively identified as a short nail suitable to fixing the leather to a wooden shield. Image 11 illustrates one of many pieces of iron that crumbled when handled. Since these emerged before the items concreted on, and within, the stones, no special attempts were made to record them. Later one sample was lifted and encased in its sand.

When it was xrayed the density was too low to produce an image that can be interpreted. These items that have not been encased in the iron concretion, which might explain why they have been reduced to ‘rust’. All these fragments were identified on, rather than within, the stone surface and none were found in the column above suggesting that the items were all deposited before the ford went out of use.


The density of finds was measured during the Battlefield Research Project in the surrounding area that was extensively searched during the Project. The find density in this trial trench (which excludes the fragile pieces and iron-covered stones) was more than 100 times greater than the hearth areas which were themselves seen at ‘hot spots’ relative to the background. The very small section of the base of the trench that was examined should also be stressed. There is nothing to suggest that the surface was dished that might have concentrated the items. The number of iron items found is exceptional. The stone surface of the ford is extensive but has not yet been fully mapped. But other cores suggest that the stone surface could be a 70m square, oriented NNE with a gentle slope with the lowest point near the modern Fordlands Road bridge. This might have provided a suitable surface for heavily laden warriors to do battle as has been proposed in Finding Fulford after a study of the landscape and the literature. With the exception of the anvil, the other fragments cannot be identified but items 1 & 2 appear to be broken or fractured. Further conservation will be done to investigate these items. The amount of metal discovered is not easy to explain by casual loss. As non-ferrous items were much more common parts of dress then if casual loss was the source of the metal then I would have expected to find some examples, but none were found.

The items are consistent with an interpretation of the ford as a battle site where men clad in iron, attacked their opponents with iron weapons. A larger dig is planned to try and clarify the origin of the iron items. See what was found the following year!



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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