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Preserving the Battle of Hastings from “contamination”

The Battle of Hastings re-enactment BATTLE OF HASTINGS - The East Sussex 1066 site gets the vote as one of the world's 10 best historical re-enactments. Hastings is described as "the most-remembered armed conflict in British history" and the re-enactments every year now involve thousands of participants and spectators around the world.

Wed, 11 Jun 2014 12:00:00 BST

Huddersfield’s battlefield archaeologist is set to unearth Britain’s most famous battle

Dr Glenn Foard ‌THE Battle of Hastings is regularly fought all over again by enthusiastic re-enactors, before large crowds of spectators.  The problem is that they are depositing material that could compromise the archaeology of the historic site.  But now the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Glenn Foard (pictured right) – one of the world’s leading battlefield archaeologists – is developing a unique project designed to unearth whatever genuine material survives from 1066. 

While it takes shape, he has extended his global field of operations, having completed an initial survey of a fascinating battlefield that he describes as Finland’s equivalent to Hastings – even though it was fought hundreds of years later.  Also, his co-written book on the Battle of Bosworth has been shortlisted for one of the prestigious British Archaeology Awards, to be announced in July. 

One of Dr Foard’s coups was to detect the true location of Bosworth, where Richard III was slain in 1485.  This meant shifting the battle more than two miles from the site where it was traditionally thought to have been fought.  But as he collaborates with English Heritage to plan his investigation of Hastings, he is working on the assumption that this battle was fought on its traditional site, even though there have been attempts to establish an alternative location. 

“I have no reason to believe that any of the alternatives are likely,” said Dr Foard.  “I will never say that they are impossible – not after my work on Bosworth – but all the evidence I saw when I looked at Bosworth suggested that it wasn’t fought on the traditional site.  At Hastings, however, everything I have looked at tells me that the battle did take place on the generally accepted site. 

The Bayeux tapestry - Battle of Hastings P‌ictured left: The famous Bayeux Tapestry is now on permanent public display in the city of Bayeux in Normandy, France. It tells the story of the Battle of Hastings; why William felt he had to invade, the preparations made for the crossing and the battle itself.

“But now the challenge is on to find out what archaeology is there, before it suffers contamination from all the activities that are going on.  Whether there is archaeology under the ground to be confused by the re-enactment activities, we don’t know yet.” 

The first stage, likely to take place in spring 2015, would be to spend a week machining away the top layers of soil at a substantial area of the battlefield, in order to eliminate modern artefacts.  Then there would be a search for genuine remains from the battle of 1066.  An important dimension of the project would be public involvement.  Trained archaeologists would carry out the actual survey, but there would be parallel sessions nearby, partly aimed at children and parents, which would provide insights into archaeology, including the use of metal detectors to survey a site. 

‌The Battle of Oravais 

Dr Foard – who has investigated battlefields in many parts of the world – recently returned from Finland, where he was asked to take part in a survey of the site of the Battle of Oravais in 1808, when the Swedes – who then controlled Finland – were defeated by the Russians. 

It was essentially an infantry action, in a distinctive landscape that Dr Foard found fascinating. 

Dr Foard working with children at the site of The Battle of Oravais

Dr Foard working with children at the site of The Battle of Oravais

‌“It has a broken terrain, with woodland areas and great rocky glacial boulders.  The nearest thing I can compare it to is working in places in New Mexico or Arizona, the sites of the Indian wars, where you get these incredible broken terrains and canyons and where people fought behind rocks.” 

Surveying the Oravais battlefield, Dr Foard who was working with a Swedish colleague, Bo Knarrström, discovered large numbers of bullets, one of which, remarkably, had become embedded in a crack in a vertical rock face. 

“It was only a week’s work, but it made me think in different ways about how we look at battlefields,” said Dr Foard, whose report will urge further archaeological research. 

“It is a wonderful battlefield and there is a lot they can do.  Parts of it have never been touched by anyone before so there are all sorts of opportunities.”  

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