How Do You Reconstruct a 550-Year Old Battle?

At first, I wasn't too taken by The Economist's detailing of how the medieval battle of Towton was reconstructed. But by the end of the piece, I was fascinated and impressed by how much work goes into these things. If you're any sort of a science dork, as I am, trust me, it's worth a read:

Piecing together what happened on a single day 550 years ago is exceedingly difficult. Even observers would have found it hard to discern a precise order of events in the confusion. Contemporary accounts of the battle may be politically biased or exaggerated. Mr Sutherland says that the idea of medieval soldiers slugging it out for ten hours, as the conventional view of the battle has it, defies credibility; he thinks there was a series of engagements that led to the main battle and that took place over the course of the day....

The battlefield was first swept for ferrous materials such as arrowheads. That search proved frustrating. The trouble was not too little material, but too much—bits of agricultural machinery and other things dating from after the battle. Looking for non-ferrous items—things like badges, belt buckles, buttons, pendants and coins that would have been ripped off during the fighting—proved to be much more fruitful. After identifying clusters of these personal effects, which seemed to mark the main lines of battle, researchers went back to looking for ferrous materials and started finding a concentration of arrowheads.The battlefield was first swept for ferrous materials such as arrowheads. That search proved frustrating. The trouble was not too little material, but too much—bits of agricultural machinery and other things dating from after the battle. Looking for non-ferrous items—things like badges, belt buckles, buttons, pendants and coins that would have been ripped off during the fighting—proved to be much more fruitful. After identifying clusters of these personal effects, which seemed to mark the main lines of battle, researchers went back to looking for ferrous materials and started finding a concentration of arrowheads.

1 comments :: How Do You Reconstruct a 550-Year Old Battle?

  1. David- this is a fascinating article. Thanks for turning me on to it. If this kind of military history interests you, you should definitely read John Keegan's The Face of Battle. In this book, he aims to detail what the combat experience was like for a Greek Hoplite, an English soldier at Agincourt, and an infantryman in WWI. He does so considering such things as average height of the soldiers, the weight of his weapons, their lethality, etc. His prose might be a bit dry but once you're used to it the book is fascinating.

    Battlefield archaeology in general is pretty neat. Scholars of the US Civil War are starting to re-think certain battles based on excavations of mass graves and bullets.

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