Archaeologists to return to Battle of Hastings site for major dig to preserve remaining artefacts

By Richard Moss | 12 June 2014

Battlefield archaeologists are returning to the site of the Battle of Hastings to find and preserve the last archaeological evidence of the 1066 battle

a photograph of a bushes and fields looking towards an abbey
The battle ground looking towards Battle Abbey, built by Duke William of Normandy after the battle on the spot where Harold fell© Christopher Hilston, geograph.org.uk
An eminent battlefield archaeologist is to return to the site of the Battle of Hastings in an attempt to find the last archaeological remnants of the 1066 battle and preserve them from modern contamination.

Dr Glenn Foard, of the University of Huddersfield, is developing a project with English Heritage designed to unearth any genuine material remaining on the 1066 battlefield site, which he says is being “contaminated” by the sheer number of battle re-enactments that happen there.

The site, which is part of the English Heritage-run Battle Abbey, is fought over every year by enthusiastic re-enactors in front of thousands of spectators. Archaeologists believe these modern-day medieval warriors are depositing material which could compromise the archaeology of the historic site.

“The challenge is on to find out what archaeology is there before it suffers contamination from all the activities that are going on,” says Dr Foard.

“Whether there is archaeology under the ground to be confused by the re-enactment activities, we don’t know yet.”

A first stage, likely to take place in spring 2015, would see the top layers of soil machined away within a "substantial" area of the battlefield, eliminating modern artefacts. A search for genuine remains from the battle of 1066 would then begin.

Dr Foard was the archaeologist behind the detection of the true location of the Battle of Bosworth – a discovery which moved the site of Richard III’s defeat two miles from its assumed location.

As he collaborates with English Heritage to plan his investigation of Hastings, he says he is not expecting a similar outcome at Battle and is working on the assumption that the most famous battle in English history, between William the Conqueror and King Harold, 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,” says 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 Battle of Hastings project will be enlisting volunteer archaeologists, with trained archaeologists carrying out the actual survey.

There are also plans for 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.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a photo of medieval re-enactors ina field
A re-enactment at the Battle of Hastings battlefield site© Paul Dodd CC via geograph.org.uk
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I think that English Heritage are keen to establish evidence that gives more credence to the accepted battlefield location after last year's Timeteam 'investigation'. Long overdue too.
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