Author Topic: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?  (Read 123 times)

Erpingham

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Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« on: October 10, 2019, 05:19:44 PM »
A brief piece by Michael Livingston on fieldwork near Bromborough pointing to possible battlesite for Brunanburh.

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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2019, 06:59:15 PM »
Looks very hopeful.  Right time, right place, right etymology and a vast number of detractors.  I would say this is it.
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Dangun

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2019, 01:25:17 AM »
No bodies?

Patrick Waterson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2019, 07:43:14 AM »
Probably not until they find the burial pits ...
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Erpingham

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2019, 09:27:46 AM »
No bodies?

It is, of course, extremely rare to find the casualties of a medieval battle on the field, even if they do narrow down where this one actually took place.
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Dangun

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2019, 10:54:58 AM »
It is, of course, extremely rare to find the casualties of a medieval battle on the field...

Of course.

But equally, how many battlefields have been identified by spear and arrow heads? Or at least, how many arrow and spear heads do we need before we might claim it’s any battlefield?

I also wonder, if you are going to move the bodies why not collect the stray weapons or metal?

Duncan Head

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2019, 11:25:40 AM »
No bodies?

This investigation is still on-going, and we are researching the reported discovery of three large deposits of human bones, close to the suspected battlefield.

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But equally, how many battlefields have been identified by spear and arrow heads? Or at least, how many arrow and spear heads do we need before we might claim it’s any battlefield?

You could look into the recent work on the site of Baecula:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308874607_Baecula_An_archaeological_analysis_of_the_location_of_a_battle_of_the_Second_Punic_War
https://www.academia.edu/28812788/Archaeological_methodology_applied_to_the_analysis_of_battlefields_and_military_camps_of_the_Second_Punic_War_Baecula

Though in that case, there are also structural remains from the camps to give investigators a clue, which aren't reported in the Wirral case.

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I also wonder, if you are going to move the bodies why not collect the stray weapons or metal?

Even if you do, what are the odds of finding every single spearhead?
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Erpingham

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2019, 11:33:19 AM »
It is, of course, extremely rare to find the casualties of a medieval battle on the field...

Of course.

But equally, how many battlefields have been identified by spear and arrow heads? Or at least, how many arrow and spear heads do we need before we might claim it’s any battlefield?

I also wonder, if you are going to move the bodies why not collect the stray weapons or metal?

Provided it is done scientifically, weapon concentrations are quite a good indicator of where a battle may have occurred.  If you cover an area and find an even distribution of weapons you might say random losses.  If the weapon finds concentrate in particular locations, you have to explain that and a battle is one way of doing so.   Medieval battlefields were usually quite well scavenged but broken bits of kit, arrow heads and so on might survive the process.  Given these find spots are currently secret, we have no way of assessing anything about weapon concentrations or possible alternative explanations as to how things ended up there.

In terms of body moving, it is possible that enemy dead would have been left on the field, after all useful loot had been extracted.  It may have depended on how much of an nuisance the rotting bodies were.  If the battlefield wasn't needed for agriculture and wasn't too close to human habitation, the bones may have remained for some time (the bigger ones at least that weren't easily carried off by animal scavengers) until the land was eventually brought under the plough or the local priest thought it was unseemly for them to be lying there.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2019, 07:25:42 PM »
In terms of body moving, it is possible that enemy dead would have been left on the field, after all useful loot had been extracted.  It may have depended on how much of an nuisance the rotting bodies were.  If the battlefield wasn't needed for agriculture and wasn't too close to human habitation, the bones may have remained for some time (the bigger ones at least that weren't easily carried off by animal scavengers) until the land was eventually brought under the plough or the local priest thought it was unseemly for them to be lying there.

If Aethelstan's opponents had won, there might have been quite a few bodies left on the battlefield, the Norse being traditionally of the view that the cleaning up of battlefields is best left to wolves and ravens.  However, a Christian king and army defeated foes who were at least part Christian, so we can expect a major post-battle effort to give burial, even if only of the mass-production variety, to most if not all of the fatal casualties.  And, as Anthony mentions, land use, whether for ploughing or pasture, is somewhat impracticable if the land is littered with corpses.

If this site does turn out to be Brunanburgh, the obvious question becomes: why was the battle fought there?
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Dangun

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2019, 04:25:52 AM »
Provided it is done scientifically, weapon concentrations are quite a good indicator of where a battle may have occurred.  If you cover an area and find an even distribution of weapons you might say random losses.  If the weapon finds concentrate in particular locations, you have to explain that and a battle is one way of doing so.

I understand the idea. But...

Do we have much data in the simpler case - a known battle, known location, and a quantity of archaeological post-battle remains?

Because if we don't (and I have no idea) it is harder to move logically from archaeological remains, to infer a battle, to infer a precise battle.

Patrick Waterson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2019, 08:22:30 AM »
Do we have much data in the simpler case - a known battle, known location, and a quantity of archaeological post-battle remains?

Not sure about the UK, but Visby in Denmark (AD 1361) comes to mind.

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Because if we don't (and I have no idea) it is harder to move logically from archaeological remains, to infer a battle, to infer a precise battle.

This is certainly true if all we have is archaeological remains, which can at best highlight a culture or cultures and a time period.  However we also have geography and local nomenclature, which were used to fix the likely location of the battlefield- as a result of which the archaeology for the right period turned up in the right place.  Investigation-prediction-discovery is pretty conclusive* and much less dependent upon inference.

*There is always the theoretical possibility that a different unrecorded battle was fought in this particular location, but Occam's Razor tends to cut that idea off at the knees.
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2019, 08:50:24 AM »
Not sure about the UK, but Visby in Denmark (AD 1361) comes to mind.

For a somewhat unusual value of "in Denmark" - the place became Danish as a result of the battle, and hasn't been Danish since 1645.
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Erpingham

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2019, 09:56:35 AM »
Not sure about the UK, but Visby in Denmark (AD 1361) comes to mind.

For a somewhat unusual value of "in Denmark" - the place became Danish as a result of the battle, and hasn't been Danish since 1645.

It also had a career as a pirate base for the Victual Brothers and was conquered and ruled by the Teutonic Knights after that, so changed hands a bit.

On the 1361 Gotland campaign , probably the best example of battlefield locating is actually for the skirmish at Masterby, which preceeded the main battle at Visby.  This website (in Swedish) gives some results of the archaeology and a finds plot.  This is Ok for some members but there is always google translate for the rest of us :)

There is another example of a small 16th century Swedish battle here - in English this time.

There have been numerous surveys of English battlefields, not always successful, which demonstrates the variablity of finds preservation.

Add : Here is a fieldwork map of the Towton site, showing how artefact clusters locate the battlefield.  Note the small cluster to the bottom right, which relates to the skirmish at Dintingdale in which Lord Clifford was killed.
« Last Edit: October 13, 2019, 12:06:24 PM by Erpingham »
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2019, 08:28:24 PM »
Not sure about the UK, but Visby in Denmark (AD 1361) comes to mind.

For a somewhat unusual value of "in Denmark" - the place became Danish as a result of the battle, and hasn't been Danish since 1645.

Oops, my error, very sorry - for some reason I was thinking in terms of AD 1361-2 not AD 2019!
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Erpingham

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Re: Early medieval battlesite on Wirral - Brunanburh?
« Reply #14 on: October 13, 2019, 09:23:01 AM »


If Aethelstan's opponents had won, there might have been quite a few bodies left on the battlefield, the Norse being traditionally of the view that the cleaning up of battlefields is best left to wolves and ravens.  However, a Christian king and army defeated foes who were at least part Christian, so we can expect a major post-battle effort to give burial, even if only of the mass-production variety, to most if not all of the fatal casualties. 


As an example, here are two accounts of the aftermath of Hastings.  The civilised approach v. the tough approach.

Those who had lain in the open and those who had stayed awake in the fields and suffered much hardship, rose early and made their way through the fields. They  buried their friends, those whose bodies they could find. The noble ladies in the land went to seek their husbands: some went looking for their fathers or spouses, or for sons or brothers, and they carried them to their towns and buried them in the churches. Clerics and priests of the country, at the request of their friends took those whom they were seeking and built mass graves (charniers) and placed them there.
Wace Roman de Rou

The victor spent the night resting among the dead, waiting for dawn to return. … After the brilliant lamp of Phoebus had shone forth and cleansed the world of its gloomy shades, the duke surveyed the battlefield, and, removing his own dead, had them buried in the bosom of the earth. But the bodies of the English that strewed the ground he left to be eaten by worms and wolves, by birds and dogs.
Carmen de Hastingae Proelio

You can square the two by suggesting William marched off after having dealt with his own dead, leaving the locals to sort the rest.  We might also note that the remains of casualties of the Stamford Bridge battle were still on the field 70 years later (when they were collected up and buried).

Archaeologically, though, even the leaving bodies for worms and wolves approach would ultimately provide a scatter of small and broken bones with the big bits eventually cleared away.  These bits of people would be hard to pick up in a field walking survey, even if soil conditions were right for preservation.
 
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