Battles are ephemeral things by their very nature. They fill our history books and feed our imagination with images of what our own perceptions are, usually based of epic TV shows or a film, the reality is, of course, very different.
Battles were fought across the British Isles for over two thousand years. Foreign invaders, parochial tribal warfare, Civil wars and rebellions were all the catalysts for the hundreds of fields of conflicts that occurred, most of them unidentified, that saw people slaughter each other across the span of time and the length and breadth of the British Isles.
Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans and several dynasties fought wars and battles that forged the histories of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and indeed, the world.
The English battlefield Register only has 47 battlefields that are recognised, and whose locations are accepted. Only 47 out of several hundred that are known to have been fought.
The battle of Maldon fought in 991, is the oldest recorded on the register, yet whilst the location of this clash between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings is accepted, not one artefact has ever been attributed to this particular battle.
Where is Edington, the scene of Alfred the Great’s great victory over the Danes? Where did the Roman army crush the Britons on the river Medway in 43AD? Where did Boudicca’s great army fall to defeat in 61AD? All these great events are documented and we know the rough locations where they may have happened but none of them, nor many hundreds more, can be formally identified.
There are no known artefacts recovered from battlefields such as Hastings or Bannockburn in Scotland, why? There were so many large -scale battles in which thousands died, yet locating most of these sites, much less, recovering and physical material, is a rare event.
Visits to the battlefields of America and in Europe, in particular, the sites of the great first world war battlefields have trails, marker boards, museums and such, yet here, so many past battlefields lie, undiscovered under farmland or urban sprawl.
Firstly, historians and archaeologists appear to have been more interested in the development of societies and as to how they developed after a particular change of a dynastic regime, a foreign invasion or a period of civil war.
Comparatively few English battlefields have been subject to archaeological investigation. Amongst those that have, Towton Moor, 1461 is the best known, namely because of the grave pits discovered which held the remains of executed Lancastrians. Bosworth, 1485, proved to be a bit of an enigma, because in recent years its location has moved to about a mile to the south west of its traditional location.
The battle of Chester fought in 616, has produced evidence of battle casualties but has not yet made the English battlefield register. The battle of Fulford, 1066, is also currently excluded from the register, despite the fact that substantial evidence has been found which indicates that in the aftermath of a battle, the victors would clean the battle site of everything of value and that any damaged material appears to have been recycled. We should not be surprised by this. Metal was valuable, and in pre-industrialised societies, obtaining ores was a time consuming and expensive enterprise.
Wirral Archaeology CIC have been searching for the possible location of the battle for several years. We believe that it was fought on the Wirral and we are supported in that belief by the works of Professor Michael Livingston, an American medievalist and renowned ancient battlefield detective, whose works such as ‘Never a greater slaughter’ and ‘Brunanburh, a casebook’ are the most comprehensive works or research pertaining to the battle. Dave Capener, a member of Wirral Archaeology CIC, also produced the work, Brunanburh and the routes to Dingesmere, which, independently, support much of that, which professor Livingston has advocated.
Wirral Archaeology CIC, have been recovering material from a location that mirrors the material recovered from the Fulford battlefield. Artefacts spanning over two millennium have been recovered and amongst these, there are objects from the early medieval period.
An extraordinary amount of iron has also been recovered, including blacksmith’s tools and various metal waste from a variety of metals. We haven’t got the answers yet, but we do know that this particular site is of historical significance.
We know that locating ancient battlefields is an extremely challenging enterprise and we also acknowledge that this will be a long- term endeavour and that it will take many years to collect and identify material before any assessment or judgement can be made, but we believe that we have all the physical and topographical features present, combined with a reliable theoretical assessment of the political landscape of the period and logistical issues that would have been overcome.
We will gather further physical evidence and continue to research local history, etymology, ancient records and the comprehensive study of the changing landscape over the last millennium and together with the scientific evaluation of recovered iron objects by isotopic and elemental testing, we will keep focused on this project giving due regard to scholarly debate for other claimed sites for the battle, and we will seek to initiate the assistance of professional experts in order to make a compelling case for the battle of Brunanburh having been fought on the Wirral in 937 AD.