Site of Britain's first ever gunbattle revealed

Thu Dec 2, 2010 7:29am EST
 
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of the first use of firearms on a British battlefield after fragments of shattered guns were unearthed on a site that saw one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil.

The bronze barrel fragments and a very early lead shot were discovered by a metal detectorist working closely with a team that has been trying to unlock the secrets of the 1461 battle of Towton, in Yorkshire, northern England.

The battle, fought over the throne between Lancastrian King Henry VI and England's first Yorkist king, Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses, has gone down in history as the bloodiest ever fought on the island.

Lead project archaeologist Tim Sutherland, who has been working on the site since 1996, said it was a hugely exciting discovery, marking the beginning of the end of the use of archery and ushering in the start of modern warfare.

"As far as we know there are no parallels for any such finds, on certainly a British Medieval battlefield, but probably a European one as well," Sutherland, who is a visiting lecturer at the University of York and a firearms expert, told Reuters.

He said historical records suggest cannon-like guns were used at Towton, but no one has been able to find any evidence of it until now.

Laboratory analysis of the barrel fragments prove they belonged to two different guns. The results confirm Sutherland's view that the crudely cast guns, likely needing a pole for support when fired, exploded because of the cold as the battle raged during a snowstorm.

The discovery of a lead ball with an iron core is also highly significant, being the earliest composite lead bullet known in Europe, he said.   Continued...

 
<p>Skeletons of troops found in 1996 are seen in a mass grave close to a battlefield site in this undated photograph, in Towton, Yorkshire. Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of the first use of firearms on a British battlefield after fragments of shattered guns were unearthed on a site that saw one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil. The bronze barrel fragments and a very early lead shot were discovered by a metal detectorist working closely with a team that has been trying to unlock the secrets of the 1461 battle of Towton, in Yorkshire, northern England. REUTERS/Tim Sutherland/Handout</p>