Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Battle of Towton

Last week The Economist published a terrific article on the Battle of Towton, one of the critical engagements of the Wars of the Roses, and possibly the largest battle ever fought on English soil. The article focuses on the mass grave that was discovered at the site, and the clues about both the battle itself and life in medieval times that the skeletons reveal.

Because the battle was so large, there are remains of all ages and sizes to be found, giving a broad range of insights, such as:
This physical diversity is unsurprising, given the disparate types of men who took the battlefield that day. Yet as a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. “It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted,” says Mr Knüsel. Their health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate pretty healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too.
There were other fascinating tidbits as well, like traces of one of the first handguns being found on the battlefield, and the process the archaeologists went through to try to match some of the injuries they found on the skeletons with the damage done by actual medieval weaponry. Fascinating stuff!