Towton mass grave project
What transpired at Towton on a snowy Palm Sunday, March 29th, 1461, has ever since been something of a mystery, despite the battle being one of the largest and bloodiest ever fought on English soil.
Historically, the battle marked a turning point in the Wars of the Roses that confirmed the Yorkist Edward IV's accession to the throne of England. During the battle and ensuing rout of the Lancastrians, an estimated 28,000 men lost their lives. The application of forensic anthropological techniques for identifying and recording injuries has allowed us to confirm that the individuals from the pit were casualties of an extremely violent encounter. Moreover, they provide a unique glimpse of the personal consequences of battle for some who took part.
The 1996 excavations
In August 1996, workmen disturbed a portion of a mass-burial pit during building work at the location of the Towton battlefield (near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire). At the request of North Yorkshire County Council Heritage Unit, a team of osteoarchaeologists and archaeologists from Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford and members of the West Yorkshire Archaeology Service excavated the mass grave.
They recovered the mostly complete remains of 43 individuals from a grave pit which measured 6m x 2m and was only 50 cm in depth. These tightly-packed individuals were recovered through the application of three-dimensional recording of the deposit and its contents, scaled photographs, and in situ sketch drawings. The original appearance of the deposit and associated entangled arms and legs with discrete individuals has been recreated using computer-assisted design software.
The original team for the Towton Mass Grave project (Anthea Boylston, Jennifer Coughlan, Malin Holst, Christopher Knüsel, Shannon Novak and Tim Sutherland) have all moved to different institutions or retired. The Towton Mass grave excavation is fully published in this book:
Fiorato, V., Boylston, A. and Knüsel, C. 2007. Blood red roses: the archaeology of a mass grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow.
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