Location of Viking clash pinpointed by archaeologists

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The Battle of Brunanburh. But the location has long been in dispute.
The Battle of Brunanburh. But the location has long been in dispute.

The location of the battle that supposedly ‘brought England into existence’ was always going to be hotly disputed.

But archaeologists now claim the site of the Battle of Brunanburh has been definitively established.

There had previously been conflicting accounts of the location of the clash, which took place in AD 937, varying from South Yorkshire to Scotland.

Recently, however, the charitable organisation Wirral Archaeology argued the case for it having taken place somewhere on the Wirral.

At Brunanburh, an Anglo-Saxon army led by King Athelstan defeated an invading army of Vikings, Scots, and other warriors.

The invaders were commanded by Anlaf Guthfrithsson, the Viking king of Dublin and overlord of much of Ireland, along with his father-in-law King Constantine II of Scotland.

Surviving manuscripts suggest the battle was vast and bloody, with later generations referring to it as the ‘Great War’.

As Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, led what is regarded as the first unified English army, the event is considering by some as having brought the nation of England into existence.

Despite its significance, few records of the battle survived, hence the debate over its location.

At a recent conference, Wirral Archaeology presented information it had collated to confirm its theory.

This included medieval manuscripts indicating the location of the site, as well as results of surveying techniques such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and metal-detecting.

Additionally, a small number of targeted excavations on the Wirral have yielded many early medieval battle artefacts.

Commenting on the findings, ancient historian Professor Michael Livingston said: ‘We have long suspected Brunanburh was on the Wirral, but Wirral Archaeology’s discovery of potentially battle-related finds means that we may have the medieval equivalent of a smoking gun.’

The new findings will be the focus of great scrutiny from the archaeological community. For security reasons, however, the exact location currently remains confidential.

This article was published in the January 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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