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Archaeologists hope dig brings proof of Battle of Towton death toll
ARCHAEOLOGISTS are hoping to unearth proof of the death toll at a North Yorkshire 15th century battle.
Tim Sutherland, a battlefield archaeologist at the University of York, said it was hoped a new dig planned to mark the 550th anniversary Battle of Towton would uncover fresh evidence of whether 28,000 men were killed in a single day.
The clash, which took place a few miles south-west of Tadcaster on March 29, 1461, is considered the most important battle of the War of the Roses, because of the scale of the bloodshed, mainly suffered by the Lancastrians, as they were defeated by the Yorkists.
But he said the death toll was disputed by many historians and could have been propaganda after the battle put King Edward IV on the throne.
Mr Sutherland said they hoped to find out if the often-used figure of 28,000 deaths was inconceivable or plausible. He said: “I think there’s going to be a few thousand, but I could be completely wrong and there could be massive pits.
“We knew where the graves were a few years ago, and now we are trying to evaluate how big they are and how many of them there are.”
The dig is expected to last two summers, removing the top soil from August this year and cataloguing the human remains and arrowheads before replacing it at the end of the season.
This is expected to show how many graves there are and then the team hopes to secure more funding to excavate at least one of the graves, which could come from charities, architectural bodies or media organisations which want to make a television programme around the dig.
The first stage of the dig has secured funding and can now go ahead since the archaeologists made an agreement with the landowners and local authority over protection for the site.
For the first time, the agreement makes it illegal for unauthorised treasure hunters to go on the battlefield site with a metal detector because of the problems of them removing artefacts without recording the findings. It includes incentives for landowners to deter poachers and flytippers.
Mr Sutherland is now speaking to English Heritage, the Battlefield Trust and other police forces about their agreement, which could pioneer similar protection for other battlefields.