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calendar   Thursday - December 23, 2010

Thursday Already?

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that’ll leave a mark alright



Modern Archaeologists Decipher Battle of Towton

Nastiest Battle In War of the Roses



No quarter asked, none given: bodies chopped to bits, stripped, and thrown in pits to rot.

The soldier now known as Towton 25 had survived battle before. A healed skull fracture points to previous engagements. He was old enough—somewhere between 36 and 45 when he died—to have gained plenty of experience of fighting. But on March 29th 1461, his luck ran out.

Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

The next one almost certainly was.

In Shakespeare’s cycle of eight plays, the story of the Wars of the Roses is told as an epic drama. In reality it was a messy series of civil wars—an on-again, off-again conflict pitting supporters of the ruling Lancastrian monarchy against backers of the house of York. [ under the reign of weak King Henry VI ] factions formed and enmities deepened. These spiralling conflicts eventually drove Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, to assert his own claim to the throne. York was named Henry’s heir, but he was killed in December 1460. His 18-year-old son, Edward, proclaimed himself king just before the battle of Towton.

That set the stage for a vicious fight. Edward had his father and brother to avenge. After killing him, Lancastrian forces had impaled York’s head on a lance and adorned it with a paper crown. Following years of skirmishes others had scores to settle, too. In previous encounters, efforts had been made to spare rank-and-file soldiers. At Towton, orders went out that no quarter be given. This was to be winner-takes-all, a brutal fight to the death.

In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward to his mother. England’s total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3m people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle’s 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country’s fighting-age population, took the field that day.

Modern techniques, carbon dating, and the unusual practice of opening an entire mass grave at once, instead of doing it one little grid square at a time, has given archaeologists a much better picture of what went on that day. The battle was a well recorded event, but what has been learned recently fills out much more of the historical record. This was the first, or one of the first, engagements in England in which guns were used. This is news. A great number of the dead show wounds mostly to their heads, leading to conjecture that the overheated soldiers took off their helmets to cool off at the wrong time, and they got the chop in any number of different ways from a combination weapon called a poleaxe: part spear, part war hammer, part spike, part halberd (war axe on a pole). Ouch.

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The next task was to try to identify the weapons which might have done this damage. Ms Novak took a variety of medieval weapons from the collection of the Royal Armouries and poked them through pieces of acoustic ceiling tile to see what shape they made. Some of the matches were uncanny—the dagger that had to be twisted on the way out, the beak of a war hammer. The puzzling range of blunt, sharp and puncture wounds have their explanation in the lethal versatility of the poleaxe, with its bladed axe, top-spike and hammer

On the run from the battle, with Yorkist soldiers in pursuit (some of them doubtless on horseback), the men would have soon overheated. They may have removed their helmets as a result. Overhauled—perhaps in the vicinity of Towton Hall, which some think may then have been a Lancastrian billet—and disorientated, tired and outnumbered, their enemies would have had time to indulge in revenge. Even at this distance the violence is shocking. “It’s almost as if they were trying to remove their opponents’ identities,” says Mr Knüsel of the attackers’ savagery. Thanks to some unsuspecting builders and a team of archaeologists, they did not entirely succeed.

Pretty grisly.

So here’s ballerina Heidi Rhodes just to show that being covered in red doesn’t always mean blood and guts.

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Heidi has 20 years of dance training under her belt but describes herself as a bona fide tomboy.

You can Google up more - I should say all of leggy Heidi on your own. Apart from her ballet slippers and a warm-up wrap, she doesn’t seem to own any clothes at all.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 12/23/2010 at 11:42 AM   
Filed Under: • Archeology / AnthropologyEye-Candy •  
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