36. Fieldwalking and metal detecting

36. Fieldwalking and metal detecting


Sixty-eight fields were identified for investigation at the start of the project. Eighteen of the fields were subsequently fieldwalked, at least ten of these were also metal-detected. Ten fields were metal-detected only, although in some cases this was by a single detectorist. The first two charts provide a broad guide to the quantity of artefacts recovered, although it should be borne in mind that not only do the size of the fields vary, but also the proportion of each field metal-detected or field-walked.

36 Image 2Field and excavation location plan

Finds Processing

The bulk of the finds (over 14,000 items) were cleaned and catalogued by volunteers (members and friends of Till Valley Archaeological Society) with professional supervision. Some of the volunteers had attended finds training days, which included guidelines to identification and dating of various artefact types. The processing days were a less formal, though hopefully just as valuable, learning experience where finds were examined and discussed. 

The majority of the finds recovered from field-walked fields were identified at the cataloguing sessions. Pro-forma sheets were used to list the finds and this data was subsequently computerised to allow sorting and quantification. The statistics and charts presented here are derived from that data.

Most of the finds from the fields which were only metal-detected were identified and listed by John Nolan.

A relatively small number of artefacts were selected to be sent to ‘outside’ specialists. The criteria for selection were:

  • Coins which could not be identified, or which it was hoped could be more closely dated (Richard Brickstock)
  • Militaria (Dr David Caldwell)
  • A selection of metal objects (less than 100) whose identification and dating was uncertain (a number remained so!) or which it was thought needed a second opinion (Gail Drinkall)
  • Lithics, this covers fragments of chipped stone and possible stone artefacts (Dr Rob Young)

The Finds

The find types are discussed in descending order of frequency beginning with the pottery. pottery. Relative proportions in each field assemblage of pottery and four other categories of finds (glass, metal, stone and tobacco pipe) are compared in the third chart. Bone and ceramic building material (hereafter cbm) are omitted for reasons indicated below. Some small miscellaneous groups of material ('misc' in first chart) are also omitted. This allows the main artefact types to be more easily compared. Relative proportions in each field assemblage of pottery and four other categories of finds (glass, metal, stone and tobacco pipe) are compared in the third chart. Bone and ceramic building material (hereafter cbm) are omitted for reasons indicated below. Some small miscellaneous groups of material (‘misc’ in first chart) are also omitted. This allows the main artefact types to be more easily compared.


36 Image 3Pottery fragments made up 46% of the total number of finds recovered, although from field to field the proportion (compared to other classes of finds) varied considerably (see above). In some fields this is probably related to distance from places of habitation, but in other fields it is possible that certain types of finds (e.g. cbm) were not routinely collected, thus distorting the relative quantities.

Only a few fields produced medieval pottery. Over 200 sherds were recovered from Field 18, and Fields 7 and 22 each produced 31 sherds. Three sherds came from Field 19, and single sherds from Fields 2, 8, 16 and 62. Most sherds are relatively small and worn and not particularly diagnostic as to date or specific regional type. The material is broadly 12th to 14th century in date.

36 Image 4The commonest types recovered were postmedieval red earthenwares and white-glazed white earthenwares, which could be in use in the same households. Whiteware was the standard table ware, with a variety of decorative techniques (transfer-printing, sponging, painting), from the later 18th century onwards.

There are far more sherds of white wares than of red wares, but the latter are, generally speaking, more robust kitchen vessels and do not break into such small fragments. These red wares are also common from the 18th century through to the early 20th. Many sherds are from large bowls with an internal white slip coating, sometimes mottled with brown. Occurring in much smaller quantities were other domestic wares including stoneware bottles, jam-jars, mixing bowls and the occasional piece of fine china.36 Image 5

Amongst the red earthenwares in Fields 7, 18, 19 and 22 were a few sherds of earlier, (17th to early 18th century) red wares. These have a lighter red fabric, paler glazed surfaces and, in most cases, traces of slip-trailed decoration, and are likely to be the products of a pottery at Tweedmouth. In the same date range were several fragments of tin-glazed earthenware (a yellowish-buff fabric with white glaze usually with painted decoration), recovered from Field 18. Only three other sherds of this type were catalogued from the whole assemblage, although it is possible that small abraded sherds could have been misidentified. A single fragment of 16th century Cistercian ware (a red fabric with dark brown/black glaze and ‘piped’ white clay decoration, usually small drinking vessels) also came from Field 18 and it is possible that some fragments of stoneware are also of this date, but small sherds are difficult to identify positively.36 Image 6

Ceramic building material

Fragments of brick, pantile/rooftile, and field drain made up just under 19% of the total items recovered. However, there is some doubt over whether this class of finds was consistently collected by the walkers. It is not considered further here.


Over 12% of the recovered finds were glass fragments. The proportion of glass to pottery varied widely between fields, with no obvious pattern to account for the variation. In all fields except Field 5 pottery sherds outnumbered glass fragments, although in Field 8 and Field 13 the proportions were almost equal. Perhaps surprisingly in Field 18 the proportion of glass to pot was quite small, as was also the case for Field 7.

The majority of identifiable fragments were from bottles of various types. The dark green (sometimes almost black) ‘English’ bottle first appears in the 17th century. There may be fragments of such early bottles present but, as dating relies to a great extent on developments in shape over time, small pieces are not easy to date. Light green 19th century mineral water bottles, coloured medicine bottles, and relatively recent milk bottles were also present! The rest comprised a variety of 19th century or later table wares, and a smaller quantity of window glass.

Metal objects

Metallic finds made up just over 10% of items recovered from the field-walked fields.


There were 110 coins. Apart from a single Roman coin, a denarius of Domitian (95 – 96 AD) from metal-detected Field 57, the earliest, from Field 18, was a Scottish silver penny, cut in half, dating to the second half of the 12th century (1150-1195). There were two silver pennies of Edward I or II (1301-1327) from Fields 2 and 14 – the first was only a tiny fragment. A silver groat of Henry VI (1422-61) and a silver penny of Elizabeth I, came from Field 7. Only one other 16th century coin was recovered during the Project. This was a Scottish base silver 1/3rd groat, probably of James V (1526-39) from Field 67. However, a silver groat of Henry VIII was recovered from Field 7 by Dr. Glenn Foard’s metal-detecting team in 2007. Fields 7, 18, 19 and 22 produced collectively 34 Scottish ‘turners’ (two-pence pieces), most of them dating to the mid-17th century (1643-61). Three more came from Field 57. There was also a silver half-crown of Charles I from Field 18 and a Scottish bawbee (sixpence) of Charles II (dating to 1677-79) from Field 7.

The majority of the other identifiable coins were ‘small change’ from the 1700s –1800s with a scattering of 20th century, mostly pre-decimal issues.

Other metal objects

36 Image 7Fig. 1Possibly the earliest metal object was a broken, late Iron Age copper-alloy strap fitting recovered from Field 50. This could have been made before the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD. Fragments of two Roman trumpet brooches, dated to around 75 – 175 AD, were found in Fields 13 and 18 (Fig. 1).

Only a very small number of medieval objects were found. These included an ornate buckle of the 13th/14th century and a decorated circular example of 15th century date, both from Field 7. Seven lead spindle whorls, associated with spinning or weaving, were recovered: three from Field 18, two from Field 7, one from Field 19, and one from the metal-detected Field 66. Lead spindle whorls are rarely found in excavations of domestic 36 Image 8Fig. 2
sites, where whorls are more likely to be made of other materials such as stone or bone. However thousands of lead examples have been recovered through metal detecting, field-walking, or as chance finds, in rural areas. Fig. 2) They are difficult to date; two of the whorls from Field 18 may be quite early medieval, while the others could be late medieval to early post-medieval (i.e. up to about 1600).

Even identifiable items cannot be closely dated. Only nineteen finds (including four of the spindle whorls) have date ranges which include the early 1500s but none can be positively assigned to 1513. A buckle with pendant loop which may be a sword or dagger hanger was found in Field 57. (Fig. 3) This is the only artefact which could be related to the battle, though it should be remembered that swords and daggers were commonly carried in daily life.36 Image 9Fig. 3

36 Image 10Fig. 4Other items were the broken ‘foot’ from a three-legged bronze cooking pot, a Jew’s harp and a candle-snuffer from Field 18, and a decorative lead mount from Field 50. (Fig. 4) Four other possibly 16th century mounts/fittings came from Fields 4, 7, 57 and 68. There were three buckles from Field 7, all were fairly plain and could be 17th century. There was also a lead button with ‘cross-and-pellet’ decoration from Field 18. (Fig. 5)

Three lead composite (iron cored) cannonballs were found before the inception of the Project and another piece of composite shot – a pebble wrapped in lead – was found in Field 68. Two of the cannonballs were recovered from Field 19 by Dr. Glenn Foard’s team in 2007. The other was found in 2001 during the making of an episode of the ‘Two Men in a Trench’ television series in Field 26 (Branxton Hill). Cannon balls of this form and calibre appeared in the late 1400s, and they were also found on the Mary Rose which sank in 1545. The area saw much military activity around this time, with a Scottish invasion in 1496 during which the tower of Branxton was destroyed, and English armies rendezvoused at the ‘King’s Stone’ (at Crookham Westfield) several times in the 1540s. However, the locations of the cannon balls make it more than likely that these are indeed battle-related.36 Image 11Fig. 5

During the past 200 years finds of cannon balls have been reported from the battlefield, but few are now available for examination. A collection of ‘40-50’ supposedly from a field west of Branxton church is said to have been distributed between Coldstream Museum and ‘a museum in Newcastle’ in 1984. The small group (nine) at Coldstream Museum appear too variable in condition to have been deposited in a single event, and Discovery Museum and the Great North Museum Hancock in Newcastle have no record of accessions of cannon balls from Flodden at that date.

The bulk of the metal artefacts recovered date from after 1600, and principally after 1700. One of the commonest finds was small lead shot, over fifty pieces of which were found by field-walking alone, mainly from Fields 7, 18 and 22. None has been identified as being of the Flodden period, and most ‘ball’ shot can be attributed to sporting and hunting activities between the 1600s and 1800s. Other metalwork items reflect agricultural activity, such the head of a draw-hoe, horse-shoes, and the heavy strap buckles and backings from decorative brass mounts lost from draught-animal harness. (Figs. 6 and 7) Iron heel-taps and buttons of brass and pewter may have come from farmworkers’ clothing.36 fig 6 7

36 Image 14Fig. 8Moving into the later 1800s and early 1900s, there is a gin-trap (Field 62), the brass bases of shotgun cartridges, bits of agricultural machinery and an aluminium cattle ear-tag (Field 66). Some military uniform buttons were found including a ‘Local Companies’ cap badge – this is 19th century and pre-Territorial Army. Later military buttons could have come from great-coats kept after demobilisation in 1918 or 1945. Fragments of a toy motor car (Field 14) (Fig. 8), a lead soldier (Field 3), and a bell or rattle in the shape of a cat (Field 16) are children’s toys. Miscellaneous other items, lost or discarded, were pieces of a pocket watch (Field 16), parts of a mouth organ (Field 68) and an early 20th century Lucas ‘King of the Road’ motor-horn (Field 14).

Lithic material

Apart from a few whetstones, which could date to any time after the introduction of metals, this material is prehistoric. Few tool types which could be identified to period were recovered, and most of the material is debitage (i.e. waste fragments from making tools). Some of the core, scraper, borer and knife forms present span the period from the Later Mesolithic through to the Later Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age. However, there were two possible microliths of later Mesolithic type and from Field 18 a meche de floret – a form of drill bit also characteristic of the later Mesolithic period.

Two fine examples of plano-convex knives from Field 2 are of late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date. The raw materials used include agate, chert and quartz as well as flint. The flint is mainly pebble flint and may well derive from sources on the coast.

Almost all the field-walked fields produced some lithic material but there was a notable concentration in Field 1 and lithics were a relatively large proportion of the Field 5 assemblage. A number of pieces were also collected from Field 50, including three scrapers.36 fig 9 10

36 Image 17 scrapers

Seven scrapers of Later Mesolithic type came from Field 1. Other fragments from this field suggested microlith manufacture. The high concentration of chipped stone, particularly in the northern part of this field, led to a series of test pits being excavated in 2011 under the direction of Lizzy Young (now Herbert). The assemblage recovered was predominantly of Late Mesolithic, narrow-blade origin.

Two scrapers from Field 5 were not clearly dateable but a relatively large number of the other pieces recovered (blades and bladelets) could indicate microlith manufacture.

Field 7 produced five scrapers, one of which could be Neolithic/Bronze Age, but other fragments suggest an earlier, Mesolithic, presence in this area too. The lithics from Fields 13, 18 and 19 were also mostly of broadly later Mesolithic date.

Clay tobacco pipes

36 Image 18 bowlsA surprisingly small quantity of clay tobacco-pipe fragments was found, amounting to less than 3% of the total recovered material. The largest number of fragments came from Field 18, but in several fields (e.g. Fields 7 and 8) the count was higher proportionately to the overall size of the material recovered. Conversely some fields which produced reasonable quantities of pottery yielded very little clay pipe. Some fragments (mainly from Fields 18 and 19) were identifiable as 17th century and one heart-shaped base from Field 7 is typical of early/mid 17th century Tyneside pipe-maker’s products.

The majority of fragments were undiagnostic pieces of stem, and most of these are likely to be later 18th or 19th century. A few had maker’s (or other) marks, most of which could with some confidence be identified as belonging to the Tennant family: Charles, or Charles and Son, of Berwick and William Tennant, son of Charles, who moved to Newcastle. These date to the mid- to late 19th century – William’s products are more precisely datable to after c.1871.There was one stem with the partial mark of Thomas White of Edinburgh a 19th century maker renowned for his high quality products. It has been suggested that White was the maker of pipes with the initials ‘TW’ on their bowls, often also featuring a cross-hatched heart on one side. This mark is however known to occur on pipes by a number of north-east makers, including the Tennants. Pieces of a few such bowls were amongst the fragments recovered.36 Image 19


36 Image 20 Human boneFragment of human mandibleOnly a small quantity of bone was recovered and it seems likely that it was not routinely collected. The largest quantity - 127 pieces - came from the artefact-rich Field 18, but other fields produced remarkably little or none. Ten fragments were collected from Field 7 and single fragments from Fields 2, 3, 16 and 19. It is also possible that much of the bone that was picked up was mistaken for something man-made. A substantial proportion of the fragments from Field 18 consisted of large ungulate (e.g. horse and cow) teeth which are often not recognised as such by those unfamiliar with animal skeletal material. Other identifiable animal bone included small mammals, such as rabbits, and sheep.

A single small fragment of human mandible, displaying no evidence for trauma, was recovered from Field 7, and identified subsequently by Dr Pia Nystrom of Sheffield University as belonging to a female or young adult male (Carbon 14 dating showed this was most likely to be 17th to 18th century).

One bone artefact – a domino - was recovered from Field 38 (see separate article).


For a number of reasons it is not unduly surprising that nothing was recovered during the field-walking and metal-detecting which could be confidently ascribed to the battle. It must be remembered that many of the fields around Branxton were not covered, and several fields were not covered in their entirety. Even if the ‘traditional’ site of the battle is accepted (though this might perhaps be open to some reassessment), many usable or recyclable items are likely to have been scavenged fairly promptly by the local population.