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Stirling leads first scientific reconstruction of Battle of Bannockburn landscape

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Dr. Richard Tipping will lead the first environmental reconstruction of the entire landscape of the Battle of Bannockburn as it looked 700 years ago, when Robert the Bruce defeated the largest English army to invade Scotland.

Dr. Tipping has been granted nearly £120,000 by the Leverhulme Trust to research the topography of the Carse of Stirling so that the complete landscape surrounding Bannockburn may be recreated. This will help historians to better understand what happened, and why, at the famous battle which took place seven centuries ago.

 “The terrain and ground conditions of the battle remain unknown,” says Dr. Tipping. “We judge Edward II’s tactics on the battlefield by what we know of the topography now, but we may have done him a disservice. By recreating the landscape, we will assist historians to determine the ground conditions which he faced.

"No-one has been able to do this before, but improvements in radio carbon dating mean that we will be able to date ground conditions to within a decade. We will be using scientific techniques to solve a historical problem - the story of the battle now is to explain the landscape, which plays a more important role than in most battles.

“All sorts of environmental issues affected the battle - for example, how many trees were there, where were they positioned and was Robert the Bruce hiding among them? The terrain was crucial to Edward’s cavalry - was it peaty, a bog or well cultivated and drained farming land?”

Dr. Tipping will focus on the Carse of Stirling because that is where the English army was positioned and it is assumed that the decisive second day of the battle was fought there.

Edward II’s troops are likely to have camped somewhere on the Carse to the south east of Stirling Castle, a level plain imagined to be peat bog and sticky clay. This camp is almost always assumed to have been ill-suited to English cavalry, Edward II’s strongest weapon.

This choice is seen as a major error on the part of an ill-fated king, but we have no understanding of what the Carse looked like in 1314. The second day of the battle ended in an English rout and many English deaths from drowning in the River Forth and the ‘great ditch’ of Bannock Burn, today an insignificant shallow stream.

“We will also study the ‘great ditch’ of the Bannock burn, across which the English were unable to retreat,” says Dr. Tipping. “This may be because it had developed a deep ditch in the centre as a result of significant climate change which began around 1280.”

Dr. Tipping starts work on 7 January and will complete his research by the end of August 2013. Thereafter, his research will be used by the National Trust for Scotland to recreate the battlefield in a new visitor centre to be opened for the 700th anniversary celebration of the famous battle.

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