Two Men in a Trench

Archaeologists Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver get their hands dirty as they hunt for military artefacts at battlefields across the country in Two Men In A Trench.



"Archaeologists are historians with the gloves off," Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver write in the book accompanying Two Men in a Trench. They certainly get their hands dirty as they hunt for military artefacts at battlefields across the country. Their quest is to bring us closer to the people caught up in some of history's most momentous events. "What we are sometimes looking at when we relocate objects dropped by soldiers," they write "are the movements and actions of a person who could have been in the last hours or even moments of his life."


The chaps presenting Two Men in a Trench may be easy on the eye but they know their stuff, too. Doctor Tony Pollard of Glasgow University is Britain's leading battlefield archaeologist. He cut his teeth in the discipline by studying battlefields in Zululand and North Africa. He's also worked as a forensic archaeologist, helping the police with murder inquiries. Neil Oliver is also a graduate of the University of Glasgow's Archaeology Department. He's worked as a journalist and publicist in addition to his career as an archaeologist. The pair cemented their friendship at college after discovering they were both fans of the classic battle epic, Zulu, starring Michael Caine.


Systematic, detailed study of the physical landscape in search of battlefield artefacts is still a relatively new archaeological discipline. Traditionally, archaeologists have studied enclosed sites, such as tombs, temples or dwellings. Tony and Neil are spearheading a new branch of archaeology that has had to adapt its techniques to cover battlefields - large, unregulated sites often obscured by modern development. There is another difference. Traditional archaeology usually studies how people lived. Battlefield archaeology, by its very nature, focuses on how people died.


From arrowheads to spent cartridges, most weapons of war are metallic. To have any chance of finding long-buried military artefacts scattered over a huge battlefield, archaeologists need the help of amateur metal detectorists. Previously, the two communities haven't always got on: archaeologists saw metal detectorists as opportunists looking to make money from finds that ought to be offered to museums. This certainly wasn't the case with the detectorists helping the Two Men in a Trench team. Without their painstaking efforts, many fascinating and valuable battlefield remnants would have remained buried.


Another key member of a battlefield archaeology team is the geophysicist. Using devices that measure magnetic fields and resistance to electrical current, as well as ground-penetrating radar, geophysicists help to build up a picture of irregularities in the earth beneath our feet. But this is only half the story. In the end, archaeologists still have to roll up their sleeves and get digging.


Most of the fighting men who died on Medieval British battlefields were not regular soldiers but peasants, called to arms by their feudal masters. Whatever their peacetime roles, all men of fighting age were expected to maintain proficiency in the most feared English weapon, the longbow. Many villages had ranges where you could hone your archery skills after a hard day's work in the fields. It wasn't until the 1640s, when Cromwell raised his New Model Army of soldiers paid for by taxation, that this country had a standing army of professional soldiers.