Archaeologists and veterans find first shots fired at Battle of Waterloo

Published: 29 April 2015

An international team of archaeologists, led by Dr Tony Pollard, has broken ground in the first excavation of the battlefield of Waterloo.

An international team of archaeologists, led by the University of Glasgow’s Dr Tony Pollard, has broken ground in the first excavation of the battlefield of Waterloo.

The team which uniquely includes international archaeologists and British veterans, including some still serving in the Coldstream Guards, have been working on site at Waterloo on the project’s first excavations. 

Tony PollardThrough a combination of Geo-physical survey work by the Ghent University’s Department of Soil Management, metal detecting and a series of test trenches, the Waterloo Uncovered team has started to explore the area of a former wood that dominated the French army’s approach to the Hougoumont farm buildings which were defended by regiments including the Coldstream Guards.  A number of spent musket balls fired by both British and French troops have been found at the Southern extremity of this wood; these are thought to be some of the first shots fired in the Battle.                             

Dr Tony Pollard, Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, leading the archaeology, said: "The full team has only been working on site for two days and we have made some very interesting discoveries.  In particular, we have started a comprehensive survey, including metal detecting, of the area of the former wood to the south of the Hougoumont buildings and we have already found spent and unfired musket shots at the southern -most tip of the wood, also fragments of firearms and clothing such as uniform buttons. 

“We know that shots were exchanged between the French and Allied armies in these woods during the night before the battle, as the French probed the allied position and the first real fighting took place in the same spot.   I am confident these shots were fired very early in the battle, probably in the first exchanges.”            

Mark Evans, Project Co-ordinator of Waterloo Uncovered, said: “It’s been amazing! Our team of soldiers, veterans and top archaeologists has worked so well together and achieved so much. Understanding what happened in the woods is key to understanding what happened at Hougoumont. Having soldiers and veterans – with real experience of battle – offers a unique perspective on what it must have been like to have fought on that day 200 years ago.”

Waterloo Tony PollardDr Marc Van Meirvenne, Head of the Department of Soil Management, Ghent University, Belgium, said: "The battlefield of Waterloo has remained largely unprospected for buried remains of the battle. Today, we have the technology to scan these lands efficiently in sufficient detail to direct archaeological excavations. The opportunity to do this jointly with veterans from a regiment who played a key role at the battle, the Coldstream Guards, is unique and adds an impressive social dimension to this project."

Waterloo Uncovered is the brainchild of two Coldstream Guards officers, Major Charles Foinette, who currently serves with 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, and Mark Evans, who suffered from PTSD following his experience in Afghanistan.  

The project will also partner Operation Nightingale, an award winning, MoD backed initiative to aid injured veteran’s recovery and provide life and vocational skills through archaeology.  Project Nightingale will oversee the participation of British veterans while working with Waterloo Uncovered. 

The Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, Glasgow University, is a pioneer and world leader in the fields of battlefield and conflict archaeology and has carried out archaeological investigations on conflict sites ranging from the medieval to modern eras across the globe. The Centre will provide the project with essential expertise, not least through the provision of its Director, Dr Tony Pollard as lead archaeologist.


Notes for Editors:

Waterloo Uncovered is a groundbreaking archaeological project to investigate the battlefield of Waterloo. In April 2015, the battle’s bicentenary year, a team of top European archaeologists and British military veterans will begin survey work around the area of Hougoumont Farm. The project is a partnership between Operation Nightingale, the Service de l'archéologie-Direction extérieure du Brabant wallon, the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, Glasgow University, the Human Identification Centre, Dundee University and the Dept.  Soil Management of the Ghent University, Belgium.  It is supported by Project Hougoumont, the Coldstream Guards, Waterloo200 and the MoD. Devised as a one-year project, the work carried out in 2015 has the potential to form the basis of a longer-term project if desired.

Project Aims

1.      Improve knowledge and understanding of the battle by adding new archaeological information to the existing record, testing new and existing theories, and presenting findings in an open and accessible fashion.

 2.     Provide an opportunity for veterans to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime project. To use archaeology to assist personal development and injury recovery whilst learning vocational skills.  The project will also provide important training opportunities for archaeologists and, in particular, the next generation of conflict archaeologists.

 3.     Promote international relations by understanding how Waterloo was fought by and affected almost every European nation. This multinational thinking will be taken into consideration at all stages of planning e.g. archaeology team selection.

 4.     Commemorate those who fought and fell at the battle by explaining to the public why the battle was fought and what impact it had both then and today. Identifying the final resting places of soldiers from all nations, and marking them correctly and respectfully.

 5.     Preserve the archaeology of the battle and enhance management of the cultural heritage by assessing the battlefield to identify and record areas in danger, then excavate, conserve and display as appropriate.


Project Supporters

Waterloo Uncovered has a number of key supporters:

The Coldstream Guards has a historic interest in the battle and Hougoumont Farm in particular, where the regiment has provided funding to maintain and restore the farm for over a century.  The regiment will provide some administrative support as well as veterans to participate in the exploration.

Operation Nightingale (part of the Defence Archaeology Group) is an award winning, MoD backed, initiative to rehabilitate veterans and provide life and vocational skills through archaeology. They have extensive experience of running archaeological excavations with veterans and will take responsibility for veteran selection, management and any medical and special requirements.

Service de l'archéologie-Direction extérieure du Brabant wallon regulate and oversee all archaeological works in the region.  They have agreed not only to underwrite the necessary permits, but will be active participants in the project, providing valuable links to the local community and Belgian stakeholders.

The Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee. Experts from the Centre will oversee the investigation of any graves encountered during the various archaeological surveys undertaken as part of Waterloo Uncovered. 

Waterloo 200 is the official organisation overseeing the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.  Waterloo 200 recognises Waterloo Uncovered as making an important contribution to the Waterloo bicentenary commemorations.  

Project Hougoumont Belgium is the organisation responsible in Belgium for fundraising for the restoration of the surviving buildings at Hougoumont, the farm complex which anchored Wellington's right flank during the battle..

The Dept of Soil Management, Ghent University, is a leading expert centre innon-invasive soil sensing techniques for archaeological purposes. Specialists will survey the fields and gardens surrounding the Hougoumont farm using several advanced geophysical methods and the outcome will be used to direct the field excavations.

The wider archaeological community will provide leading archaeologists from the UK, Belgium, France and Germany. The project provides an excellent opportunity for them to support veterans and work on a site of significant archaeological importance. 

First published: 29 April 2015

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