5.1.1 Assessing the impact: monitoring sales of battle-related objects on eBay

The monitoring of eBay required a daily log of all sales from the UK containing battle-related material. The majority of sale lots contained no information relating to the origin of the material or how it had been collected, however, a significant proportion did make specific reference to sites and metal detecting activity. There are obvious caveats regarding the quality and reliability of these data, all of which have been outlined in the author's research (Ferguson forthcoming); however, it does serve to highlight the volume of battle-related material in the system and identify potential areas of activity. Over 6,000 battle-related artefacts were recorded over a two-year period on eBay, including 5100 musket balls and 60 cannon balls. Also represented within the group were other signatures of conflict, such as powder flask tops, musket fragments, military buttons and badges (Fig. 2). Lots generally comprised an average of 3–10 projectiles, with one lot from Colchester offering for sale a staggering 800 musket balls, presumably collected from a number of sites over an extended period.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Volume and type of signature artefacts recorded on eBay

Overall, 26 sites of conflict could positively be identified within the dataset (i.e. site name and metal detecting referenced in the selling description), including 12 battlefields, 5 siege sites, 4 encampments, 3 skirmish sites and 1 firing range (Fig. 3). The level of metal detecting activity on each site was established by noting the number of separate individuals advertising lots, together with the total volume of material, creating a range from low to very high activity. Very high metal detecting activity was highlighted on prominent English Civil War sites such as the Battle of Newbury, West Berkshire, and the Siege of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, as well as high levels of activity at the Siege of Newark, Nottinghamshire, and medium levels on the battlefield of Edgehill. In terms of the significance of these sites it is worth noting that not only are all the battlefields featured within this dataset registered with the English Heritage Battlefield Register and the Historic Scotland Inventory of Battlefields, the majority of siege sites, such as Basing House, are protected scheduled areas. Although smaller in scale, the skirmish and encampment sites are no less significant as many represent previously unknown sites of conflict. Here a fine line between contribution and impact may be drawn: although these data have highlighted the potential discovery of unknown sites, it is has not been possible in the majority of cases to identify exactly where these sites are, or gauge their current condition within the archaeological record.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Distribution map of sites of conflict recorded on eBay


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