| 8 December 2003
Rare Iron Age burial unearthed in England
Archaeologists have unearthed a rare and nationally significant Iron Age burial site in West Yorkshire (England) – complete with a chariot, a spear and the 2,500-year-old skeleton of a Celtic warrior or king. The site was found near Ferrybridge during excavations for the route of the new A1 motorway. The chariot had been placed in a large oval pit in the centre of a square ditched enclosure. The burial pit would originally have been covered by a low earth mound.
The burial was discovered by an archaeologist after bulldozers stripped away topsoil over a limestone chamber where the chariot had been concealed. The human bones, found in what would have been the wooden box of the chariot, are thought to be those of a man aged between 30 and 40. The bones of up to 300 cattle were also found, suggesting the burial site was used for feasts for many years afterwards by those paying their respects to a tribal leader or warrior.
Experts are excited because the two-horse chariot has been buried intact, whereas most other British examples were dismantled at burial. The iron "tyres" of the three foot wheels, the wood of which has rotted but has left detailed traces in the surrounding soil, and - curiously - do not match. Archaeologist Angela Boyle, head of burial archaeology at Oxford Archaeology, has spent days painstakingly removing soil from the buried finds. "From the evidence we have uncovered this is one of the most significant Iron Age burials ever found in the UK."
The remains of the chariot comprise two wheels with iron 'tyres'. A number of bronze and iron objects have also been found, probably parts of a horse harness. Scholars are divided on whether the chariots were used mainly in war or just as a means of getting about. They could also have had a ceremonial use. Only 19 other chariot burials were known in Britain before this latest discovery.
A radiocarbon date of 520-370BC was obtained from the Newbridge chariot and it is thought the West Yorkshire find will be from a similar date. English Heritage inspector of ancient monuments for West Yorkshire Neil Redfern said: "We will probably never really know why the person was selected for this burial. It could be a priest, a king, chieftain or tribal leader."
Chariot burial at the time was reserved for high-ranking figures from a tribe in France. They had been thought to have limited their settlement to the east coast, and Ferrybridge is 40 miles beyond previously known boundaries. Redfern added: "It could indicate an expansion of territory we were previously unaware of, or perhaps a client tribe copying the burial practices of a superior neighbouring people.
The skeleton is being sent for analysis to the archaeology department at Bradford University and the other finds are likely to be put in a local museum.
Sources: The Guardian, The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post (3 December 2003), BBC News, Deseret News (4 December 2003)
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