University of Leicester archaeologists uncover bronze remains of Iron Age chariot

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A team has unveiled a matching set of decorated bronze parts from a 2nd or 3rd century BC Celtic chariot at Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have made what has been described by many as a “once-in-a-career” discovery of the decorated bronze remains of an Iron Age chariot.

A team from the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History has unearthed a vast array of rare bronze fittings from a 2nd or 3rd century BC chariot, which appears to have been buried as a religious offering.

 

The team of archaeologists discovered the remains during an ongoing excavation of the Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort, located near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

The School has led a 5-year project there since 2010, allowing students and volunteers to obtain valuable experience of archaeological excavations.

Burrough Hill is owned by the education charity, the Ernest Cook Trust, which has also funded site tours and school visits to the excavation.

While digging a large, deep pit near the remains of a house within the hillfort, a group comprising of four students uncovered a piece of bronze in the ground− before unveiling a concentration of further parts close by.

Taken together, the pieces are easily recognisable as a matching set of bronze fittings from a mid to late Iron Age chariot. As a group of two or more base metal prehistoric artefacts this assemblage is covered under the Treasure Act.

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Curry Comb: University of Leicester

 

After being carefully cleaned, decorative patterns are clearly seen in the metalwork− including a triskele motif displaying three waving lines, similar to that of the flag of the Isle of Man.

Nora Batterman, from the University of Leicester was one of the students who made the discovery. She said: “Realising that I was actually uncovering a hoard that was carefully placed there hundreds of years ago made it the find of a lifetime. Looking at the objects now they have been cleaned makes me even more proud, and I can’t wait for them to go on display.”

It appears the pieces have been gathered in a box prior to being planted in the ground upon a layer of cereal chaff and burnt as part of a religious ritual. The chaff may have doubled as a “cushion” for the box and also the fuel for the fire.

After the burning, the entire deposit was covered with a layer of burnt cinder and slag− where it lay undisturbed for over 2,200 years until the team discovered it.

The archaeologists believe the burial might have taken place to mark a new season, or the final closure or dismantling of a house at the fort.

Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Lecturer in Landscape Archaeology at the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History and co-director of the Burrough Hill field project, said: “This is a matching set of high-decorated bronze fittings from an Iron Age chariot− probably from the 2nd or 3rd century BC.

“This is the most remarkable discovery of material we made at the Burrough Hill in the five years we worked on the site. This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige on the site.

“The atmosphere at the dig on the day was a mix of ‘tremendously excited’ and ‘slightly shell-shocked’. I have been excavating for 25 years and I have never found one of these pieces− let alone a whole set. It is a once-in-a-career discovery.”

John Thomas, co-director of the project added: “It looks like it was a matching set of parts that was collected and placed in a box as an offering, before being placed in the ground. Iron tools were placed around the box before it was then burnt, and covered in a thik layer of cinder and slag.

“The function of the iron tools is a bit of a mystery, but given the equestrian nature of the hoard, it is possible that they were associated with horse grooming. One piece in particular has characteristics of a modern curry comb, while two curved blades may have been used to maintain horses hooves or manufacture harness parts.”

The parts have been taken to the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History for further analysis− and the archaeologists hope that the atrefacts will be put on display in due course.

Until then, there will be a temporary display of the objects at the Melton Carneige Museum, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, from Saturday October 18th until Saturday December 13th.

 

 

Contributing Source: University of Leicester

Header Image Source: University of Leicester

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