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article imageBritish archaeologists discover rare Iron-Age decorated chariot

By Karen Graham     Oct 17, 2014 in Science
It turned out to be the find of a lifetime for a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicestershire. During an ongoing excavation at Burrough Hill Iron Age hill fort, near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, an Iron-Age chariot was unearthed.
In a written statement Dr. Jeremy Taylor, a lecturer in landscape archaeology at the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology, and co-director of the Burrough Hill field project said: “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."
University of Leicester Campus 2
University of Leicester Campus 2
The team from the university's School of Archaeology and Ancient History had been excavating the site since 2010 as a means of giving archaeology students and interested volunteers hands-on experience in archaeological excavations. The Ernest Cook Trust, an education charity, owns Burrough Hill. They also fund site tours and school visits to the site.
Four students were digging a deep pit near the remains of a house within the hill fort. They found one piece of bronze. Further digging uncovered many more bronze parts. The pieces were carefully cleaned, revealing the decorative patterns, including a " triskele motif showing three waving lines, similar to the flag of the Isle of Man, according to the archaeologists.
The decorated chariot fittings, a very rare find today, were apparently buried as a religious offering. The archaeologists think the chariot may have belonged to a high-ranking official, or a warrior. It had been dismantled before being buried. The matching set of decorated bronze parts of the Celtic chariot date to the 2nd or 3rd century BC.
Nora Battermann 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."
John Thomas, co-director of the project, explained how the parts came to be in the position they were found. The chariot was taken apart and the pieces put in a wooden box. A hole was dug and lined with cereal chaff, as a cushion perhaps, and as tinder for a fire. Iron tools were placed around the box and then it was burned. It ended up being covered with a thick layer of cinders and slag.
The tools were interesting, leading to the belief they belonged to a horseman or warrior. There was a tool resembling a modern-day curry comb, and two curved blades, probably used to trim and tend to a horse's hooves.
The Iron-Age in Great Britain
The Iron-Age in Great Britain covers a period from about 800 BC until the Roman invasions around 43 AD. It was a time when the technology of toolmaking became widespread, and people were farming new crops as communities were being formed.
Kite aerial photo of Peace Knowe Hillfort  West Lothian.
Kite aerial photo of Peace Knowe Hillfort, West Lothian.
Dr. John Wells
Hill forts were being built early in the Iron-Age, although they were abandoned in Southern Britain after the Romans invaded. But they continued to be built in the Roman-free northern regions, probably as a defense against invaders. There are about 3,300 hill forts in Great Britain today. They are in clustered areas, like south and south-west England and the west coast of Wales and Scotland.
British hill forts varied in size, from three acres to as large as 30 acres. Many British archaeologists dislike the use of the word "hill fort" in describing these structures because the words give people the perception they were fortifications and associated with warfare. They also point out that some hill forts are not located on hills at all.
The Melton Carnegie Museum in Leicester  England.
The Melton Carnegie Museum in Leicester, England.
Brian Green
The chariot parts are set to go on display at the Melton Carnegie Museum in Leicestershire, England. The exhibit will run from Oct. 18 to Dec. 13, 2014.
More about Great britain, IronAge, Celtic, Bronze chariot, Leicestershire
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