Archaeologists make “once-in-a-career” discovery of bronze remains of Iron Age Celtic chariot at hillfort

By Richard Moss | 14 October 2014

Excavations at a hillfort in Leicestershire have uncovered the rare remains of an Iron Age chariot

a photo of a decorated axle pin
The linch pin of the Iron Age chariot© University of Leicester
A hoard of rare bronze fittings from a 2nd or 3rd century BC chariot, apparently buried as a religious offering, has been found at the Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

Students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History found the remains during their ongoing excavation of the site while digging a pit near the remnants of a house within the hillfort.

A group of four students found a piece of bronze in the ground before uncovering a concentration of further parts very nearby.

The artefacts, which as a group are covered by the Treasure Act, were soon identified as a matching set of bronze fittings from a mid to late Iron Age chariot. They appear to have been buried in a box together with a series of tools and accoutrements.

After cleaning, decorative patterns became visible in the metalwork – including a triskele motif showing three waving lines, similar to the flag of the Isle of Man. It is thought the chariot would have belonged to a high-status individual, such as a “noble” or “warrior”.

One of the students, Nora Battermann, described the moment she and her colleagues found the remains. 

“Realising that I was actually uncovering a hoard that was carefully placed there hundreds of years ago made it the find of a lifetime,” she said.

“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.”

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

After the burning, the entire deposit was covered by a layer of burnt cinder and slag – where it lay undisturbed for more than 2,200 years until the team uncovered it.

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, confirmed the finds were a matching set of highly-decorated bronze fittings from an Iron Age chariot.

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

The school has led a five-year project at Burrough Hill since 2010, giving archaeology students and volunteers valuable experience of archaeological excavations.

John Thomas, the 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 thick 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 will be temporarily displayed at the Melton Carnegie Museum, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, from Saturday October 18 until Saturday December 13.

Visit for more.

Click on the picture to launch a gallery of the finds

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Indeed. An occupational hazard for the superstitious archaeologist. Remember what happened at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark... Ed)
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