The bronze remains of a Celtic chariot dating from the 2nd or 3rd century BC have been excavated at Iron Age Burrough Hill, near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire by a team of archaeologists co-led by Dr. Jeremy Taylor and Dr. John Thomas from the University of Leicester.
While digging a large, deep pit near the remains of a house within the Burrough Hill hillfort, the team found a piece of bronze in the ground – before uncovering a concentration of further parts very nearby.
Taken together, the pieces are easily recognizable as a matching set of bronze fittings from a Celtic chariot.
“This is a matching set of highly-decorated bronze fittings from an Iron Age chariot – probably from the 2nd or 3rd century BC,” Dr Taylor said.
The archaeologists believe the chariot would have belonged to a high-status individual, such as a ‘noble’ or ‘warrior.’
After careful cleaning, decorative patterns are clearly visible in the metalwork – including a triskele motif showing three waving lines, similar to the flag of the Isle of Man.
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 about 2,200 years until the archaeologists found it.
“This is the most remarkable discovery of material we made at Burrough Hill in the five years we worked on the site. This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige of the site,” Dr Taylor said.
The scientists believe the religious offering may have taken place to mark a new season, or the final closure or dismantling of a house at the fort.
“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,” Dr Thomas explained.
“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 they will be put on public display in due course.