Rare Hoard of Iron Age chariot fittings goes on display at Melton Museum

Published: 5 years ago Author:

University of Leicester archaeologists have uncovered 22 bronze parts from a 2nd or 3rd century BC Celtic chariot at Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort. Leicester archaeologists have made a "once-in-a-career" discovery of the decorated bronze remains of an Iron Age chariot.

A team from the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History have unearthed a hoard of rare bronze fittings from a 2nd or 3rd century BC chariot - which appears to have been buried as a religious offering. The archaeologists found the remains during their ongoing excavation of the Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The School has led a 5 year project there since 2010, giving archaeology students and volunteers 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 pit near the remains of a house within the hillfort, a group of four students found a piece of bronze in the ground - before uncovering a further 21 parts very nearby. As a group of two or more base metal prehistoric artefacts this assemblage is covered under the Treasure Act. Taken together, the pieces are easily recognisable as a matching set of bronze fittings from a mid to late Iron Age chariot. 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.

Nora Batterman, one of the students who made the discovery, 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."

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 2200 years until the team uncovered it. The archaeologists believe the chariot would have belonged to a high-status individual, such as a "noble" or "warrior". The team believe the burial may have taken place to mark a new season, or the final closure or dismantling of a house at the fort.

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 permanent public display in due course. Before then, there will be a temporary display of the objects at the Carnegie Museum, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire from Saturday October 18th until Friday December 13th.

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 highly-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 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. 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 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 horse's hooves."

The Burrough Hill excavation was undertaken with the permission of English Heritage, the Ernest Cook Trust (landowners), and Leicestershire County Council (site management).

For more information, please contact either: Dr Jeremy Taylor on 0116 223 1804 or at: jt38@le.ac.uk and John Thomas on 0116 252 5038 or at jst6@le.ac.uk

More information about the Burrough Hill dig can be found at on the Leicester University website.

Contact: Dr Jeremy Taylor 0116 223 1804

Other formats: this page is available as xml json representations.