Iron Age chariot with two horse skeletons unearthed in northern England

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The remains of two horses and a chariot in North Yorkshire, England, are said to date back around 2500 years to the Iron Age.
The remains of two horses and a chariot in North Yorkshire, England, are said to date back around 2500 years to the Iron Age.

Two well preserved horse skeletons have been unearthed with the remains of a chariot in northern England, in a find promising to reveal much about life in Iron Age Britain around 2500 years ago.

Archaeologists say it is the 26th chariot recovered in Britain, and the interment of two horses at the burial site is significant.

The horses and chariot were excavated in Pocklington, North Yorkshire, at the Pavilion Square housing development being undertaken by David Wilson Homes.

The first phase of archaeological work at the site on Burnby Lane found a large number of Square Barrows – monumental burials sites with a large central earthen mound placed over the burial and a surrounding ditch. Artefacts recovered included a sword, shield, spears, brooches and pots, dating back as far as 500 BC to 00 AD.

Finds connected with this ancient cemetery are considered of national and international significance, and may help shape historians’ understanding of Iron Age Britain.

A major focus area of artefact analysis will concentrate on the origins of the local Iron Age population, hopefully to show whether they were indigenous or had continental connections.

David Wilson Homes has worked with MAP Archaeological Practice and the local community to ensure the finds will be preserved and stay in the Pocklington area.

Excavations in the housing development have opened up one of the largest and most significant Iron Age finds of recent times and will provide crucial insights into what is known as the Arras Culture.

The chariot burial is the first example in Britain with accompanying horses to be scientifically excavated. A circular wheel near the horse remains suggest the animals played a crucial role in the burial ceremony.

The chariot would have been the rare possession of a high status individual, but the deliberate inclusion of the horses as part of the burial rite is highly unusual. Further testing and analysis is expected to reveal more information.

Archaeologist Paula Ware, who heads MAP, said the chariot was located in the final Square Barrow to be excavated and was on the periphery of the local cemetery.

She said the inclusion of horses with the chariot raised the significance of the burial.

“The discoveries are set to widen our understanding of the Arras culture and the dating of artefacts to secure contexts is exceptional.”

She said her archaeology practice had been working closely with the housebuilders to ensure the site was recorded to its full potential.

The development director at David Wilson Homes, Peter Morris, said the findings had put Pocklington firmly on the heritage map.

“We understand the importance of ensuring the findings are removed from site carefully so we can try and preserve these artefacts. These finds offer a fascinating heritage for the local area, which can help bind communities who come to call this place their home in the future.”

The company has been talking with the Pocklington Historic Society to ensure that the finds remain in the area.

A study is already under way – set to be the largest of an Iron Age population undertaken in the last 35 years – so the discoveries will help build a better understanding of the culture and area at the time.

Councillor Stephen Parnaby, leader of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said the chariot discovery was of international significance and an example of the rich history of East Yorkshire.

“As the local planning authority, we would like to place on record our thanks and appreciation to David Wilson Homes for halting their works and allowing experts to study the site in detail and record this for future generations.”

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