Elaborate 2000-year-old Iron Age shield discovered in an impressive ‘warrior grave’ in Yorkshire is hailed ‘the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium’
- The so-called warrior grave was unearthed from a housing development in 2017
- It contained a chariot, two horses and the remains of the warrior and another
- Extensive conservation work has revealed an intricate swirl pattern on the shield
- Repairs and sword damage suggest that the armour was not purely ornamental
An elaborate Iron Age shield found in an impressive ‘warrior grave’ in Yorkshire in 2017 is being hailed ‘the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium’.
Painstaking conservation work has revealed the intricate pattern hammered into the bronze shield’s face — with a swirling, asymmetrical pattern and a raised boss.
Alongside this decoration, the discovery of a sword puncture hole and evidence of past repair work challenges the idea that such shields were purely decorative.
The find was uncovered in a housing development near the town of Pocklington, along with a chariot and the remains of two horses, two humans and sacrificial pigs.
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An elaborate Iron Age shield, pictured, found in an impressive ‘warrior grave’ in Yorkshire in 2017 is being hailed as ‘the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium’
WHAT WILL THE FINDS FROM THE WARRIOR GRAVE TEACH US?
Experts claim that the rare horse and chariot discovery will help us understand the Arras culture who lived in east Yorkshire during the Iron Age.
Many people of this period were farmers, growing growing wheat, barley and beans along with animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs.
The Arras culture is defined by its strange burial practices, which include the us of round and square graves.
Burials with chariots were reserved for the rich and powerful.
Arras burials offers a unique insight into Iron age life, when cremation was more common.
The stunning, 30 inch (75 cm) shield was found in the ‘warrior grave’ unearthed in Pocklington, Yorkshire last year at a Persimmon Homes construction site dubbed ‘The Mile’.
The grave also contained an upright chariot, two ponies positioned in a leaping stance, a bronze-and-red-glass brooch and various other precious artefacts.
The shield was found face down in the chariot, covered by a man’s skeleton who was likely once its owner, who dates back to around 320–174 BC.
Experts believe that this ‘warrior’ was aged over 46 and was likely a higher respected member of his community, as he was buried with an offering of six pigs and adjacent to an additional grave of a younger, injured man.
‘The magnitude and preservation of the Pocklington chariot burial has no British parallel, providing a greater insight into the Iron Age epoch,’ said MAP Archaeological Practice’s Paula Ware, who completed the excavation.
After undergoing a lengthy conservation process, the shield’s ornate design has finally been revealed.
It sports a swirling pattern on its face, one typical of early Celtic art and the so-called ‘La Tène’ culture that spanned Europe from around 450–1 BC.
Experts believe that the design was crafted by hammering the shield from its reverse side, allowing the creator to fashion an asymmetrical pattern of mollusc shells in a series of three-legged, triskelion-like whorls around the central raised boss.
‘We don’t know how the man died. There are some blunt force traumas but they wouldn’t have killed him,’ said Ms Ware.
‘I don’t think he died in battle; it is highly likely he died in old age.’
‘What his role was I can’t tell you. He has collected some nice goodies along the way — he is definitely not run of the mill.’
Moreover, Ms Ware added, the nature of the burial is indicative of a belief in an afterlife.
‘These horses were placed with their hooves on the ground and their rear legs looking as though they would leap out of the grave,’ she said
‘For me that definitely indicates they were moving onto something else – he has his food, weapons and the means of travel.’
The stunning shield, pictured, was found in the ‘warrior grave’ unearthed in Pocklington, Yorkshire last year at a Persimmon Homes construction site dubbed ‘The Mile’
The grave also contained an upright chariot and two ponies positioned in a leaping stance, pictured, along with a bronze-and-red-glass brooch and various other precious artefacts
‘The shield features a scalloped border. This previously unknown design feature is not comparable to any other Iron Age finds across Europe, adding to its valuable uniqueness,’ said Ms Ware
‘The popular belief is that elaborate metal-faced shields were purely ceremonial, reflecting status, but not used in battle,’ she added.
‘Our investigation challenges this with the evidence of a puncture wound in the shield typical of a sword. Signs of repairs can also be seen, suggesting the shield was not only old but likely to have been well-used.’
The only similar piece of armour to have been found — the so-called Wandsworth shield — was recovered from the Thames River in 1849 and presently resides in the collections of the British Museum.
The shield was found face down in the chariot, covered by a man’s skeleton who was likely once its owner. Experts believe that this ‘warrior’ was aged over 46 and was likely a higher respected member of his community, as he was buried with an offering of six pigs and adjacent to an additional grave of a younger, injured man
‘The excavation at The Mile development is a truly magnificent discovery for British history,’ said Persimmon Homes Yorkshire director Scott Waters
‘We feel this recognition and find should remain in the local area,’ he added, with the shield to be donated to a local museum — possibly at nearby Burnby Hall.
The full findings of the research are being prepared for publication, in a text from Oxbow Books, in the spring of 2020.
The find was uncovered in a housing development near the town of Pocklington, Yorkshire, along with a chariot and the remains of two horses, two humans and sacrificial pigs
The only similar piece of armour to have been found — the so-called Wandsworth shield, pictured — was recovered from the Thames River in 1849 and presently resides in the collections of the British Museum
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT IRON AGE BRITAIN?
The Iron Age in Britain started around 800BC and finished in 43AD when the Bronze Age began.
As suggested by the name, this period saw large scale changes thanks to the introduction of iron working technology.
During this period the population of Britain probably exceeded one million.
This was made possible by new forms of farming, such as the introduction of new varieties of barley and wheat.
The invention of the iron-tipped plough made cultivating crops in heavy clay soils possible for the first time.
Some of the major advances during included the introduction of the potter’s wheel, the lathe (used for woodworking) and rotary quern for grinding grain.
There are nearly 3,000 Iron Age hill forts in the UK. Some were used as permanent settlements, others were used as sites for gatherings, trade and religious activities.
At the time most people were living in small farmsteads with extended families.
The standard house was a roundhouse, made of timber or stone with a thatch or turf roof.
Burial practices were varied but it seems most people were disposed of by ‘excarnation’ – meaning they were left deliberately exposed.
There are also some bog bodies preserved from this period, which show evidence of violent deaths in the form of ritual and sacrificial killing.
Towards the end of this period there was increasing Roman influence from the western Mediterranean and southern France.
It seems that before the Roman conquest of England in 43AD they had already established connections with lots of tribes and could have exerted a degree of political influence.
After 43AD all of Wales and England below Hadrian’s Wall became part of the Roman empire, while Iron Age life in Scotland and Ireland continued for longer.
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