Ancient British Bake Off? Cauldrons Fit for Feasting Found at Iron Age Settlement
The wealth of evidence found suggests there were many mouths being fed at an Iron Age settlement in the UK that looks to have developed into a regional center for ceremonies and feasting.
A Unique and Unprecedented Collection of Iron Age Artifacts
A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester has announced the discovery of a unique collection of Iron Age metal artifacts found during an excavation at Glenfield Park, Leicestershire. The nationally significant hoard includes one-off finds for the region and reveals previously unknown information about feasting rituals among prehistoric communities.
As EurekAlert reports, the researchers came across a store of valuable and delightful ancient treasures at the site, including eleven complete, or almost complete, Iron Age cauldrons, fine ring-headed dress pins, an abstruse brooch and a cast copper alloy object known as a 'horn-cap', which they speculate was part of an official staff, highlighting the uncommon nature of the metalwork collection.
Iron involuted brooch ULAS. (Image: University of Leicester)
The conglomeration is considered to be exceptional and unequalled, as never before has an archaeological mission uncovered a treasure trove that includes such a great variety of findings in England.
"Glenfield Park is an exceptional archaeological site, with a fantastic array of finds that highlight this as one of the more important discoveries of recent years,”
John Thomas, director of the excavation and Project Officer from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services commented. He added,
“It is the metalwork assemblage that really sets this settlement apart. The quantity and quality of the finds far outshines most of the other contemporary assemblages from the area, and its composition is almost unparalleled.”
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Copper alloy horn-cap ULAS. (Image: University of Leicester)
Character of the Site in Constant Progress
The excavation works at Glenfield Park, Leicestershire, were launched back in the winter of 2013, and since then archaeologists have found enough evidence to believe that the area was inhabited throughout most of the Iron Age and Roman periods. The remains of the settlement consist of several roundhouses, enclosures, 4-post structures and pits that occupied the southern slopes of a low spur of slightly higher ground at the northern end of the development area.
“Early occupation of the site during the earlier middle Iron Age (5th - 4th centuries BC) was relatively modest, consisting of a small open settlement that occupied the south-facing, lower slopes of the spur. Slightly later in the middle Iron Age, indicated to be in the 4th or 3rd centuries BC by radiocarbon dating, the settlement underwent striking changes in character. Individual roundhouses were now enclosed, there was far more evidence for material culture, and rituals associated with the settlement involved apparently deliberate burial of a striking assemblage of metalwork,” Thomas stated in a University of Leicester report.
The interior of one of the Iron Age cauldrons (Image: University of Leicester)
Cauldrons Indicate that the Settlement Was Used as a Host Site for Feasting
Of course, archaeologists were flabbergasted by the many cauldrons found at the site, which, according to the experts, emphasize the important role of the settlement as a possible host site for feasting, with associated traditions of ritual deposition of significant artifacts. “The cauldron assemblage in particular makes this a nationally important discovery. They represent the most northerly discovery of such objects on mainland Britain and the only find of this type of cauldron in the East Midlands,” an impressed Thomas said.
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The cauldron enclosure where found to be deliberately buried. (Image: University of Leicester)
The majority of the cauldrons seem to have been purposely positioned in a vast circular enclosure ditch that surrounded a building. They had been laid in either upright or upside down positions, before the ditch was filled in, a fact that indicates that they were buried to commemorate the termination of activities associated with this part of the site. Other cauldrons were discovered buried across the site, indicating that important events were being marked over a long period of time as the settlement developed. "Due to their large capacity it is thought that Iron Age cauldrons were reserved for special occasions and would have been important social objects, forming the centerpiece of major feasts, perhaps in association with large gatherings and events,” Thomas explains as EurekAlert reports.
The cauldrons are made from several separate parts, comprising iron rims and upper bands, hemispherical copper alloy bowls and two iron ring handles attached to the upper band.
They appear to have been a variety of sizes, with rims ranging between 36cm (14.1 inch) and 56cm (22 inch) in diameter, with the total capacity of all cauldrons being approximately 550 liters, which illustrates their potential to provide for large groups of people that may have gathered at the settlement from the wider Iron Age community of the area.
Iron bands were attached to some of the cauldrons. (Image: University of Leicester)
CT Scanning of the Cauldrons Provides Valuable Information
Soon after the important discovery took place, the extremely fragile cauldrons were lifted very carefully from the site in soil blocks for transportation in order to be examined. After an initial analysis by Dr. Andrew Gogbashian, Consultant Radiologist at Paul Strickland Scanner Centre, scientists could finally estimate the original dimensions and profiles of the cauldrons, as well as figure out how they were created. Most importantly, the scans unlocked extraordinarily rare evidence of the beautiful decoration from the period, further complimenting the immense cultural and historical significance of the site.
Color rendered image of a cauldron showing possible decoration on top right of the iron band. (Image: University of Leicester)
Archaeologists noted that with the help of modern technology, they were able to recreate digitally an example of a complete cauldron, which has raised stem and leaf motifs on the vessels iron band, similar to the handle locations, which are similar to the so-called “Vegetal Style” of Celtic art (4th century BC). Ultimately, they mentioned that more detail and information from the cauldrons will only be possible through excavation and conservation, which is being undertaken by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology).
An optimistic Liz Barham, Senior Conservator at MOLA, told EurekAlert, "Already we have been able to uncover glimpses of the detailed histories of these cauldrons through CT scanning, including evidence of their manufacture and repair, and have identified sooty residues still clinging to the base of one of the cauldrons from the last time it was suspended over a fire. During the upcoming conservation we hope to discover much more about the entire assemblage. If we're lucky, we may even find food residues from the last time they were used - over 2000 years ago." The results of the project to date are published in the current issue of British Archaeology magazine, which will be available from 6 December.
Top image: L-R: An iron cauldron that was found at the site. (Images: University of Leicester)