Treasure Hunter Finds the First Celtic Chariot Burial in Wales, Rewrites Ancient History
A metal detectorist in Pembrokeshire in Wales has made a discovery that could change how we understand the history of the ancient Celts. The unearthing of a Celtic chariot burial in a Welsh field astonishes experts because this find is the first of its kind in Wales. It is sure to throw light on the Welsh Iron Age and its connections with the wider Celtic world.
The Celtic Chariot was a Lucky Find
Mike Smith, from Milford Haven, has been a metal detectorist for 30 years and is an active member of the Pembrokeshire Prospectors. Earlier this year, he was exploring a muddy field when he came across a metal object. He was only there because “flooding on his usual detecting route led him to search in a different area” reports the Western Telegraph . Mr. Smith first thought that he had unearthed a brooch, but it was later revealed to be a piece of a Celtic horse harness. Returning the next day, Mr. Smith dug a few inches into the ground and came across more bronze items and decorative pieces still shining with bright red enameling.
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A bridle fitting which was discovered in the field. ( Mike Smith )
He knew he had made a major discovery and promptly emailed the local authorities about his find. Based on his own reading and research, he surmised that the find was possibly a Celtic chariot burial. This was a type of burial used when a high-ranking individual was buried with “their chariot, horses, tack and even weapons,” according to the Archaeology and Metal detecting Magazine . It was probably part of a ritual to prepare a Celtic chief, queen, or king for the afterlife. BBC Wales reports that initially Mr. Smith was told by experts that he could not have found a chariot burial because "one's never been found in this part of the country."
The Chariot and an Iron Age Settlement Appear
However, Dyfed Archaeological Trust and National Museum Wales began digging in the field where Mr. Smith had made his discovery. The also carried out a survey using ground penetrating radar technology and detected several circular ditches and a network of buried walls and ditches, indicating that an Iron Age large settlement has been found. A trial excavation was then carried out where Mr. Smith had found the Celtic artifacts; soon archaeologists were stunned by what they found in the black soil.
A Celtic terret ring, a metal loop for a horse's harness. ( Mike Smith )
The dig has revealed the tops of two chariot wheels placed upright in the soil. This was strong evidence that the metal detectorist had indeed found a rare Celtic chariot burial - the first time that one had been uncovered in Wales. It seemed that the chariot had been buried intact and the wheels had not been taken off, as was common in similar burials. A young horse’s tooth was also found, which indicated that a pony was buried with the chariot. A mound once covered the site, which was surrounded by an earthwork, but these were long ago ploughed over.
Are More Treasures Waiting to be Found? When Will They Be Revealed?
The ground penetrating radar also found an unusual feature nine feet (three meters) under the site of the chariot burial. This may indicate that there is a significant amount of metal objects beneath the buried chariot. Mr. Smith hopes that, based on other burials, this anomaly may be a large cache of weapons or even a treasure trove. Preliminary analysis of the find indicates that it “dates back more than 2,500 years,” reports the Metro.
Funding for the dig has dried up and further excavations have been suspended at the site. However, it is expected that more funding will be made available in the future and a much larger investigation of the site will be carried out. It is hoped that the local community can participate in the rediscovery of its prehistoric past. The location of the chariot burial is being kept secret by the National Museum of Wales and it “now enjoys legal protection”, according to the Western Telegraph . However, Smith and others are worried that looters may find the site and steal potentially priceless artifacts.
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A mini digger excavating the field where the Celtic chariot burial was discovered. ( Mike Smith )
The importance of the chariot-burial cannot be overstated. The majority of these burials are in north-west England, so the find in Wales would suggest a common Celtic cultural practice in Iron Age Britain. It is expected that there are other important discoveries to be made at the site. The location is likely be revealed as a significant Iron Age settlement and possibly one of the most important Celtic sites in the British Isles.
Celtic warriors riding a chariot. (Johnny Shumate/ CC BY 3.0 )
Top image: This bronze and enamel decoration would have been worn by one of the Celtic chariot's ponies. Source: Mike Smith
By Ed Whelan