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Rare Iron Age chariot with horses.

Headless Horses Galloping from the Grave Unearthed in UK Chariot Burial

British archaeologists have made an amazing discovery according to local media reports. Experts have unearthed a particularly interesting Iron Age chariot burial in northern Britain. This particular type of burial has not been seen before in Britain and could possibly be an example of a new funeral rite that was not previously known. The discovery could change how we understand chariot burials, their purpose, and offer a unique insight into the Iron Age .

How Was the Iron Age Burial Site Discovered?

Archaeologists were working on the site of a proposed Perisimmons Homes development in an area known as ‘The Mile’ in Pocklington, Yorkshire. The MAP Archaeological Practice had been employed to carry out a survey of the development when they made the remarkable 2,000-year-old find. The experts had not expected to find anything of significance but to their surprise they made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

A shield that is part of the chariot burial with two horses emerges. (Alex Wood /Yorkshire Post)

A shield that is part of the chariot burial with two horses emerges . (Alex Wood / Yorkshire Post )

The archaeologists unearthed a complete chariot in which a man was found in a fetal position in a grave that measured 13 feet (4.7m) by  12 feet (3.9m). The dead man was over 40 years old, which was an advanced age for the time. He was found wearing an ornate brooch.  It would appear that he was a member of the elite and that he was probably a warrior, because he was interred with a shield.  Only those who were ‘highly regarded members of the community’ were buried in this manner, according to  the Yorkshire Post , and this would strongly suggest that he was a chief. The dead man was buried with sacrifices of pigs and piglets, and the sheer number of them would suggest that he was an esteemed figure in his community.

The Horses that Leap Out of the Grave!

The most remarkable thing about the chariot burial was the position of the two horses. It was typical that horses were buried with the chariot and there are many examples of this throughout Eurasia. However the way they were placed into this grave in Yorkshire is unique and has led to the find as being hailed as an ‘unparalleled discovery’ by the archaeologists who unearthed it, reports the Inquisitr.

The two horses were placed as if they "were leaping upwards out of the grave,” positioned with their back legs bent and their hooves raised, as if they were galloping. This gives the impression that the horses were emerging from the earth. This was all part of an effort to portray the chariot and its dead driver as leaping into the afterlife or the realm of the dead.  

The horses had been buried upright - their heads were removed skulls were removed centuries ago. (Alex Wood /Yorkshire Post)

The horses had been buried upright - their heads were removed skulls were removed centuries ago. (Alex Wood / Yorkshire Post )

Where Are Horses’ Heads?

This was not the only extraordinary thing about the horses in the chariot burial. It appears that their heads had disappeared many years ago. Experts speculate that the heads of the horses may have been above ground and were visible to passers-by. Over time, the horses’ heads were removed and lost. One of the archaeologists who was involved in the dig stated that this, “is a new burial rite which has never been seen before,” according to the Yorkshire Post .

How the two horses were placed in what was a deep grave is something of a mystery and there was no evidence of a ramp which would have allowed them to enter the burial pit.  The question remains, were the animals alive or dead when they were placed in the grave? In all probability the horses had been killed before they were interred or else, they would not have been poised as if they were galloping.

What Other Important Archaeological Discoveries Were Uncovered by the Site?

This was not the only archaeological find in the area in recent months, another Iron Age grave was found near the chariot burial. A young man who had been killed by blunt force trauma and who had nine deep spear wounds in his upper torso. The spearing of the dead man has led some to theorize that ‘it was a kind of vampire-like ritual to ensure the man is dead, it may also have been a way to release his spirit’’, reports RT.

The remains of a shield in a second burial where a young man had been ritually speared. (Alex Wood /Yorkshire Post)

The remains of a shield in a second burial where a young man had been ritually speared. (Alex Wood / Yorkshire Post )

The incredible discovery of the chariot-burial is adding to our knowledge of the Iron Age. There is some speculation that the area, because of the chariot burial and the nearby grave, is a major archaeological site. The company that owns the site is expected to donate many of the unearthed artifacts to a local museum where the community can enjoy them.  This burial and its unearthing are the subject of a BBC television documentary Digging for Britain that is going to be aired later this month.

Top image: Rare Iron Age chariot with horses.  Source:  MAP Archaeological Practice

By Ed Whelan

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