Iron Age Burial Ground in Yorkshire Yields 150 Skeletons and Valuable Grave Goods
A “hugely important” find of the burial ground of an Iron Age community in England has turned up many artifacts, including jewelry and brooches, spears, swords, hundreds of amber and glass beads, and pottery.
Archaeologists working for a developer of a planned subdivision in Pocklington, East Yorkshire, came across the burial ground last year and halted work so the site could be excavated. They have discovered 150 skeletons of people buried in 75 square barrows or tombs. The archaeologists estimate the bodies were buried almost 2,000 years ago by people of the Arras Iron Age culture.
The archaeologists have discovered 150 skeletons of people buried in 75 square barrows or tombs. (David Wilson Homes)
An article in The Yorkshire Post says one body had a broken sword by his side, four spears along his spine and another near his groin. He was a young warrior, about 17 to 23 years old at death, and was ritually speared to release his spirit, according to the Post.
Another of the skeletons, also a man, was lying on a shield. That skeleton was found last year, and Ancient Origins had a report on it.
Map Archaeological Practice Ltd staff member Sophie Coy holds a spear head that was found at the site. (Yorkshire Post)
The Guardian says experts are hailing the site as one of the largest and most significant finds from the Iron Age in recent years. Experts say the site is of international significance.
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The Iron Age in Britain lasted from about 800 BC to the Roman conquest of 43 AD. Researchers think the site was occupied during the Iron Age.
A Bronze brooch with coral decoration found at the site. (MAP/PA Wire)
“We are hoping that these findings shed light on the ritual of iron age burial – and, as we can assume from the shield and sword burials, these were significant members of society, so our understanding of culture and key figures of the time could be really enhanced,” site director Paula Ware told The Guardian.
Mrs. Ware told The Yorkshire Post: “We wouldn’t have known about this site if it had not been for this development. Developers get a bad press, however as archeologists we are thankful because that is how we are employed.”
The site of the dig. (MAP Archeology)
Archaeologists will spend several years excavating and studying the site, its burials and analyzing the bodies to determine whether the people were indigenous, what they ate, and what trauma or stress they faced in life. DNA analysis will show whether the people were related.
The site WorldHistory.biz says burials of this type, in square barrows, are unique in Britain. The Arras Culture burials differ from others of the time in Britain outside Yorkshire and resemble those of the La Tene Culture on the Continent.
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Other Arras Culture burials in Yorkshire have been in square barrows, and some of the men were buried with their chariots. Unlike on the European continent, however, the chariots were disassembled. As in Pocklington, these burials range from about 500 BC to the Roman conquest.
Example of an Iron Age ‘chariot’ burial by the British Museum at Wetwang. (The Landscape Research Centre)
In May 2015, Ancient Origins reported on the Arras Culture burials in Pocklington, including the man buried on the shield. The Arras Culture is named after a cemetery called Arras on a farm in East Yorkshire that was excavated from 1815 to 1817 by a group of gentry and later by another man.
More than 100 barrows were identified at Arras, four of which contained chariots. It has been suggested that the purpose of the chariots was to convey the deceased – presumably someone of high rank – to the afterlife. Other graves consisted of a skeleton along with grave goods such as metalwork, ceramics, and animal remains.
One of the most impressive finds to date was a warrior burial (a male inhumation accompanied by warrior’s weapons) containing “probably the finest Iron Age sword in Europe,” according to The British Museum. The 2,300-year-old iron sword, known as the Kirkburn sword, has an elaborate hilt, assembled from 37 separate pieces of iron, bronze, and horn, and decorated with red glass. Analysis of the skeletal remains revealed that three spears had been plunged into the warrior’s chest.
The Iron Age sword discovered at the site in Pocklington. (Pocklington Post)
Featured Image: Bronze bracelet with coral decoration discovered at the site in Yorkshire. Source: MAP Archeology
By Mark Miller