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A 3D impression of the Iron Age warrior grave.          Source: UCL / Sketchfab / ASE

2000-Year-Old Iron Age Warrior Grave Unearthed in England

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Archaeologists in the United Kingdom have unearthed the grave of an Iron Age warrior. It has been described as a very rare find. A number of significant artifacts that are 2000 years old have been unearthed. These finds are providing insights into an important stage in ancient British history.

Construction workers were working on a housing project, just outside Walberton, West Sussex in southern England, when they came across the grave and as required by law, they notified the relevant authorities. Archaeology South East (ASE) was contracted to undertake an investigation of the site. ASE “work across south-eastern and eastern England, offering a broad range of professional archaeological services and expertise,” according to the  Archaeology South East website.

Incredibly Rare Finds From Key Point in History

The ASE archaeologists established that a grave had been found. The Chichester Observer reports that it “is incredibly rare, as only a handful are known to exist in the South of England.” It was later established that it dated from the late Iron Age, roughly from the 1 st century BC to 50 AD.

This was at a critical juncture in British history, just before, or at the start of the Roman era. At this time Celtic tribes inhabited much of the country, which was dotted with ring forts and roundhouses. It was also the beginning of Roman influence in the area, after Julius Caesar raids in the 40s BC, which continued with Emperor Claudius conquest of Britain in 43 AD.

Iron Age Warrior Weapons

As they excavated further, the archaeologists made some very important discoveries. They found an iron sword and a spear point in the location. This strongly indicates that the grave was probably that of a male warrior. This has led to the deceased being called “the Walberton Warrior” by some according to the Durotriges Project.

Archaeologists from ASE excavating the Iron Age warrior grave. (UCL / ASE)

Archaeologists from ASE excavating the Iron Age warrior grave. (UCL / ASE)

Sadly, the skeleton of the man was not well preserved. However, the “artifact preservation” is excellent, reports the Durotriges Project. The sword, which was in a scabbard, and the spear are in remarkable condition, so too are four ceramic pots that were found in the grave. Some evidence of a wooden coffin has also been unearthed. The Daily Mail reports that a wooden container “preserved as a dark stain, probably used to lower the individual into the grave,” was identified.

Ceramic pots found at the Iron Age warrior grave excavation site. (UCL / ASE)

Ceramic pots found at the Iron Age warrior grave excavation site. (UCL / ASE)

X-rays Reveal All

It is likely that the four ceramic pots that were found, had at one time, been filled with food. There were either offerings to a deity or were provided to help the dead man in the afterlife. These wares had been locally produced. Some initial conservation work was conducted on the sword and it was also X-rayed. This revealed that the scabbard’s mouth was once decorated with an intricate design made of a copper alloy. 

An X-ray showed some dotted lines, on the body which could be the remains of a studded piece of clothing worn by the deceased. This was a remarkable discovery as clothing from the ancient past is rarely preserved in archaeological sites. The X-rays could help us to understand the dress of the ancient British.

Details and X-rays from the sword unearthed from the Iron Age warrior grave. (UCL / ASE)

Details and X-rays from the sword unearthed from the Iron Age warrior grave. (UCL / ASE)

Was it a Warrior’s Grave?

The finds appear to indicate that the person found in the grave was once a warrior, but others are not too sure. Jim Stevenson of Archaeology South East is quoted in The Daily Mirror that “there has been much discussion generally as to who the person buried in the ‘warrior’ tradition may have been in life.”  Was the person buried in the 2000-year-old grave a warrior or was he just buried with the paraphernalia of one?

Wessex FM, reports that the “archaeologists are working to find out more about the identity and social status of the individual.” The artifacts that were found could indicate that he was a member of the elite. Because of the poor preservation of the bones, the experts will have to rely on the items uncovered to learn more about the man who died 2000 years ago. Post-excavation investigations of the grave and the burial goods are continuing, and it is expected that they will reveal more about the ‘Walberton Warrior’.

Top image: A 3D impression of the Iron Age warrior grave.          Source: UCL / Sketchfab / ASE

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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