Rare and ornate chariot parts and equestrian tools unearthed in Iron Age hillfort
Archaeologists excavating an Iron Age hillfort in Leicestershire, England, made a stunning discovery when they unearthed a set of 2,200-year-old bronze chariot parts, and what appears to be horse-care tools. The hoard of rare equestrian items appears to have been buried as a religious offering.
The discovery was made by students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History , during an excavation at the Burrough hillfort, near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.
Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC. Their purpose has been the subject of much debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture.
Excavations on the gateway of Burrough Hill hillfort, carried out in July 2011 by University of Leicester Archaeological Services. Image source: Wikipedia
The area in which the Burrough hillfort is located is known to have had activity since at least the Mesolithic. The hillfort was founded in the early Iron Age, and was reused as farmland during the medieval period. Since the 1930s the site has been the subject of extensive archaeological investigations; renewed excavations coordinated by the University of Leicester began in 2010.
Reconstruction of the Burrough hillfort. Credit: University of Leicestershire.
The well-preserved and ornately decorated Bronze Age artifacts were found in a deep pit near the remains of a house in the hillfort. Items recovered include a linch pin, used to prevent a wheel from sliding off the axle upon which it was riding, rings, strap junctions, and a barrel-shaped harness fitting. The researchers said that the items are recognisable as a matching set of bronze fittings from a Celtic chariot dating back to the 2 nd or 3 rd century BC.
A chariot linch pin from three angles, showing the intricate decoration at the ends. Photos: University of Leicester
In addition to the chariot pieces, the students discovered a set of tools, including a curry comb and two curved blades, which would have been used to tend to the horses’ hooves.
Archaeologists believe the artifacts were used in a religious ceremony, possibly to mark a new season, or the final closure of a house at the fort. This is based on evidence that the items had been placed in a box then set on fire on top of a layer of cereal chaff. The entire deposit was then covered by a layer of burnt cinder and slag.
Burrough Hill Excavations. Image source: Wikipedia
Archaeologists have described the finding as the most remarkable discovery made in more than five years of excavations at the site.
The rare artifacts will be on temporary display at the Melton Carnegie Museum, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, from October 18 to December 13.
Featured image: A selection of chariot fittings: a miniature terret ring (upper left), a large terret ring (upper right), a strap junction (lower left), and a barrel-shaped harness fitting. Photo: University of Leicester