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Chariots of the Celts Volume 54 Number 4, July/August 2001
by Chris Hellier

Exploration of a medieval manor complex at Wetwang, a small village in east Yorkshire, has revealed a chariot burial dating from the third or fourth century B.C., the earliest Iron Age burial of its kind ever discovered in England. Finds include decorated pieces of horse harness, parts of the wheels of the chariot and a skeleton, possibly that of a female Celtic aristocrat of French extraction. "This is one of the most significant and exciting Middle Iron Age burials ever found in Britain," says David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, which partly funded the excavation.

The wooden structure of the chariot, which measured about five feet square, had rotted away leaving behind iron bindings and tires, bronze bits and rein rings. The yoke had left clear traces in the Yorkshire clay allowing a mold to be made to help reconstruct the vehicle. The wheels, about 35 inches in diameter, had been dismantled and were lying flat.

This is the seventh chariot burial discovered in the Wetwang area, which is now thought to have been the tribal center of a Celtic people who became known as the Parisi in the time of Julius Caesar. Their distinctive culture, with links to Early Iron Age cultures in northern Gaul, sets them apart from the rest of Britain, where few graves of this period have been found.

"The person in the grave was clearly very important and was buried with a rite that is almost exclusive to east Yorkshire and has links to mainland Europe," says Miles. "It could help us solve the mystery of who these people were and why they buried their dead differently from other Iron Age Britons."

The latest discovery at Wetwang follows the unearthing of the first ever Scottish chariot burial, at Newbridge, six miles west of Edinburgh, in March. Unlike the interrment in Yorkshire, however, where the vehicles were dismantled before burial, the Newbridge chariot, dating from around 250 B.C., was buried intact. It may be part of a larger prehistoric cemetery and enclosure and confirms the importance of Huly Hill, a Bronze Age burial cairn west of Edinburgh, as a religious center for the prehistoric people of the area.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America