Hundreds of years before the Romans invaded Britain the Parisi tribe (Arras culture) in East Yorkshire had built a network of roads. They used consummate metal working skills with iron and bronze to manufacture high speed chariots for travelling between their villages on highways cut into the chalk countryside.
Recently archaeologists made a stunning discovery of an upright Iron Age Chariot complete with horses and rider in the town of Pocklington – 17 miles from the village of Duggleby with its famous Neolithic Round Barrow.
When Dr Alice Roberts featured the find on her BBC programme she described the chariot as the Iron Age equivalent of a cross between a fast sports car and a military tank. For this reason I have christened it ‘The Pocklington Iron age Ferrari‘. Actually naming it after an Italian high performance car is a little ironic because this find together with other local Iron Age discoveries have cast doubt on the idea perpetuated by the Romans that their British opponents were a band of uncivilised, primitive barbarians.
Regular visitors to ChrisDuggleby.com will be aware of my interest in the Duggleby family history and our strong links to the area around the Duggleby Village in East Yorkshire (for more info see my Duggleby History page – link here). A few years ago I published a global Duggleby family tree (link here) dating back to Sir Henry Duggleby (born mid 12th century). Several Dugglebys mentioned in the tree have lived in Pocklington (17 miles from Duggleby village).
Pocklinton also played a key role in Duggleby history because Chancery Inquisitions made there in 1246 and 1282 mentioned Adam de Diuelkeby and Adam de Dugelby (spelling of Duggleby was a bit fluid in those days). These together with Ecclesiastical Land Transactions mentioning grants of land from wealthy Dugglebys to the Bridlington Priory helped elucidate early parts (12th & 13th Century) of the family tree (more detailed info in my article here).
So the news of a stunning archaeological site in this part of East Yorkshire caught my attention. Duggleby village is already home to Duggleby Howe, the largest prehistoric round barrow (burial mound) in Britain dating from around 3000 BC (similar age to Stonehenge). If you are interested in more detail about Duggleby Howe and its excavations check out the article by Alex Gibson using the link here (the first bit is in French – the English description starts at paragraph 10 – lots of pics!).
What I particularly like about the excavations in Pocklington is that they uncover a period between the Neolithic burial site at Duggleby Howe (ca. 5000 years old) and the records of Duggleby (Difgelibi) in the Domesday book (dated 1086) and the early parts of the Duggleby family tree (with Sir Henri ca 1150). The Iron Age Chariot is over 2000 years old.
So what was so unusual about this chariot to ensure it featured in a BBC archaeology programme (Digging For Britain: Iron Age Revealed)? After all there have been 25 stone age burial chariots found in Britain – 23 in East Yorkshire alone! Well take a look at the following photo taken during the excavation:
This chariot was found near to an iron age cemetery involving 74 square barrows and over 164 skeletons (info from Current Archaeology using the link here). It was part of two barrows which the experts described as ‘most impressive, with no British parallel’. The smaller of these was round and contained a young man, 17-25 years old, buried with a spear. His remains indicate he had experienced violence during his life, perhaps in battle, many years prior to his death (two nose fractures – fully healed before his death).
It was the larger square barrow at the site that contained the Iron Age Ferrari driven by what was clearly a ‘high-status individual‘. He is believed to have been over 46 when he died and therefore lived longer than most others in his community. The skeleton shows no signs of weapons injury. Unlike the other chariot burials in the UK this one was buried complete and attached to two upright horses. The rider was found lying in the chariot positioned on top of a well-preserved bronze covered shield. He also had a highly decorated brooch (but no weapons).
Nearly all of the other chariots found in Britain were dismantled with the wheels laid flat – this one, however, was ‘ready to go‘. The two pony skeletons were also positioned upright ready to lead the chariot out of the grave. In order to get them into this unique position they were probably ‘well tried, tested and trusted’ ponies that were led down into the burial site and harnessed up to the chariot before having their throats cut. To preserve them in this upright position the burial area must have been quickly back-filled as soon as they were killed.
The wheels of the chariot had iron ‘tyres’ surrounding a (decomposed) wooden frame. Changes in the soil colour indicated where the wheel spokes had been. The hub at the end of the wheel axle was surrounded by an ornate bronze band. Although they were over 2000 years old the iron tyres were still complete and had been forged as continuous rings of iron. Clearly these ancient Brits had consummate metal working skills well before the arrival of the Romans.
Another interesting feature of Iron Age East Yorkshire has been identified using aerial archaeology techniques. These have uncovered track-ways along the ground in which the local width of the ruts cut into the chalk match the axle width of the stone age burial chariot. These stone age road ways were probably cut out of the topsoil to reveal the underlying chalk which provided an excellent all weather surface for driving. It therefore appears that the invading Romans were not the first to introduce roads into Britain. These track-ways are believed to have preceded the Romans by several hundred years.
Lots of the local iron age communities were connected by these track-ways indicating the existence of an intricate network of chariot based transport. Close analysis of the bones of the fingers of the man placed on this upright chariot indicate swellings where the tendons would have been attached. Such swollen areas are indicative of the bone growth caused by increased use of the area in question – consistent with someone ‘experienced in handling horse reins’. This points to the fact that this person was indeed a ‘charioteer‘.
A further indication of the status of the individual found with the chariot were the remains of 6 suckling pigs. In fact an iron age meat hook was still attached to some of the ribs indicating that this may have been used to throw an offering to the dead pilot straight from the grill. Normally we would expect the pigs to be fattened before slaughter so the use of tender juvenile animals is a further indication of the man’s status and the wealth of the community seeing him off.
If you would like to see how such a chariot would have looked in action here is a short video based on a ride in a reconstructed vehicle (Acknowledgements to Dr Alice Roberts for risking life and limb as she impersonates Boudica ‘Queen of the Brits‘ – Courtesy of the BBC):
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Chris Duggleby (Proudly born in East Yorkshire!)
I am indebted in this review to the contributions (information, visuals and dedicated archaeological work) of MAP Archeaeological Practice Ltd (Based in Malton, MD Paula Ware), the BBC, the Current Archaeology Journal, the Pocklington Post and several other on-line resources.