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Yorkshire Archaeologists Discover Iron age Chariot Near Village of Duggleby ‘The Pocklington Ferrari’

In my Joint Ventures I found it was very important to work closely with the local community. Here is an example of a Yorkshire Building Company supporting local archaeologists who then uncovered fantastic Iron Age artefacts in an area destined for a housing development. The builder benefited from national TV and Press coverage (local press article here) and the archaeologists received funding and time to carry out a thorough excavation and preservation of findings.

Hundreds of years before the Romans invasion of Britain the Parisi tribe (Arras culture) in East Yorkshire had built an incredible road network. They used highly developed metal working skills using iron and bronze to make high speed chariots which travelled between local villages – ‘motorways’ across the chalk countryside.

Map of the Territory of the Iron Age Parisi Tribe East Yorkshire

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.

Prof Alice Roberts on the BBC described the chariot as the Iron Age equivalent of a cross between a fast sports car and a military tank. Therefore 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 Roman Marketing Department that their British opponents were a band of uncivilised, primitive barbarians.

Equivalent of ‘Iron Age Ferrari’ Found at Pocklington Archaeological Site

The area around the Duggleby Village in East Yorkshire has a long and fascinating history. A few years ago I published a global Duggleby family tree dating back to Sir Henry Duggleby (born mid 12th century). Several Dugglebys mentioned in the tree have lived in Pocklington.

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 (both old English ways of spelling the word Duggleby). These together with Church and Monastery Records mentioning grants of land from wealthy Dugglebys to the Bridlington Priory helped elucidate early parts (12th & 13th Century) of the family tree .

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!).

Duggleby Howe, Large Round Barrow or Ancient Burial Mound, Yorkshire, England
Duggleby Howe, Large Round Barrow or Ancient Burial Mound, Yorkshire, England

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.

Domesday Book (1086) entry of Duggleby (Difgelibi)

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:

Pocklington Iron Age ‘Ferrari ‘Chariot Burial Site (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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).

From the larger  Square Barrow: Pilot’s Skeleton Found on Upright Chariot  (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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).

Bronze Shield found under the ‘Pilot’ of the Pocklington Iron Age Chariot (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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.

Pocklington Iron Age Chariot ready to go with Horses and Pilot in situ (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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.

Pocklington Iron Age Chariot Wheel and Axis in situ (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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.

Areal Photo of  Chariot Track-ways from Iron Age East Yorkshire (courtesy BBC)

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‘.

Pocklington Chariot Pilot’s Hand From Burial Site (courtesy BBC/MAP Archaeological Practice)

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):

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.