Setting the wheels in motion of an iron-age chariot conservation

YAT’s Conservation team have recently completed the delicate conservation process of a rare Iron-Age chariot burial, found on a Persimmon Homes development on the edge of Pocklington, East Yorkshire.

Excavations on the site by MAP Archaeological Practice in Malton, had already unearthed dozens of graves but once the importance of the barrow and its contents were realized, Mags Felter of the Conservation laboratories at York Archaeological Trust, was called in to help the excavation team undertake the task of uncovering and consolidating the chariot and other grave goods.

Within the barrow were the remains of a high-status individual, together with several different grave goods. Two horses were also interred.

Paula Ware, Managing Director of MAP Ltd, said: “The upright horses were positioned in motion, as though leaping upwards out of the grave. The skeleton of the ‘warrior’ man was placed in a crouched position in the bed of the chariot with a remarkably well-preserved bronze shield, and a beautiful decorated enameled brooch.” The male skeleton is estimated to have been at least 46 years old at the time of death.

Whilst the wooden elements of the chariot had completely decayed and visible only as stains in the soil, the metal elements such as the iron tyres, were preserved enough to be lifted intact. However the corroded and fragile nature of the metal meant that field conservation techniques such as the use of plaster bandages and block lifting, as well as very careful handling were employed to lift the objects safely and transfer them to the conservation laboratory for further work.

Celtic-style shields are known in Iron-Age burials but are usually not as elaborate as this one, which is decorated with swirling vine-like Celtic motifs.  During the investigative conservation work to reveal the upper surface of the shield, which had been face-down in the ground, Mags also discovered an oval perforation which was made from a sword or a spear.  This suggests the shield had either been used for defence or that it had been ritually marked for burial.

Work is now being completed to draw the shield, which is being done by Steve Allen, also of York Archaeological Trust, and 3D recording, undertaken by Marcus Abbott of the Jessop Consultancy.

On completion of the project Mags said: “I feel so lucky to have been part of such an amazing project. Turning the shield over and seeing the upper surface for the first time since it was put into the ground was  a real ‘wow’ moment.  It has been especially satisfying seeing the conservation process all the way through from excavation to publication.”