Recent excavations in an anonymous field in Pembrokeshire have yielded further finds from the late Iron Age chariot burial discovered there last year – the first of its kind to be identified in Wales.
The burial was found by metal-detecting enthusiast Mike Smith back in February 2018, and a small excavation to confirm the site (which remains unnamed to protect its integrity) was carried out by archaeologists from National Museum Wales and Dyfed Archaeological Trust that June.
These initial probes unearthed several bronze horse fittings, highlighted in CA 349. They included fragments of a large horse brooch, a terret (rein guide), a bridle bit, strap unions, and harness fittings. All decorated with designs linked to late La Tène-style art, they are the first objects of this type to have been found in Pembrokeshire.
Archaeologists returned to the site – this time with the help of students from Pembrokeshire College and with funding from Cadw and the National Lottery Heritage Fund – in spring of this year, hoping to find more clues. They were not disappointed: their discoveries included two iron tyres, which would have covered the chariot’s wooden wheels, representing the first evidence of the chariot itself. The team also discovered an iron sword, which may have been placed on or near the human burial that would have accompanied the chariot.
Commenting on the significance of this find, Adam Gwilt, principal curator of prehistoric archaeology at National Museum Wales, said: ‘It is the first chariot burial to be found not just in Wales, but in southern Britain. Chariots, as war and ceremonial vehicles, were used to display the power and identity of their owners and tribal communities in late Iron Age Britain, as the fine decoration of these artefacts shows. While we still know little about their owner, these chariot pieces probably belonged to a man or a woman of some standing within their tribe or community.’
As Adam pointed out, this chariot burial is particularly unusual, as almost all other British chariot burials found thus far have been unearthed in northern England, particularly in Yorkshire – including the extremely well-preserved chariot burials found at Pocklington (see CA 327 and 347). The Pembrokeshire example therefore offers important new insights into the spread and reach of this fairly rare burial style. Although it is an outlier in terms of location, it does show aesthetic similarities to its more northerly counterparts, which also often feature La Tène-style motifs.
The new finds are now undergoing conservation at National Museum Wales, and there are plans to display them, along with the horse fittings found previously (which the museum hopes to acquire), at the St Fagans National Museum of History, once post-excavation analysis is complete.