Iron Age Yorkshire – two chariots
The Garton Slack chariot
This fine example of an Iron Age chariot complete with the skeleton of its charioteer was discovered by T.C.M. Brewster at Garton Slack, East Yorkshire, in 1971.
Chariot burial: Garton Slack (Iron Age)
The roughly rectangular grave was 1m deep, surrounded by a square ditch. For the first time, under modern conditions, a chariot burial was exposed with all its trappings. Even the soil stains and imprints of the spokes of the wheels and the felloes and the pole shaft survived intact.
Between and on top of the 2 iron tyres was the skeleton of the charioteer, a man about 30 years of age with the left leg shorter than the right. Beside him on the west side were the remains of his whip. Most wood had vanished without trace, but some of the possibly cherry-wood handle, impregnated and preserved by copper sulphate from the sheet bronze cover-plates of the pommel, had survived.
On the charioteer’s stomach and chest had been placed portions of a pig’s head, split into two, with the interior parts uppermost, as food for the afterlife. Resting upon his left knee, propped upright by a small block of flint, was an intact 3 link bridle-bit, frozen by corrosion in its original position at burial. Another bit, apparently deliberately broken into 2 pieces by cutting with a cold chisel or similar blade - probably a symbolic ‘killing’ of the equipment for burial - lay on the lower rib cage.
The chariot had been dismantled for burial, the pole-shaft broken into 2 parts, not only to fit into the grave, but probably broken deliberately as part of the ritual associated with the burial. The remains of the wheels were located at the southern end of the grave and laid on the eastern and western sides, the body had been placed on top of them in a flexed position with the head facing east. There was no sign of the body-work or chassis of the chariot, although fragments of bronze edging, which had been originally mounted on wood, survived above the wheels and the skeleton in the damper looser fill. It is doubtful if any traces of coachwork could have survived above the chariot in the loose and moist soil.
Scattered around the wheels and skeleton, chiefly on the western side and on the same level as the tyres, were 2 bronze terrets, a whip pommel, ferrules and a slip buckle of the ponies’ harness. Three terrets and a slip buckle lay beneath the wheels at a slightly lower level but there were no traces of a yoke. The broader and thicker end of the pole shaft lay along the axis of the grave; another piece, consisting of the narrower end, lay along the southern edge of the grave with an iron pole-cap on the end. This had been secured by 2 nails driven into the pole and a wooden or metal pin formerly slotted through the pole-cap slot and pole.
The chariot belongs in time to the Iron Age Arras Culture burials of Hunmanby and Arras when the art of casting bronze onto iron in the manufacture of terrets and mirrors was in vogue. The custom of chariot burial within a square-ditched enclosure is of La Tène origin and was introduced into East Yorkshire from the Continent, the local departure from the Continental norm being the practice of crouched, flexed or contracted burial.
The difficulty of assigning an actual date for the Garton Slack and Arras chariot burials lies in the fact that they are furnished with equipment developed in isolation from the Continental La Tène. This local flowering of a virile La Tène community has been dubbed by Stead as the Arras Culture and because of its insular development and separation from the Continent it is difficult to assign a firm date to its products. Even so, the latter part of the 3rd century B.C. or early on the 2nd Century B.C. is the most likely date for the Garton Slack chariot.
The Ferry Fryston chariot
Ferry Fryston chariot: display (Pontefract Museum 2006) (Iron Age 4th century BC)
The 2000 year old Ferry Fryston chariot was discovered during construction work to upgrade the A1 to motorway standard between Darrington in West Yorkshire and Dishforth in North Yorkshire in 2004. Unusually for Yorkshire, the chariot was found complete with its wheels upright in the ground – only the second such burial found in Britain. This has given archaeologists a rare insight into Iron Age chariot construction, which helped considerably in the building of the replica.
Ferry Fryston chariot: reconstruction (Pontefract Museum (2006) (Iron Age 4th century BC)
Even though the wooden and leather parts of the chariot had all rotted way, archaeologists were still able to identify the position, size and location of wooden components such as the chariot pole by filling the voids left behind with plaster or by recording the darker stains left in the soil of the excavation from wood tannins, e.g. by the spokes of the wheels.
So far the Ferry Fryston chariot is the westernmost example of a type better known from the Arras Culture of the Yorkshire Wolds much further east, although the site does lie on the fringe of the Magnesian Limestone.
Ferry Fryston chariot: burial reconstruction (Pontefract Museum 2006) (Iron Age 4th century BC)
Forensic analysis has established that the skeleton is that of a man aged 30-40, about 1.7m (5ft 9in) in height in apparently good health and with an excellent set of teeth for the time – suggesting he enjoyed a more refined diet than most of his Iron Age contemporaries. Analysis of the radio-strontium from his tooth enamel indicates that his origins were not Yorkshire, but that he probably came from much further north, possibly either Scotland or even Scandinavia. The remains of what appeared to have been a brooch for fastening a cloak were found close to the man’s left shoulder. Radiocarbon assay has given dates for the burial that all lie within the 4th century BC.
Over 12,000 bone fragments from over 180 cattle were discovered in burial pits around the chariot. At first, these were thought to be the remains of a large sacrificial feast indicating the high status of the man buried with the chariot. Subsequent tests showed that the bones dated from the time of the initial Iron Age burial through to the 2nd century AD indicating repeated visits to the site over a period of up to five hundred years. Furthermore, they were from young beasts mostly 2-3 years old brought from different herds and outlying areas especially to the burial site.