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Iron Age Chariot Discovery the 'Find of a Lifetime'

Oct 14, 2014 05:09 PM EDT

In what they are calling the "find of a lifetime," University of Leicester archaeologists have discovered the decorated bronze remains of an Iron Age chariot.

A treasure trove of rare bronze fittings from an ancient chariot, dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC, were unearthed near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, most likely buried as a religious offering.

"Realizing that I was actually uncovering a hoard that was carefully placed there hundreds of years ago made it the find of a lifetime," Nora Battermann from University of Leicester, a student involved in the discovery, said in a statement.

The rare pieces appear to have been burnt and buried in what is now the Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort as part of a religious ritual, where it lay undisturbed for more than 2,200 years. The hilltop was once surrounded by farms and settlements, according to Live Science, and though humans lived in the area beginning around 4000 BC, it was most populated between about 100 BC and 50 AD.

"This is the most remarkable discovery of material we made at Burrough Hill in the five years we worked on the site," archaeologist Jeremy Taylor said in the statement. "This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige of the site."

Taylor co-directs the field project at Burrough Hill, which is used to train archaeology students. It was four of these students who first found a piece of bronze near an Iron Age house. Given the nature of the burial, the metal remains are presumably from a chariot that once belonged to a "warrior" or "noble," according to the excavation team. The bronze pieces are adorned with decorative patterns, including a triskele motif showing three waving lines, similar to the flag of the Isle of Man.

While the function of the iron tools remains a bit of a mystery, archaeologists suspect they were related to horse grooming, which would make sense seeing as how they belong to a chariot.

"One piece in particular has characteristics of a modern curry comb, while two curved blades may have been used to maintain horses hooves or manufacture harness parts," added project co-director John Thomas.

The parts have been taken to the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History for further analysis, and will be temporarily on display at the Melton Carnegie Museum in Melton Mowbray from Oct. 18 to Dec. 13.

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