Editor's Blog

Iron Age Burial Ground Discovered In Northern England

March 19, 2016 | by Josh L Davis

Photo credit: One of the many weapons found with the burials, some of which are thought to have been of warriors. Anna Gowthorpe / PA

The remains of over 150 skeletons dating to the Iron Age have been excavated in a small village in northern England. The significant discovery, which dates to around 2,500 years old, was found when a local property developer broke ground to start building houses on the site in the east Yorkshire town of Pocklington. The find is being hailed as one of “international importance,” and one of the most important dating from this period to have been found in the U.K.

The burial ground is thought to date to the Iron Age, which in Britain spanned from around 800 BCE to 43 CE when the Roman Empire invaded and slowly spread through most of mainland Great Britain. The period is characterized by the shift from bronze-based tools to those made from iron, with groups of people beginning to farm while living in tribes scattered across the land. The introduction of new crops, such as improved varieties of barley and wheat, meant that the population of the island grew substantially during this period.

Improved trade links to the continent also meant that culture and styles of metal working and pottery were also freely shared. In fact, the team of researchers want to use the skeletons uncovered to help answer just how prolific these links with Europe were at the time, by seeing where the people who came to rest in Yorkshire were originally from. They currently have a theory that the peoples are not native, but were migrants from either northern France or even Germany.

The graves contain a whole host of objects, including this beautiful brooch with coral enamel. Anna Gowthorpe / PA

Within the graves, of which there are 75 separate burial chambers also known as barrows, there have been a wealth of personal possessions discovered. These have included jewelry in the form of amber beads and brooches, pottery, but also weapons such as spears, swords and even a rare shield. In fact, the archaeologists think that they have uncovered distinct graves that may have once belonged to Iron Age warriors.

While most of the barrows were square in shape, a handful – just three so far – were instead circular. The remains in these were men who had been buried with their weapons, in what the archaeologists think is a pattern used for important members of the society. One of these burials belonged to a 17- to 23-year-old man, found lying on his side next to a broken sword. He was placed in a crouching position inside a wooden box, and had spears laid along his spine, and another in his groin. They speculate that perhaps the young man was “ritually speared” in order to release his spirit.

In addition to using DNA tests to find out where the people buried came from, they also want to see how the individuals were related. Three of the barrows found were interconnected, suggesting that they belonged to family members buried over a period of perhaps a hundred years or more. This would mean that the burial ground was maintained and in continual use for a significant period of time. 

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