Let’s be frank – East Yorkshire has some of the most unique and exciting archaeology in the UK… especially when it comes to the Iron Age…
Take, for example, the simple fact that while ancient burial mounds elsewhere in the country are usually round, or at least oval, in East Yorkshire, they’re often square – a phenomenon associated with a particular Iron Age culture, known as the Arras tradition, and first appears just before 400 BC. The fascinating thing is that they closely resemble burials found in parts of northern France, suggesting some kind of connection between the two regions…
And that’s exactly why we’ve crowdfunded a dig at Elmswell Farm, which sits right in the heart of this region. So far, we’ve seen traces of life here that go back 10,000 years. Each year we’ll be digging deeper and heading further back in time to find out more about all the people who have lived in East Yorkshire over the millennia.
In August 2018, our focus is on the people who lived here during Iron Age, and what happened to them when the Romans arrived. You’ll be able to follow the dig online by visiting digventures.com/elmswell-farm. Or heck, why not come and visit for REAL, or even sign up to join the excavation team and help us dig for day?!
While we wait to get started, here are some of our favourite discoveries that archaeologists have made so far. Whether you’re interested in Iron age coins, fascinated by chariot burials, or enticed by a stash of weapons, you’ll be sure to find something that floats your boat in East Yorkshire. And speaking of boats…
1. The biggest Iron Age boat in Britain (Hasholme logboat)
Discovered in Hasholme, East Yorkshire in 1984, the Hasholme Logboat is the largest surviving one of its kind in the United Kingdom – but that very nearly wasn’t the case. It was fortuitously discovered by archaeologists Dr Peter Halkon and Martin Millet. The two were looking for archaeology related to a Roman pottery kiln on Dr Halkon’s father’s farm. Modern drainage ditches on the land turned up bits of timber, which caught the eye of the archaeologists. Further inspection into where this wood had come from led the two to quite a discovery – a well preserved, albeit extremely fragile, Iron Age logboat. Made from oak, the Hasholme Logboat comes in at over 12 meters long and weighs over 6 tonnes and tree-ring dating tells us the tree used for the body of the boat was felled somewhere around 300 BC.
2. The cave FULL of Iron Age weapons (South Cave)
Stashed away in a pit within an Iron Age or early Romano-British ditch, a rare collection of Iron Age swords and spearheads was/were discovered by 3 metal detectorists in South Cave, East Yorkshire in 2002. Hidden beneath a layer of amphora sherds, the dectorists uncovered 5 swords, each with its own scabbard, and 33 spear heads bundled up in animal skin. The preservation of this find was so good that organic elements of the sword fittings, like antler, horn, and whale ivory, were still in tact. The amphora sherds may indicate the cache was deposited roughly when the Romans took over East Yorkshire, around 70AD – but some of the swords themselves could have been at least 150 years old before they were buried. Could this have been a secret hiding place for Parisi weapons?
3. The Iron Age ‘Warrior Woman’ (Wetwang Slack)
Wetwang Slack is among the biggest Middle Iron Age cemeteries in Britain, and it too is located in East Yorkshire. Excavations began in the 1970s and have since revealed roundhouses, roads and over 450 burials belonging to the Arras Culture (a Middle Iron Age culture specific to East Yorkshire). In 1984, an excavation on the edge of the cemetery discovered three chariot burials with some impressive grave goods including a sword, an iron mirror and a possible shield. Each of these burials were placed on top of a disassembled chariot with their heads facing north, and two of three skeletons were also buried with pig bones. While only the ‘ghost’ of the chariots remain by way of soil marks, metallic bits such as nave hoops, spokes and terret rings have been recovered giving insight into the size and construction of these chariots. Perhaps most excitingly, one of the three burials was a young female,
4. The funkiest figurines you’ve ever seen (Roos Carr)
Roos Carr in East Yorkshire is home to a group of five wooden figures and what appears to be a boat, known collectively as the Roos Carr figures. A chance discovery by workers digging a ditch in 1836, these curious creations are carved from Yew, stand 35-41cm tall, have stone eyes and come with detachable accessories; paddles, shields and genitalia. Radio carbon dating has determined these guys come from the Late Bronze Age, or Early Iron Age. But what on earth were they for? Perhaps a votive offering or even depictions of gods or important community members?
5. Incredibly pure, Greek-style gold coins (Walkington Hoard)
In an undisclosed location near Walkington, East Yorkshire, 46 Iron Age gold coins were discovered by two detectorists in the early 2000s. Inspired by the Greeks, these coins donned a stylised horse on one face and according to the Yorkshire Museum in York, were minted by the Corieltauvi tribe in today’s Lincolnshire. The Walkington Hoard is particularly noteworthy for a few reasons. Firstly, they’re old. These coins date from 1-50 AD. Coins of this age are rare north of the Humber. Secondly, the sheer number of these ‘Celtic’ coins found makes it largest known group of its kind in East Yorkshire. In addition to the quantity of coins, their unusually high gold content is another rarity for Yorkshire coins. Most Iron Age gold coins were made in the south and only trickled their way north, so a stash of this calibre and size make for an extremely significant find.
6. Brigantes bracelets (Towton)
East Yorkshire can’t take ALL the Iron Age glory for the whole county, so we’re spilling over into North Yorkshire for our next entry. In Towton, two Iron Age bracelets were discovered in a stream, found on different occasions nearly a year apart. The first of the two torcs dates to 100BC-70BC, and the second may even be older. Experts say the North Yorkshire Iron Age tribe, the Brigantes, would be the likely owners of the bracelets. In other areas of Britain, like Norfolk, similar torcs have been found in association with the royal elite. It is likely that whether they were made by the the Brigantes, or acquired through trade, the towton torcs would have belonged a high status, or even royal member of the tribe. So many questions surround the torcs. Were they deliberately deposited in the stream (like the Iron Age practice of votive deposition in water), or were they washed away from their original context? Were they used for trade, or perhaps gifts? Or were they taken as loot during some tribal conflict?
7. The DOUBLE Chariot Burial (Pocklington)
In the East Yorkshire town of Pocklington, lies yet another significant Iron Age, Arras-style cemetery. Beginning in 2014, archaeologists excavated 70 square ‘Arras style’ barrows, containing some 160 burials. Among the grave goods were hundreds of glass beads, dozens of brooches and several spears… but this is only the beginning. What really puts Pocklington on the map is the discovery of a rare horse and chariot burial. While Iron Age chariot burials alone are significant in their own right, this is the first excavation in over two centuries to have found not only one, but two nearly complete horse skeletons buried right along side a chariot.
8. And one for luck – Elmswell Farm…?
DigVentures excavation about Elmswell Farm is about to kick off, and this year we’ll be focusing on Iron Age and Roman archaeology. But what incredible discoveries are waiting to be made? You can follow the dig at digventures.com/elmswell-farm or visit the What’s On page for details of when you can come and visit and see them for yourselves!
DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!