When you hear about a ‘chariot burial’, Roman generals, Iron Age warlords, Chinese royalty, or even Russian kurgans, probably spring to mind. But some of the most impressive chariot burials have recently been found in India.
Chariot burials are among the most eye-catching, headline-grabbing archaeological discoveries. Who wouldn’t be interested in the discovery of a wealthy, powerful, or well-respected person, buried with all the trappings of their status, including a chariot, horse, personal possessions… and sometimes even their chariot driver?
Sanauli is a 4,500 year old archaeological site close to New Delhi, where over 116 high-status burials have been discovered since excavations started in 2005.
In 2018, just a few hundred meters away, archaeologists unearthed the remains of two chariot burials dating back to the Bronze Age (2200-1800 BC).
It’s the first time that chariot burials have been discovered on the Indian subcontinent, pointing to the existence of a wealthy warrior class near the Ganges river around 4000 years ago.
The chariots were made of wood, strengthened and decorated with copper; the curved wooden chassis was wrapped in copper sheets, and the wheels studded with concentric circles of copper triangles. There is even seat made of copper pipes – with an attachment for an umbrella or parasol!
Unusually, the chariots’ wheels were solid, rather than spoked, making them unique among the chariots used by the other famous civilisations of that era.
The light frame suggests they could carry two people, possibly used for warfare or racing, and were likely to have been pulled by a single animal – either a bull or a horse.
The chariots were carefully placed within vast burial pits, alongside unique four-legged coffins carved – also covered with a thin plate of copper. One of the coffin lids is decorated with eight anthropomorphic figures, each interpreted as wearing horned headgear and carrying a peepal leaf (a native fig tree in India),
The burial pits also contained swords, daggers, shields, helmets, and antenna swords whose wooden hilts were again wrapped in copper wire. There were also earthen and copper pots, semi-precious beads, gold heart-shaped bracelets, a copper mirror, glass, and a comb with a peacock design.
Simply put, these chariot burials are an iconic discovery. We look forward to hearing what else the site reveals as excavations continue!
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