A BRONZE shield buried alongside a Celtic warrior 2,000 years ago has been hailed Britain’s most important find of its kind.
The remarkably well-preserved artefact, which features a swirling pattern design, was unearthed in a small market town in Yorkshire.
Measuring 30in long, it formed part of an astonishing grave featuring the remains of an Iron Age man, weapons, a chariot and two upright pony skeletons.
Dr Melanie Giles, of the University of Manchester, described the shield as “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium.”
About 20 humans buried alongside chariots have been found in the UK, mostly in Yorkshire – although not with horses.
It is believed the owner of the shield was “highly regarded” in his community. He was in his late forties when he died between 320BC and 174BC.
Paula Ware, the director of Map Archaeological Practice, which excavated the grave in Pocklington, east Yorkshire, said: “The magnitude and preservation of the Pocklington chariot burial has no British parallel, providing a greater insight into the Iron Age epoch.”
The warrior was given a spectacular sendoff, placed in his chariot behind the horses.
The dramatic layout was constructed to give the warrior a clear path to the afterlife.
“These horses were placed with their hooves on the ground and their rear legs looking as though they would leap out of the grave,” Paula added.
“For me that definitely indicates they were moving onto something else – he has his food, weapons and the means of travel.”
The shield was uncovered at a Persimmon Homes development in 2018 and preserved to reveal its former glory.
Paula said his shield was decorated in the La Tène style, typical of early Celtic art.
Made by hammering the bronze sheet from the underside, the tool of war featured spiralling mollusc shells that created a swirling patterned motif.
A slash made by a sword is clearly visible in the upper right hand side of the shield, suggesting it was well-used.
The only other shield similar to it, the famous Wandsworth shield boss, which was found in the Thames river in 1849, is now in the British Museum.
“This previously unknown design feature is not comparable to any other Iron Age finds across Europe, adding to its valuable uniqueness.
“The popular belief is that elaborate metal-faced shields were purely ceremonial, reflecting status, but not used in battle.
“Our investigation challenges this with the evidence of a puncture wound in the shield typical of a sword.
“Signs of repairs can also be seen, suggesting the shield was not only old but likely to have been well-used.”
The warrior grave was discovered by construction workers at a building site last year.
Other precious artefacts found during subsequent excavations include a bronze and red glass brooch.
The burial was considered a final resting place for a highly regarded member of the community as it was surrounded by the remains of six pigs.
It’s believed they were an offering to the gods.
The man is thought to have died of old age, rather than in battle.
“What his role was, I can’t tell you,” Paula said. “He has collected some nice goodies along the way – he is definitely not run of the mill.”
Persimmon Homes Yorkshire, who own the find, plan to donate it to a museum.
A full academic paper on the discovery will be published next year.