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Sacrifice in Iron Age Britain

Many Iron Age artefacts were sacrifices, that is gifts to the gods, ancestors or spirits. An offering was made by either burying the sacrifice in the ground or placing it in water. These conditions have preserved many objects for 2000 years.

It was important that the right type of gift was sacrificed in the right way and in the right place. Water appears to have been an important place to make offerings, particularly weapons and cauldrons. Many Iron Age objects in The British Museum were found in rivers, lakes or bogs, although some were probably lost accidentally and others may come from settlements on the banks of rivers or lakes. But many were deliberately placed in the water, a tradition started in the Bronze Age, if not before, and carried on in the Iron Age. Perhaps water was an important doorway to the supernatural.

The countryside, away from farms and villages, was the right place to sacrifice torcs and horse gear such as terrets and horse bits. Other offerings were made in and around the farms and villages in which people lived. These offerings were of broken pots, tools used on the farm and in the house, and of food such as meat.

It is probable that humans were also sacrificed in Iron Age Britain. These human offerings may not have been very common, but there are some examples of human remains from around farms and villages that might come from sacrifice. The bog body, Lindow Man, was almost certainly a victim of human sacrifice.

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