Horse harness fittings

Iron Age, AD 1-100
From Britain

Parts of Iron Age chariots or carts?

Iron Age Britons probably considered their horses and the carts, traps or chariots they pulled as things of great value and importance. The remains of wooden carts and the horses themselves are rarely found by archaeologists. But the metal horse harness and other metal parts of carts are sometimes found. These are some of the most highly decorated objects made by Iron Age craftsmen and women.

It is difficult to appreciate the impact these colourful objects would have had in prehistoric times. Dyes for clothes or paint for wooden items would have been limited to dull browns, reds, yellows along with white and black. Bright colours would have been rare. Bronze metal on the other hand was a shining golden colour when polished. The red and bright blue glass inlaid on these objects would have stood out sharply. Imagine the spectacle and the sound as a horse drawn cart or chariot thundered past with the shining and brightly coloured fittings catching the light!

This picture shows a selection of typical Iron Age horse harness pieces from several different locations. At the top and in the centre are plaques made simply for show. They would have been attached to the leather straps of the horses' harnesses. At the bottom is a horse bit that went between the horse's teeth. The reins would be attached to the rings on each side. On the left is a lynch pin, which fixed the wheel of a cart to the axle. On the right is a terret, a ring fixed at the front of the vehicle for the horses' reins to pass through. Finally, the small object is a strap union: two different ends of leather straps would be joined together with one of these.

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More information

Bibliography

S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

I.M. Stead, Celtic art in Britain before t (London, The British Museum Press, 1987, revised edition 1997)

Dimensions

Length: 26.000 cm (horse bit)

Museum number

P&EE 1855 5-9 10;P&EE 1866 7-14 2;P&EE 1928 1-16 1;P&EE 1940 2-3 1

BCB6761;BCB6737;BCB8448

Location

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