- Museum number
Human remains, comprising the skeletal remains of a middle-aged woman.
- Production date
- 210 BC - 160 BC (circa)
Weight: 2971.20 grammes (including packaging)
- Curator's comments
These human remains come from the Wetwang Village Iron Age chariot burial (registered with stem 2001,0401.). They are the remains of of a woman probably aged 35-45. She was buried in a square barrow, and a two wheel horse-drawn vehicle had been placed, dismantled, into the grave. The burial probably dates to the first half of the second century BC and can be compared with other Middle Iron Age vehicle burials from East Yorkshire.
The barrow was located on the north side of the modern village of Wetwang. Unlike previously excavated vehicle or chariot burials, this barrow was located on a hill-top, rather than in a valley. The burial is located approximately 1.5-2 km to the south east of the large Iron Age cemetery and settlement at Wetwang Slack excavated in the in the 1970s. Three chariot burials were also found nearby during gravel quarrying in the 1980s. These other burials lay in the valley running east-west on the north side of the ridge on which this burial was located.
The sequence of events leading to the burial can be reasonably reconstructed. The grave was dug to accommodate the body of the vehicle. The body (2001,0401.20) may have been brought to the grave side on the horse drawn vehicle, and was carefully handed down and laid out on top of some form of mat, cloth or organic matter of rectangular shape at the south end of the grave. The body may have been held in a bag fastened with a strap union (2001,0401.18), or this fitting may have served some other purpose. The woman was buried head towards the south, which is unusual. She was buried with an iron mirror (2001,0401.19) that was placed in the grave inside a fur-lined bag. The bag was closed with a draw string or similar threaded with unusual tiny blue glass beads (2001,0401.22). The draw string had been wrapped around a coral-decorated tightly involuted brooch (2001,0401.21). Cuts of pig meat were also placed over her body (2001,0401.43-56). At some stage in the sequence of events the vehicle was taken apart. The wheels and the box/body were removed from the axle, pole and yoke, which remained fixed together. The terrets remained in place on the yoke and the reigns and other harness wrapped around the yoke. The axle, pole and yoke were placed over the body, followed by the box/body of the vehicle. The wheels were placed over the pole. Although the wooden chariot itself was not preserved, all of the metal harness and chariot fittings were recovered from the grave (2001,0401.1-17). The quantity of coral used as decoration on some of the metal objects is exceptional in a British Iron Age context. The grave was finally infilled with clay, and a low mound or barrow left over the top of the grave. Whether the square ditch around the burial was dug before or after the burial is not clear. The horses that led the vehicle to the grave were taken away. People visited the burial after the funeral, and at times left pig and other animal bones/remains (2001,0401.59-80) and some human bone (2001,0401.57-8) either on the barrow to erode into the ditch, or in the ditch itself. Small amounts of pottery (2001,0401.23-34) were also found in the ditches or upper grave fill.
(Adapted from JD Hill’s preliminary report on the excavations)
This is a female skeleton. The skull has most of the female characteristics and the ilia have wide sciatic notches and pre-auricular sulci. The determination of age does present difficulties, but an age at the upper end of the 35 - 45 age group is most likely. Compared with the female skeletons from other East Yorkshire Iron Age burials, she was unusually old. She was 171.91cm (5ft 7½in) in stature, meaning that she was taller than any of the Iron Age female skeletons from East Yorkshire reported in Stead (1991) and taller than the average male from Rudston and Burton Fleming.
She essentially had healthy teeth, but there is evidence for possible trauma involving a blow to the jaw or a fall may account for the loss of three substantial flakes from the corners of the upper and lower right and the lower left first molars, all on the inside of the arcade. The impact of upper and lower teeth at these points was certainly too forceful on one particular occasion.
Her right shoulder has advanced osteoarthritis. The head of the humerus shows eburnation where bone was grinding upon bone surrounded by an edging of osteophytes. The glenoid cavity on the scapula has a much larger surface than the left and has some arthritic change on its margins as does the facet for the clavicle on the acromium. This could be the long term result of a fall or vigorous overuse of the joint. This might suggest that the woman’s right shoulder had been dislocated - unusually backwards - and had begun to heal. The shoulder and temporo-mandibular traumas are both on the same side of the body and occurred some considerable time before death. Together with the broken molars they might be connected to the same cause, possibly even a fall from a horse or indeed a chariot.
It has been suggested that the woman’s skull shows considerable asymmetry, which might have been caused from early childhood due to a haemangioma on either the left or right side. Other analyses have suggested that she might have had a marked asymmetry throughout her body. However, these interpretations that the lady was disfigured from an early age are controversial. Other specialists who have examined the bones do not agree with these interpretations. Since they could have considerable impact on the interpretation of the burial, they should be considered as preliminary and unproven. The asymmetries noted could also have been caused post-mortem by earth pressure in the grave.
Mandy Jay took a sample from the skeleton to analyse carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes as part of her doctoral study on diet in Iron Age East Yorkshire. The results are published in Jay and Richards (2005).
(Adapted from JD Hill’s preliminary report on the excavations)
Jay, Mandy and Richards, Michael (2005) Diet in the Iron Age cemetery population at Wetwang Slack, East Yorkshire, UK; carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes analysis; Journal of Archaeological Science.
Stead, Ian (1991) Iron Age Cemeteries in East Yorkshire.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Excavation/small finds number: 340 (context/find code)