Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ferry Fryston Iron Age Chariot

Castleford Museum is home to a stunning display of the Ferry Fryston Iron Age Chariot.

The chariot display at Castleford Museum

Dr Melanie Giles specialises in the Iron Age of northern Europe, particularly aspects of funerary archaeology, Celtic art and weaponry, and the phenomenon of 'bog bodies'. Her first monograph - A Forged Glamour: landscape, identity and material culture - was published by Windgather Press in 2012, and is a detailed study of the lives and deaths of Iron Age communities in Yorkshire.

Here she writes a guest blog about the chariot:

I was delighted to give a talk at Castleford Museum earlier this Spring, on the 'Chariot Burials of Britain'. They are a particular passion of mine, and it was a very special place to talk about them, in the close company of the 'Ferry Fryston' chariot - displayed in a nearby case. No other museum in England currently has a complete chariot burial and all of its grave goods on display, apart from Castleford - a great claim to fame!

The man buried with these iron-rimmed wheels and bronze horse-gear, was not a local, but came from further afield - possibly East Yorkshire. Yet he was treated with great respect by the people who built his square barrow, and laid him in the box of this impressive vehicle, as if it was a hearse, before wheeling it into the grave pit. He was buried with the fragments of a shield and a beautiful iron brooch which once had a bright, shining red glass dome for decoration. It now looks rather rusty in colour but it must have been a wonderful object that caught everyone's eye, back in the Iron Age! 

What is remarkable about this burial is that even in the Roman period, people came back to this ancient monument, to leave offerings of cattle bone on the barrow mound. (The full report on this site can be found in the wonderful book on 'The Archaeology of the A1 (M)' development, published by Oxford North). 

I've been thinking about what these burials mean for many years… women as well as men are buried with chariots, but only adults and not children. I think these were powerful people - leaders in their community - many of whom had fascinating life-stories to tell. Here's a reconstruction of a chariot burial in progress, by Aaron Watson (made for my recent book 'A Forged Glamour', Windgather Press). See what you think! 

I'm looking forward to coming back to Castleford in future years: for now, please do visit and pay your own respects to the Ferry Fryston man. 

Dr Melanie Giles

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