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Archaeologists find ancient skeleton of a man buried with a shield in England

Archaeologists have unearthed the ancient remains of a man buried with a shield in England, which is characteristic of an Iron Age burial belonging to the Arras culture, a civilization that existed in what is now Yorkshire and is known for its impressive burials and grave goods.

Researchers discovered the skeleton, which dates back at least 2,000 years, during excavations for a housing subdivision of 77 houses to be developed in Pocklington. In many places around the world, whenever ground is broken authorities require the property developers to do archaeological excavations to determine whether there are human or cultural remains under the earth. Many valuable archaeological finds have been made because of excavations in advance of property development.

MAP Archaeological Practice said the man was of impressive stature. Eighty-two other burials have been unearthed at the site in 38 square barrows. Jewelry, a sword and now the shield have been found buried with bodies so far. Other valuable grave goods have been found at Arras culture burials in Yorkshire.

A bronze snaffle bit from an Arras culture burial in Yorkshire, now in the British Museum (Photo by Ealdgyth/Wikimedia Commons)

Paula Ware, of MAP Archaeological Practice, said: “Naturally we’re still investigating our findings, so at present we aren’t able to share much more detail—however we’re looking forward to learning more and understanding what these new discoveries mean for the local area,” said Paul Ware of MAP. “Burnby Lane has unveiled some excellent prehistoric artefacts that are really unique. We are continuing to investigate the site and will work hand in hand with David Wilson Homes to preserve these historical discoveries so that they can be used to shed some light on the history of the area for generations to come.”

Archaeologists and preservation experts are conserving the artifacts for posterity and intend to put them on display in the future. Usually after scientists exhume bodies and artifacts of people buried in ancient or prehistoric times they re-inter the remains. Sometimes archaeologists will do DNA testing of remains. An article about the excavated man in the Pocklington Post on the shield did not say whether his DNA will be examined.

The Arras culture is thought to date from around 400 – 200 BC and may be associated with the Celtic Parsi tribe, who had links with Northern France.

The burials of the Arras culture of East Yorkshire are uncommon in England but are known in Continental Europe. The culture is named after a cemetery called Arras on a farm in East Yorkshire that was excavated from 1815 to 1817 by a group of gentry and later by another man.

Google Earth image from 2007, which shows the outlines of the Arras culture barrows.

More than 100 barrows were identified at Arras, four of which contained chariots. It has been suggested that the purpose of the chariots was to covey the deceased – presumably someone of high rank – to the afterlife. Other graves consisted of a skeleton along with grave goods such as metalwork, ceramics, and animal remains.

One of the most impressive finds to date was a warrior burial (a male inhumation accompanied by warrior’s weapons) containing “probably the finest Iron Age sword in Europe,” according to The British Museum.  The 2,300-year-old iron sword, known as the Kirkburn sword, has an elaborate hilt, assembled from 37 separate pieces of iron, bronze, and horn, and decorated with red glass. Analysis of the skeletal remains revealed that three spears had been plunged into the warrior’s chest.

The Kirkburn Sword. (The British Museum)

This latest find in Pocklington is considered an important one. “The information from the conservation in particular will provide a detailed insight into the lives and environment of the Arras culture in the area of Pocklington,” Miss Ware told the Pocklington Post. “These discoveries are truly fantastic for the local area, and are the largest archaeological works to have ever taken place in Pocklington.”