This splendid reconstruction brings to life an Iron Age chariot discovered at Newbridge, near Edinburgh Airport. Chariot burials were very exclusive, and this is the oldest in Britain.

Newbridge chariot reconstruction fact file

Date

2007

Made by

Robert Hurford, with ironwork by Pete Hill at Ratho Byres Forge

Made from

Wood (mostly ash), rawhide, iron, feathers

Museum reference

X.2007.10

Did you know?

The Romans were influenced by Celtic chariot forms and technologies when constructing their own chariots.

Discovery

In 2001, archaeological excavations by Headland Archaeology prior to new developments at Newbridge, near Edinburgh Airport, uncovered a surprising find – an Iron Age chariot burial, the first one known from Scotland.

The first glimpse of the chariot.

Above: A strange pit with ironwork emerges from the soil – the first glimpse of the chariot burial.

Excavation

A team of specialists from Headland Archaeology and National Museums Scotland excavated this nationally-significant discovery. Every surviving element was carefully exposed and recorded.

Careful excavation of the wheel remains.

Above: Careful excavation of the wheel remains

Slots had been dug into the base of the grave to take the chariot wheels. The strips of iron are the tyres.

Above: Slots had been dug into the base of the grave to take the chariot wheels. The strips of iron are the tyres.

Sampling soil and recording the remains.

Above: Sampling soil and recording the remains. Careful recording is vital to understand what survives.

Archaeological remains

The shape of the chariot is outlined in the pit dug into the gravel. The two wheels sit in slots dug to accommodate them, and the iron fittings from the yoke and bridle bits are at the top, where the pit widens again.

The remains of the chariot as excavated.

Above: The remains of the chariot as excavated.

Recovery

The remains of the wheels were taken back to National Museums Scotland’s conservation lab for careful excavation. They were lifted in soil blocks weighing almost half a tonne.

The soil blocks were clad in timber and packed out with foam.

Above: The soil blocks were clad in timber and packed out with foam.

The two wheel blocks ready to lift.

Above: The two wheel blocks ready to lift.

The wheels leave the ground for the first time in 2,400 years.

Above: The wheels leave the ground for the first time in 2,400 years.

Laboratory excavation

The wheels were excavated in the museum’s conservation laboratory. Corrosion of the iron had preserved some of the wood. This allowed the wheel to be reconstructed very accurately.

The preserved wood also provided a radiocarbon date. The chariot was built between 475-380 BC, making it the oldest chariot burial in Britain.

The chariot wheel is revealed.

Above: The chariot wheel is revealed.

X-rays revealed details of the spoke fittings. The white area is the corroded iron tyre.

Above: X-rays revealed details of the spoke fittings. The white area is the corroded iron tyre.

Cross-sections of the two wheels.

Above: These cross-sections of the two wheels show that they differed in many details, such as the shape of the wood and even the diameter. One wheel was a replacement.

Harnessing the horses

At one end of the grave were remains of horse harnesses. No horses were buried with the chariot, but there were two bridle bits and four iron rings which fitted to the yoke to guide the reins.

The harness as excavated.

Above: The harness as excavated.

The four rein rings or terrets.

Above: The four rein rings or terrets. Corrosion preserved traces of the leather straps which fixed them to the yoke.

The two bridle bits did not match, suggesting one was a replacement.

Above: The two bridle bits did not match, suggesting one was a replacement. Traces of harness straps were preserved by corrosion. The drawings show the original appearance of the bits.

A European phenomenon

Chariot burials are very rare in Europe as a whole, and are only found in certain areas. The closest parallels for the Newbridge burial come from northern France and Belgium.

However, it was the idea which travelled, not the chariot. Technical details of Newbridge, such as the way the wheel was made and the lack of suspension fittings, show this was not a continental chariot but a British-made vehicle.

Chariot burial from East Yorkshire.

Above: The only other British chariot burials come from East Yorkshire. These are 200 years later than Newbridge and are very different – the chariots were dismantled.

Reconstructing the chariot

In 2007, maker Robert Hurford built a reconstruction of the chariot, which is now in the National Museums Scotland collection. Here he explains how the archaeological evidence guided the process.

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