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18 September 2014
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Wetwang: A Chariot Fit for a Queen?

By Mike Loades
British chariots

Image of a strap union
An iron strap union is uncovered at the dig ©
Chariots were in use in Britain from around 400 BC, perhaps earlier. The most famous British charioteer was, of course, Boudicca. She lived in the first century AD, some 400 years later than the Wetwang find and 100 years after Julius Caesar, who visited these shores in 55 and 54 BC and wrote about encountering British chariots in battle.

Despite these and other references, archaeologists remain reliant on excavations to provide clues to the role of chariots in the lives of our ancestors.

Chariot finds in continental Europe have much in common with those found in Britain, and tell us that Iron Age north European chariots were all very similar in design.

'... detailed information about how it all looked and worked was missing.'

They had two spoked wheels, a fixed axle and a low, rectangular platform, joined to a pole, for the passengers. The pole was attached to a wooden yoke which rested on two ponies’ backs near the neck. The chariot would have been drawn with one pony on each side of the pole.

The reins ran back from the ponies’ heads to the driver’s hands via terrets (metal rings), which were mounted onto the yoke. Evidence from Wetwang revealed that this find featured five terrets, four of which would have been for the reins, and the researchers were keen to establish the function of the fifth.

With all this in their heads, the archaeologists were getting a reasonable idea of the parts of an ancient Briton's carriage, and how these may have been used, but detailed information about how it all looked and worked was missing.The only pictorial representations were on a few Roman and native Iron Age coins and an Etruscan gravestone called the ‘Padua stele’, in northern Italy.

The reconstruction would have to take account of all this evidence, and add to it clues drawn from chariot construction from other cultures and the evidence provided by the rest of the Wetwang excavation.

Published: 2005-01-25

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