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

By Mike Loades

Image showing trials
The chariot takes to the field 
The chariot performed brilliantly. The suspension system proved stable - it was possible to either sit or stand at walk, trot, canter and gallop over rough, bumpy terrain. It was even possible to throw javelins from the moving vehicle and hit targets of cardboard Romans.

Equally importantly, the ponies ran straight. The bearing rein was doing its job. The vehicle manoeuvred well, with a good turning circle and had terrific stability. On this basis, such a vehicle had all the attributes of being a chariot. Indeed, with its suspension and its five-terret system, this was a vehicle of immense sophistication - and it was considerably more advanced than the standing-only chariots of the Ancient and Roman worlds.

'... there must have been some sort of suspension for the vehicle to have any practical value.'

It may or may not be right to presume that the Wetwang vehicle had a suspension system based on the arch and Y-strap model. This was just an interpretation of pictorial evidence from coins, and there was no actual evidence from the grave to support it. What is certain, though, is that there must have been some sort of suspension for the vehicle to have any practical value.

A principal benefit of these trials was in establishing this as an essential element and thereby alerting archaeologists in future excavations to look out for relevant clues. Similarly, the interpretation of how the five-terret system was deployed was only informed guesswork. But it was a conjecture that was proved actually to work, and will therefore be a useful source of reference for any future discoveries.

These experiments, together with the team's decision to paint the chariot, may actually pose more questions than they answer, but that is the beauty of experimental archaeology - asking the right questions can inform the answers of the future.

So what is a chariot? The truth is that we still cannot be sure. Certainly the reconstruction provided enough evidence to support the possibility that the Wetwang find is indeed that of a war chariot, but equally the absence of any weapons on the site leaves room for doubt. As is the case so often in archaeology, the answer may lie in the next dig.

About the author

Mike Loades works professionally as an Historical Action Arranger and Fight Choreographer for television and the theatre. He also researches, writes and lectures extensively on the history of arms and armour and covers all periods from Neolithic to Napoleon. His own production company, Running Wolf Productions, has produced best-selling videos on the history of archery and swordfighting.


Published: 2005-01-25

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