Press Releases

Iron Age chariot fittings declared treasure

First group of artefacts with Celtic art decoration discovered in Pembrokeshire

A group of chariot fittings of Iron Age date (Treasure Case 18.04 – Wales) have today (31 January 2019) been declared treasure by H.M. Coroner for Pembrokeshire.


The discovery was made by Mr Mike Smith in February 2018, while metal-detecting on farm land in Pembrokeshire. It was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) and immediately identified to be a potential treasure find.


The find includes a large horse-brooch, a large terret (or rein-guide), a strap-union and harness fitting and fragments of a bridle-bit, all made of bronze with red-glass decoration. These would once have been fixings to a chariot and the accompanying leather harness for its highly trained pony-pair.


Further discoveries were made at a later date in 2018, when archaeologists investigated the site with the help of the finder. These included further fragments of the large horse-brooch, bridle-bit fragments, harness-fittings and fragments from a second strap-union. These increased the find to a minimum of nine different artefacts.


These artefacts were made around 2,000 years ago during the Late Iron Age, probably around AD 25-75. A number of the objects are elaborately decorated with late Celtic art designs, also known as late La Tène art. Red glass was made and allowed to cool into shaped recesses in the bronze surfaces, to create distinctive and vibrant flowing designs.


This is the first time that a group of artefacts decorated with Celtic art decoration has been discovered in Pembrokeshire, giving us a first glimpse of the styles and techniques used to decorate chariots in the tribal area of the Demetae or Octapitae peoples during the first century AD.


The finds were identified, dated and reported on for the coroner, by curators and museum archaeologists based at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Their date, function and style were determined by comparing their shape and decoration with others already known across Britain.


Chariots, as war and ceremonial vehicles, were used to display the power and identity of their owners and tribal communities in Late Iron Age Britain, as the fine decoration on these artefacts show. While we still know little about their owner, these chariot pieces probably belonged to a man or woman of some standing within their tribe or community.


Adam Gwilt, Principal Curator of Prehistoric Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales said:


“This discovery dates to an important period of social change at about the time of the invasion of western Britain by the Roman army, from the late 40s AD onwards. Iron Age tribes in Britain came into contact and conflict with Rome, as these two worlds and cultures collided.


“These chariot pieces may have been witness to some of the historical events of the time, as Iron Age peoples defended their ways of life and identities, in the face of an expanding empire.”


Gwilym Hughes, Head of Cadw said:


“Although two thousand years separate us from the time of the Iron Age tribes of prehistoric Wales, artefacts such as these really bring alive a world about to be transformed by the arrival of the Roman Army. 


“The people of Iron Age Wales left behind a remarkable legacy which remains visible today in the hundreds of hillforts which still dominate our countryside and coasts. Beautiful artefacts like these show another side to their society.  We may never know the names of their makers, but the objects demonstrate imaginative and clever craftsmanship, reflecting an inner world of colour and beauty.”


Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will seek to purchase this treasure group on behalf of the nation and for the national collection.