Ferry Fryston – Iron Age Chariot Burial

Location: Ferry Fyston, West Yorkshire
Museum: Pontefract
Archaeological Unit: Oxford Archaeology
Era: Iron Age
Status: Active Project
Tradition: Heathen
Objective: Display Improvement

A unique Iron Age chariot burial stunned archaeologists when it was discovered in 2003. Unearthed during preparations for the A1 (M) improvement works at Ferry Friston, the reconstructed chariot, and artefacts, and the man buried with them were shown at Pontefract Museum in West Yorkshire in 2006, in an exhibition entitled ‘Wheels of Time’.

Chariot burials are rare in the UK, and this is one of only two found with the chariot buried whole – this allowed the reconstruction of the chariot as it would have looked originally.

Who was the man buried with the chariot? This style of burial is more common in mainland Europe. Tests on his teeth show he came from some distance away in the West Yorkshire region, but exactly where is not known. He was 1.71 m. tall, aged between 30 and 40, with no sign of ill health. The cause of the fellow’s death is unknown.

The site of the burial also contained thousands of cattle bones. Tests have led to the suggestion that the bones come from feasts held here over the course of 500 years. A number of radiocarbon dates show that the chariot and its occupant were buried at the beginning of the fourth century BCE, but the cattle bones date to the second century CE, during the Roman period, and so are unconnected with the chariot burial.

The excavation was funded by the Highways Agency and carried out by Oxford Archaeology.

When HAD visited the exhibition at Pontefract Museum in 2006, and discussed it with the curator, there did not appear to be any issues about displaying him locally, but there were strong feelings about ownership. The ‘ownership’ of ‘Ferry Fryston man’ has been hotly disputed locally. The burial was originally described by archaeologists as the ‘Ferrybridge chariot burial’ because Ferrybridge was the nearest place, but the Castleford community felt it should be renamed the ‘Castleford chariot burial’. The name ‘Ferry Fryston’ is a neutral compromise, as it is the name of the civil parish under which it is filed in the County Sites and Monuments Record.

Once the temporary exhibition closed in July 2006, his remains, and those of the chariot and the associated artefacts, went back into a museum store which is inaccessible to the public. There are no current plans to display him again.


Oxford Archaeology’s web pages

For more information about the archaeology of the chariot burial, see Oxford Archaeology’s web pages: http://thehumanjourney.net//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48&Itemid=129

Contact: HAD Office