Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have unearthed a rare collection of Iron Age metal artifacts, including decorated cauldrons, a complete sword, and a 3rd century BC brooch, at the site of Glenfield Park in Leicestershire, England.
The collection of artifacts from Glenfield Park includes eleven cauldrons, fine ring-headed dress pins, an involuted brooch and a cast copper alloy object known as a ‘horn-cap’, which may have been part of a ceremonial staff.
The finds are the result of a series of events that took place over a considerable length of time and have resulted in multiple episodes of deposition across the settlement. These repeated acts mark the site out as a potential ritual and ceremonial center that also hosted large feasts.
“Glenfield Park is an exceptional archaeological site, with a fantastic array of finds that highlight this as one of the more important discoveries of recent years,” said Dr. John Thomas, director of the excavation and project officer from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services.
“Early occupation of the site during the earlier middle Iron Age (5th – 4th centuries BC) was relatively modest, consisting of a small open settlement that occupied the south-facing, lower slopes of the spur.”
“Slightly later in the middle Iron Age, indicated to be in the 4th or 3rd centuries BC by radiocarbon dating, the settlement underwent striking changes in character. Individual roundhouses were now enclosed, there was far more evidence for material culture, and rituals associated with the settlement involved apparently deliberate burial of a striking assemblage of metalwork.”
It is the metalwork assemblage that really sets this settlement apart. The quantity and quality of the finds far outshines most of the other contemporary assemblages from the area, and its composition is almost unparalleled.
“The cauldron assemblage in particular makes this a nationally important discovery,” Dr. Thomas said.
“They represent the most northerly discovery of such objects on mainland Britain and the only find of this type of cauldron in the East Midlands.”
Most of the cauldrons appear to have been deliberately laid in a large circular enclosure ditch that surrounded a building.
They had been placed in either upright or inverted positions, before the ditch was filled in, suggesting that they were buried to mark the cessation of activities associated with this part of the site.
Other cauldrons were found buried across the site, suggesting that significant events were being marked over a long period of time as the settlement developed.
The cauldrons are made from several separate parts, comprising iron rims and upper bands, hemispherical copper alloy bowls and two iron ring handles attached to the upper band.
They appear to have been a variety of sizes, with rims ranging between 14.2 and 22 inches (36-56 cm) in diameter, with the total capacity of all cauldrons being approximately 550 liters, which illustrates their potential to provide for large groups of people that may have gathered at the settlement from the wider Iron Age community of the area.
“Due to their large capacity it is thought that Iron Age cauldrons were reserved for special occasions and would have been important social objects, forming the centerpiece of major feasts, perhaps in association with large gatherings and events,” Dr. Thomas said.
“The importance of cauldrons as symbolic objects is reflected in their frequent appearance in early medieval Irish and Welsh literature, which has been drawn upon in studies of Iron Age society.”
“They are rarely found in large numbers and, with the exception of a discovery in Chiseldon, where 17 cauldrons were found in a pit, there have been few excavated examples in recent years.”
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