Archaeologists have made a unique discovery in Pocklington of a chariot buried with two horses which look as if they “were leaping upwards out of the grave”.
The pair had been carefully positioned in the Iron Age grave at The Mile site with their back legs bent and hooves just off the ground – ready to spring into the next life.
The chariot, with a man aged in his late 40 upwards in a fetal position inside, had also been buried upright as though the vehicle was ready to roll on “into any future life”.
The discoveries at the Pocklington site will be charted on the BBC’s Digging for Britain programme which will be aired on Wednesday 19 December at 9pm on BBC Four.
Archaeologists said the horses may have originally been buried with their heads sticking out of the grave, although when found they were headless.
News of the discovery at the Persimmon Homes building site emerged earlier this year, but the latest details adds to the excitement around the finds said to be “unparalleled” in this country.
The horses were buried with a “highly regarded member of the community” who was in his late 40s or older, whose head was surrounded by the bones of six piglets, believed to be an offering, along with a well-preserved shield and a highly decorative brooch.
Paula Ware from MAP Archaeological Practice said: “We couldn’t tell how they were placed in the grave.
“Both were still upright and they were placed as though in motion as if they were leaping out of the grave. It looked as though their skulls were removed centuries ago.
“Possibly the heads were coming out of the graves. Did they go in alive who knows? There’s no evidence of a ramp.
“This is a new burial rite which has never been seen before. How spectacular this is - and what time and effort must have gone into it and the people who must have taken part as part of this burial process.
“There is more pig bone in this burial than there has been seen in burial across the Wolds. He is honoured with at least six piglets – normally there would be a quarter of a jaw. He was someone so significant.”
Nearby was another amazing find – a young man aged 17 to 25 who had been “ritually speared” with 10 iron and bone spears. He had suffered blunt force trauma indicative of being in a conflict.
It has been suggested by other experts following similar discoveries that it could be a Dracula-like ritual to ensure the corpse remained dead.
But Ms Ware believes it was to release the youngster’s spirit, and was a sign of respect from the community.
Ms Ware said: “We will never know because there was no written word and we can only speculate.”
Simon Usher, managing director at Persimmon Homes Yorkshire, said: “Everyone has been absolutely thrilled by the finds.
“Keeping the news under wraps while the excavation was completed has been a real challenge, but so important to ensure the integrity of the site.”
Pocklington Heritage Partnership was set up over a year ago to create a local heritage facility to house the internationally important artefacts from the Burnby Lane excavation.
The group has since widened its remit to include other eras and the villages around Pocklington, and it is continuing to work with various bodies to bring its aims to fruition.
The partnership’s chairman Phil Gilbank said: “The Burnby Lane finds from 2014-17 really put Pocklington on the archaeological map.
“For those finds to be matched by new discoveries around the town, including a second even more spectacular chariot, is amazing.
“It’s added more drive to our endeavours to develop somewhere locally to showcase our heritage.
“To be featured in a BBC documentary is brilliant news and shows how important Pocklington has become.”
Local archaeologist Dr Peter Halkon, at the University of Hull, was asked to contribute to the TV programme.
He said: “I don’t know if any of my interview will be on the programme, but I was asked to go into the studio.
“I was brought in as one of the experts on the Iron Age in the area.
“The team was interested about how the chariots moved across the landscape and the excavations at Nunburnholme Wold, sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which have uncovered droveways.
“One of these had very clear ruts in it which were almost certainly created by a chariot or a similar vehicle.”