Celtic Chain Reactions

Keith Nurse describes the warlike aristocracy uncovered by an archaeological finding in Yorkshire.

Some have iron breastplates of chain-mail, while others fight naked, and for them the breastplate given by Nature suffices.

So wrote the historian Diodorus Siculus when describing the battle gear worn by the formidable Celtic warriors who faced the Roman legions in Gaul.

Archaeologists, led by Dr Ian Stead, deputy keeper in the Department of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities at the British Museum, recently uncovered just such a piece of mailcoat armour in a third or second-century BC grave at Kirkburn in the Yorkshire Wolds.

There was, it seems, something flamboyantly different about the Celts who occupied this part of Yorkshire in the Iron Age. Aerial photography has revealed the presence of their distinctive cemeteries, containing square ditched barrows, in almost every dry valley of the Wolds.

These people belonged to a culture known as Arras, named after a rich
cemetery discovered near Market Weighton, Yorkshire, in 1816. The burial patterns of the Arras site have been compared with broadly similar rites identified on the Continent, particularly in eastern France.

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